There are two kinds of messes:
The Gawd Awful Mess
You know, unfolded clean underwear exposing itself on the living room sofa, muddy shoes in the front hall, yesterday’s lunch dishes still on the kitchen counter, and a stack of unpaid bills teetering on top of the microwave. This is the mess you would absolutely annihilate if you knew your mother was about to drop in.
But there is another kind of mess that we sometimes mistake for the first kind:
The “You’ve Got Such Creative Kids” Mess
Tiny bits of cut colored paper litter your kitchen floor, markers without caps lounge unattended dangerously near the edge of the coffee table and Lego cubes hide in the carpet waiting to come out in the middle of the night to attack your bare feet from below. This kind of mess is just as unsightly and perhaps even more dangerous to your couches, varnished surfaces and big toes, but unlike the first mess (which is merely evidence of a busy life being lived), this second kind of mess reveals creativity in action.
The trick is to not mistake the second for the first. The first kind of mess we want to clean up. The second kind of mess we want to create.
Back when I first began homeschooling, one of my best friends modeled a life of the second kind of mess. She lived across the balcony from me, as in, the mirror image apartment. I dropped in on her every day, unannounced, and would find: hammers and nails, spray paint cans, fabric swatches with big scary scissors in the hands of her six year old or bits of twigs sitting next to hot glue guns and her four year old.
“Hey Julie, we’re making tiny fairy houses. Come on in.”
She’d thrust a glue gun in my hand and call out enthusiastic directions. My toddler would reach for the hot glue and she’d expertly scoop him up in her arms, pull a face paint crayon out of the silverware drawer and draw a heart on his cheek.
Her house was a constant swirl of wonderful activity.
It was Dotty who taught me to put interesting stuff on the kitchen table before I went to bed. She suggested I set out empty egg cartons, markers, buttons, glue, feathers, pipe cleaners and big pieces of paper with holes cut out of them. She also suggested I put a can of paint brushes and some tempera paints on the table.
“The trick,” she said, “was to simply leave the stuff there and say nothing about it. The kids will come out for breakfast to eat and they will ask what all that stuff on the table is.” I was to say, “I just put it out. Take a look, if you’d like.”
“Reply with nonchalance,” she’d say, “and see what happens.”
I discovered that some kids will naturally start to explore. Some will be timid. For the timid kids, she told me that I might have to start playing with the materials myself, experimenting with paint and glue, scissors and egg cartons, as a way to give the kids permission to do the same. I tried it and you know what? It worked. The kids dove into the exciting mysterious pile of new things and began to create without any instructions from me.
I’ve discovered that even teens will respond to a new drawing book or a box of Sculpey Clay or a new set of beads and wire to make bracelets. If I put the mess out where it is visible, good things happen.
A few more ideas to get you started:
- Votive candle holders and acrylic paints
- Charcoal and paper for drawing
- All kinds of natural items like pine cones, moss, shells, bark, leaves and a nice plate for arrangement
- A new kit of Legos, K’Nex, or Technics
- Two new batches of play doh
- Throw away cameras for all the kids
- A paper airplane book and paper
- Cupcakes to decorate with all the icings, candies and gels
So make a mess and enjoy it.