New math: Mess + imagination = masterpiece


Take: Paint, glitter, glue, Play-Doh, tiny snippets of construction paper falling through chubby little fingers.

Plus: The gleam in a child's eye as he creates.

Equals: A masterpiece for the child and a MESS for mom.

The thought of cleaning up after a young child's art session can make us hesitant to drag out the materials in the first place.

But if we want our children to be creative, we need to give them an opportunity to create.

Some organization and a little bit of instruction can go a long way in preventing both you and your child from being frustrated.

Set up an art center in your home, suggests Jan Madsen, an art teacher at Boonsboro Elementary School. It can be as simple as a kitchen drawer or bedroom shelf that is designated for art supplies.


Parents often steer away from allowing kids to work with scissors or glue, but if kids are taught how to use materials properly, there shouldn't be a problem, Madsen says.

"Have your kids cut with scissors a lot," Madsen says. "We have so many kindergarten students who don't know how to cut."

Select "safe" child-size scissors with blunt edges.

Show them how to use glue. A teacher once told my son, "Just a dot. Not a lot."

Concerned that the art supplies will end up all over your house?

Set up a card table or a child-size table and chairs, suggests Beth Doggett, art teacher at Williamsport Elementary School. Keep your child's supplies nearby and teach him that this is his space for creating.

"You can tell them that's their studio," Doggett says.

This sends the child a message: "We don't do it on the beige carpet in the living room," Doggett says.

Put these items in your art center: paper, "safe scissors," glue, crayons, markers, tape, paints, paint brushes, colored pencils.

You may want to have one box for standard art supplies and another box for collage-type items, because kids love to assemble, Doggett says.

To create a collage box, collect items such as: paper scraps, tissue paper, wallpaper scraps, buttons, seeds, stars, stickers, beads, paper towel tubes, Styrofoam meat trays, bags that onions come in ( for texture), cotton balls, rubber bands, egg cartons, yarn, ribbon scraps, sequins, feathers - all sorted and put in little plastic containers.

That way materials are always handy and the child can start an art project on his own.

Remember your parents telling you to not break your new crayons? Madsen says she favors removing the paper and breaking the crayons when opening a new box so the fear of breaking them is gone and the child will be less inhibited. With the paper off, the child can work with the side and the tip of the crayon to get a varied look.

Here are other suggestions from Madsen and Doggett:

- Have a place to display your child's work. The artwork doesn't have to stay up long. You can rotate favorite pieces.

- Inquire about a child's artwork by asking, "Tell me about your picture." Never say, "What is that?"

- Help your child become visually aware by noticing things around you. On a walk, talk about what you see. Ask your child about the colors he likes to wear together.

- Be creative while cooking and encourage your child to create, too. Let him cut out cookies in various shapes using a kitchen knife. Does a pizza have to be round? Try making it a different shape for variety.

- Put a large piece of paper on the floor or hang it on the wall as a mural and let your child draw at random. You may want to give him a theme, such as spring. You can keep the paper out or you can roll it up and get it out at various times. The advantage of leaving it on a wall for several days or weeks is that your child gets to draw on it any time he is inspired.

- If you select a computer art program, opt for one that requires the child to draw with the mouse. Avoid clip art programs where the child is filling in the images with color.

Next week: Creating with clay and other projects you can do with your child.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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