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Why is Messy Art Important for Kids?

by Anna Harpe
July 3, 2023

Our best tips for parents and educators on how to embrace the mess and learn why art is important for kids’ development.

Updated June 2023

It always sounds fun at first, right?  We all want to be *that* parent – the one who dives head first into creativity, ready and willing to embrace the joy of the process and everything that goes along with it.  But then.  

Then we have a two-year-old running through the living room with paint covered hands and a five-year-old proudly taking the initiative to clean up with our favorite new blanket.  And before we know it, we’re yelling and running and everything ends in tears.  

Sound familiar?

Believe me when I tell you – you’re not alone!

mural painting
Photo by Rachel Withers

Embracing messy art takes a little bit of courage.  But with the right preparation, planning, and flexibility, you CAN make it happen.  And guess what? You can have fun doing it too!  

If you’ve ever struggled with art-time stress, check out these tips for embracing messy art.  Then don’t forget to snap a pic, tag @theartfulparent, and tell us what worked for you!

Why (Messy) Art is Important for Kids

Child painting with sidewalk paint
Photo by Rachel Withers

1. Understand why art is important

Why even bother with messy art?  We all know it can be hard and stressful to do successfully… so what’s the point?  Well, it turns out messy art has A LOT of benefits for our kids. 

Messy art is simply one of the best ways for your children to explore the world around them with all of their senses, developing fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination in the process. 

Pretty impressive, right?   

Child painting with mud paint_anna harpe
Photo by Anna Harpe

2. Make it work for you and your home

Let’s face it: most of us don’t have a dedicated, easily washable art space.  Before you even TRY a messy art experience, think about your space and comfort level. 

Will it drive you bonkers to have paint on your new kitchen countertops?  Do you worry about stains on your carpet?  If so, it’s time to mix things up!

Here are some of our favorite messy art spots:

  • The bathtub or shower
  • The kitchen (or anywhere else with easily washable floors)
  • A giant box (Contain. The. Mess.)
  • Outside:  If you have outdoor space, great!  If not, try a park – what about bringing finger paint to a splash pad?  That mess will be washed away in no time!
  • Anywhere you can lay down a tarp or washable tablecloth

Wherever you land, the goal is to contain the mess to places that are easily washable and won’t have you pulling your hair out.

3. Prepare an exit strategy

Child finger painting
Photo by Rachel Withers

Ok ok.  So you found a great place to do your messy art.  You did it! It was fun!  It was messy!  Very messy!  Uh oh.  Now how do you get your paint-covered child to the sink?  

When you’re deciding where to do your messy art, think it through to the end – what do you do with a child covered in shaving cream? 

  • If you’re outside, have a hose ready. 
  • If you’re inside, a path of towels leading to the bathtub might do the trick!
Toddler painting on canvas
Photo by Rachel Withers

4. Repeat the mantra, “My child is washable…” 

If you’re creating in a washable space and have a great exit strategy, then let your child enjoy the mess they create! 

She.  Is.  Washable.  Repeat it over, and over again until you believe it.  

Kids splatter painting is art important

5.  Take Baby Steps

If mess makes you nervous, try starting with “clean” messy art!  You can find inexpensive “bath paint” in stores, but it’s easy to make your own foam paint too:

  • Squirt some hypoallergenic foam shaving cream into several containers
  • Add a drop or two of food coloring to each one
  • Stir with a paintbrush
  • Let your child have fun “painting” in the bathtub (themselves or the walls), then wash it all away!
messy art for kids: child playing with goop_anna harpe
Photo by Anna Harpe

6.  Keep it FUN

Messy art can be stressful for some of us.  Hopefully, if you follow the advice above you can find a way to make it work for you.  But maybe it’s still too much.  

We’re not here to guilt you into making a decision that adds undue stress to your family.  If finger painting makes you lose your mind EVERY TIME you try it… here is your official permission:  give it up!  Art time with your kids should be fun.  Keep it fun or let it go.   

If you absolutely can not stand the mess in your home, it’s time to outsource.  Find a good playgroup, preschool, or willing grandparent.  You know the benefits of messy art, but you also know your limits…and that’s important too.

Child squeezing paint onto mural - is art important
Photo by Rachel Withers

Outsource it!

In many cities there are wonderful art studios or playgroups available where you can go and experience all kinds of creativity with your little ones in a space that’s not your home (and with the extra support of wonderful professionals). 

Or maybe you have a friend or family member who feels less stressed about paint splatters than you do: ask for help!  Chances are, they’d be more than happy to take on a little  beautiful mess.

Whichever way you do it, exposure is key.  You want your child to have the opportunity to experience the benefits and joy of creative mess– so think about how you can make that happen and just go for it!

Who knows? You might be surprised at how much you enjoy the process too.

pink, purple and blue splatter painting

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