Learning to Let Go of Creativity Control

Art Projects
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Ever feel like this project just isn’t turning out? Let go. Remember the process. A post written and shared by Ali at At Home with Ali.

Learning to Let Go

Doing art projects and crafts with young children can drive anyone crazy.

Paint going everywhere except on the paper, glue on fingers and in hair, mountains of glitter spread out for no purpose, oil pastels having their wrappers ripped off and smushed into the couch… frankly it was all too hard for me.

However, one day I turned around and realized I had limited my 2 year old daughter’s art and craft activities to a set of waxy crayons, a glue stick and some paper – no paint, no school glue and no glitter.

I love art and craft so how did we get here?

Learning how to let go of creativity control is tricky - but can be done!

Luckily, I was fortunate to have a mother-in-law trained in the field of early childhood education and we had many conversations about the importance of process over product and child-centered play… which really got me thinking.

You see, I am a graphic designer and all my working life has been focused on the product, sure there is process but I am not happy if the end product does not look great.

This sort of thinking had transferred to my art and craft activities with my daughter, Cakey.

Time for a different approach –

I stopped trying to create beautiful things with Cakey and let her lead the way.

Let kids lead the way with arts and craft projects

First up, I changed my meaning of a ‘successful’ activity –

I started to measure success only in terms of time spent (the longer the better) and fun had.

Measure success only in terms of time spent (the longer the better) and fun had.

I stopped whipping away collages when I thought they were finished (i.e. looking lovely with heaps of bits and pieces glued on). I left them out for Cakey to destroy. She seemed to get more pleasure from ripping the pieces off than she did from sticking them on.

Measure success of an activity by the amount of time spent and fun had, not the end product

I also re-introduced paint but I took away the easel.

Instead, I set the paint up on a big table and supplied a variety of different materials to paint on – bark from a paperbark tree, little canvasses, coloured paper of various sizes, stones from the garden.

This stopped her from painting on the table or pavers. And I gave myself a break – on days when I couldn’t cope with cleaning up the mess from painting I pulled out our little tray of watercolours instead.

Take away the art easel

As Cakey got older (she is now 3.5), I introduced good quality (i.e. sharp enough to actually cut paper) child-friendly scissors (affiliate link).

I let her experiment with these by cutting up strips of thick paper. I also used to sit her at the table with a magazine and let her go to town on it.

But by far the best thing I have done…

…(In terms of independent arts and crafts go) was to teach her how to use the sticky tape dispenser.

I bought a decent tape dispenser (affiliate link) and the most expensive sticky tape because it breaks off easily for little fingers. It was well worth the investment.

Cakey will happily sticky tape together amazing creations for hours with no help and is always so proud of her results. I do have to buy sticky tape in bulk now though.

Learning to give kids control with arts and crafts

Handing over control has been hard.

I realized that I have many pre-conceived ideas about what are the right and wrong ways to do something, but Cakey doesn’t see the world in the same way.

She doesn’t want me to tell her how to do something, she wants to discover it herself.

As I have slowly loosened up, art and craft activities have become loads of fun for both of us and I am learning the difference between supporting her rather than directing.

at home with aliI am a graphic designer and a stay at home mother to my two beautiful daughters – Cakey (3) and Boo (1). Cakey wants to make things all the time – sometimes it is fabulously fun and sometimes it makes me want to pull my hair out. I love the challenge of trying to channel Cakey’s interests and ideas into activities we can do together. I also love watching Boo’s personality come out and am intrigued by what her interests will turn out to be. – At Home With Ali

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  1. AngelasClues says

    Great post Ali. Letting go is incredibly difficult…esp for creatives! You hit it right on the head, in that it's all about the journey!

    LOVE Cakey's final work of art pict – Enjoy her!

  2. Reina says

    I am gald to read that my children are not the only one in love with tape. They can be houuuuuuuurs making all kind of constructions :)

    I also loved your post because I also travelled the same path with my twins (imagine, double paint mess ;). Now they are 4.5 and they and me enjoy the process. And the result, who cares when we had so much fun?

  3. Having Fun says

    I have the same issues with messy play. Yesterday however, I think I made a breakthrough. I did a sensory bin with shaving cream. To get over my fears I added a few elements. Since it's cold outside our activity had to be inside. So I put play dresses on my girls and put them in the tum (empty) and let them have at it.

    They loved it. It was in their hair, walls, cloths, but that's ok. I just sprayed everything down and through the messy cloths in the laundry basket. I'm working on my messy play fears and getting better.

    When summers comes I'm just going to let go and just spray them off with the hose. Lol

    Veronica @ http://watchmeplaynlearn.blogspot.com/2012/01/week-19-day-2-winter-sensory-fun.html

  4. SarahElisabeth says

    Been there- so hard to see the paint loaded on so thickly and the paper brushed so hard that it ends up with holes. The day we did mud painting though was such a great day for my two year old and the outdoors made it easier for mama.

  5. Ali says

    Thanks to everyone for all your lovely comments – I really appreciate it. So glad I am not the only one who has had trouble coping with messy play!!

    Thanks also to Jamie for giving me the opportunity to guest post on her blog.

  6. Cris says

    Thanks for such a sincere post. My daughter is now 2 years and 4 months old and I often find myself trying to clean every spot of paint which falls out of the paper…
    I am exaggerating, but it is true that I usually have to remind myself that it is not the product, but the process, and that I have to admit some mess as part of the way she interacts with the materials.
    Another reminder: I have to make an effort to provide as many and as varied materials and textures as possible.
    Kind regards from Spain.

  7. Rose says

    I love the article about “learning to let go”. I am a single mother of 3, Heaven 8, Kobe 7 and Angel 5. Always in a hurry with everything I do and wherever I go. Its very hard for me to do fun things with my children because I don’t want to make a mess and take the extra time i don’t have to clean it up. I turned out like my mother and now my 8 year old is turning out to be the same way. I heard her telling her sister she cannot play with her barbies because shes going to make a mess. I felt horrible!!!
    Reading this article made me see that I need to stop being so controling and letting my children be themselfs. Stop worrying about the mess and let them explore because what is important is the happiness in their faces.
    I planed a day with them and had them help me bake cup cakes. My 5 and 8 year old daughters help me bake and prepare them, and everytime I would see something spill or not being in their place, I would tell my self “its o.k.” My son just wanted to decorate his his own way. After we were done and the yummy results we had. My daughter Angel said, “mommy I love you , you are the best.”
    I continue to do fun things with them and let them have more choices and lead once in a while.

  8. Jessica says

    This post has opened my eyes inmensly , I have a 2.5 yr old and in always feeling I wish I could be in her shoes I wish I understood her little mind , letting go of being a clean freak adult is very difficult but when I did and let the kid in me loose just for a little while was so much fun , we went splashing in puddles got paint in our hair , daisy even showed me how to make dinner for the dolls with the grass and twigs from the garden :-D I’m her mother to guide her through life and to keep her safe but I should also be her friend to have fun and do silly things with , so easy to forget when we work all the time , there little minds are precious before we know it they won’t want to do all the simple little things in life with there mum we should make the most of every smile :-) xxx

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