|Don’t Be Afraid of The Mess!|
|By Sandra Fisher, Earlychildhood News|
|While painting together at the easel, Sonia and Ashley keep dipping their brushes into all of the paint containers. After they make a fascinating discovery that the paints have turned a muddy brown, the preschoolers abandon their brushes and begin to make handprints on the easel paper. Then, continuing this messy process, the four-year-olds giggle as they decide to paint-print each other’s faces!
Because young children frequently make a mess with art media, you need to think through about how you feel about the mess. For example, did you feel that the girls were developing their cognitive skills as they experimented with color mixing? Did they discover that paint could be applied with a tool other than a brush? Were they learning about the concept of cause and effect? Was this a pleasurable social interaction between friends? Or, were you more apt to feel that they were making a mess because they ruined all of the paints and got paint all over themselves?
With careful preparation, a well thought out arrangement of the environment, simple clean-up procedures, and a sense of humor, traditionally messy art activities, such as collage, paint, and clay can be a positive and enjoyable learning experience for everyone involved.
Setting-up for Messy Media
Help define limits for the children’s messy projects. Use cafeteria trays, dress boxes lined with foil and clean Styrofoam vegetable and fruit-trays – all with raised edges – to physically contain individual collage, paint, or clay activities. Sections on a table outlined in utility tape help provide boundaries so one child doesn’t spread her mess into another’s territory.
Provide materials to cover up the children when it’s appropriate to keep the mess off them. Use old adults’ tee shirts with short sleeves for smocks. For really wet sloppy projects, create waterproof smocks with discarded, sanitized shower curtains or put on spongeable, child-size raincoats purchased at garage sales.
Cover your table and floor surfaces, too. Messy newspapers – free for the asking – can be bundled up and thrown away. Shower curtains or inexpensive plastic tablecloths can be sponged off or shaken out by enthusiastic young helpers.
Set up areas where individuals or small groups can work together comfortably without crowding. This keeps messy projects from becoming too overwhelming and spinning out of control. Four chairs and four paint trays send a clear message to children about how many participants can be involved in a project. Station a helpful staff member or a volunteer at a really messy activity to make suggestions and redirect “wild” experimenters.
Be sure to have enough materials prepared (papers cut to size, glue bottles filled) and available on site. This way, young children can continue to work independently in a place designed especially for the mess, rather than searching the classroom for the needed materials with messy hands.
Planning for an Easy Clean-up
Your children will enjoy helping with this process if you make cleaning materials easily accessible. On the art table, put out paper towels and wet wipes so the children can remove gushy finger paint and squishy clay from their fingers. A thick cardboard strip can be used as a squeegee to remove excess finger paint from a cafeteria tray. Furnish sponges and spray bottles of water to clean tables, chairs, tools, or the tile floor. In a cooperative venture, your children can use a dustpan, broom, or hand brush to sweep collage scraps and dried clay bits off the floor.
If your art area is carpeted, try using a heavy vinyl sheet or shower curtain on top of the rug to catch glue and paint drips. Consider putting the table and chairs inside of a child’s large plastic wading pool to contain really messy clay pieces or spilled paint.
Have collection boxes handy to gather up used messy tools – finger-painting combs, splatter paint templates, clay sticks – to be washed later at the sink. Or, provide a small bucket filled with soapy water for soaking off glue and dried on clay particles. However, never soak paintbrushes in warm water as this loosens the glue and the bristles will fall out.
Encourage children to wipe off excess glue so the bottles aren’t sticky when they put them away. Use picture labels on open shelves so children can replace collage materials in the right place.
Locate an area out of the path of traffic to dry messy activities. A multi-lined clothes rack with clothespins works well to hang drippy paintings. Dry clay projects on wire or wooden racks. Carefully pick up heavy collages and dry them flat on sheets of waxed paper on shelves.
A collage project where you can use a specific space involves the use of shoeboxes and lids. Using different shoeboxes, gather and store like materials. For instance, one shoebox may have straws, while others may have packing squiggles, pieces of lace or ribbons. On the day of the collage activity, have your children select a shoebox. Keep the lid on the shoebox for added suspense to increase the children’s interest. When the shoebox has been selected, the children remove the lid and place the lid’s surface on the table. The inside of the lid then becomes the holder of the project’s materials. As the children remove the collage materials from the shoeboxes, the materials are glued to the inside of the lid. This confines the collage materials to a specific space and prevents a “mess.”
Because the children worked hard gathering all the materials at the discovery table, instead of throwing those materials away when they create a mess, use them in a “clean-up” collage. Give the children pieces of posterboard and glue. Have the children glue these “discovery” materials onto the posterboard. When all the materials are affixed, this collage may be displayed and labeled, documenting what learning occurred at the “Discovery Table.”
During daily clean-up times, objects are often found that seem to have no specific place. Collect and place those items in a container. Turn those “messy clean up” items into a classroom texture collage project. Using four pieces of posterboard, label each piece with a texture category: hard, soft, rough and smooth. The children can glue those items on the appropriate texture category. Through this collage project, the children classify the “messy clean up” objects and find a place for those items.
A splatter paint art activity becomes “do-able” with the use of a shoebox, construction paper, plastic screening, brush (e.g. paintbrush, dog brush), and tempera paint. Line the bottom of a shoebox with construction paper. Have the children select an object (e.g. leaf, pinecone) from a collection of objects on a tray and put that object in the shoebox. Cover the top of the shoebox with plastic screening. For safety reasons, use plastic instead of wire screening. The children then dip a brush into tempera paint and “paint” the screening. This allows the paint to drop through the hole into the shoebox and onto the object and construction paper. When the object is removed, a silhouette of this object will appear, and the paint is confined to the shoebox.
Finger painting may be a “messy” activity, but putting a spoonful of this paint on a cafeteria tray confines the paint to a specific area. After the children have created a finger paint design, a print may be made by placing construction paper over the design, pressing it by hand and carefully lifting the paper.
Spray bottle art is fun when doing it at an easel. Line the “lip” of the easel with paper towels. Attach pieces of construction paper to the easel and give the children a spray bottle of liquid watercolor. The children can use their fine motor skills to squeeze or press the plunger of the paint bottle handle. As the paint is sprayed on the paper, any drops of paint drip into the easel lip. The paint “mess” is contained to the easel and is easily cleaned up.
Introduce clay with a “hands-on” experience. Have the children place a manageable grapefruit size ball on a plastic placemat or square of burlap (paper takes the moisture out of clay). Let them roll it, flatten it, pinch it, poke it, and pound it. Talk about how it feels and what’s happening to the shape. When the clay becomes dry, encourage the children to spray their hands with water, never the clay or it will become a slippery mess. Magically, clean up all of the little dried clay crumbs by patting them with a wad of moist clay.
Now your children are ready to use some tools and model with the clay. Let them explore making designs on pinched pots with Popsicle sticks, forks or buttons. Stick a handle on the pot with slip – a thin mixture of clay and water – which acts like glue. Accessories are fun to add to clay – put candles on an elegant birthday cake sculpture decorated with plastic flowers. After the children soak and scrub these items to remove any excess clay. Try putting them in a flat, waffle-weave, silverware container placed on paper toweling to drip dry.
To help your children investigate the properties of clay try a recycling project. If left exposed to the air over time, the clay hardens. Place it in a plastic bag (to keep the dust down). Two at a time, allow the children to pound it with wooden mallets. After the dried clay is in little chunks, add small amounts of water and knead it into the clay. This project may take several days. When moist and pliable, be sure to keep the revitalized clay in a small, clean, covered, plastic garbage pail. Now it’s ready to use again!
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