As parents, we work tirelessly (pun intended) to keep our little ones safe, happy and well. They're wonderful, unstoppable creatures who leave a trail of devastation in their wake, which we tidy up over and over again. Most of this mess is par for the course, but there's one particular kind of mess that often splits parents firmly into two camps.
The paint mess.
A bit like playdough, there are two types of thought at work here:
"Not a chance pet, I've just rug-doctored the carpet from the last lot of spillages and realistically I quite enjoy my walls in their current, non-splattered state."
"Right, stick your pinny on and lets go for it."
Bet you can't guess which side of the fence I sit on? Yep, I'm wearing my pinny right now. Now, I completely get the mess factor. I used to be very much the same in the early days of toddler-supervision, despite what I'm about to say. It's true, painting with little people can definitely get messy, but it doesn't have to - and in fact, the more you do it with them, the less messy it gets, because they're learning.
Image: author's own
That's the key thing about painting. It's learning. The two are inextricably linked, for children especially. Art-based activities help young minds to make sense of the world around them. They explore ideas by making shapes with tools.
Colours become something they can manipulate as well as see. They begin to understand the basics of dimension and size. Handling brushes, chalks, crayons - anything that's used in painting and drawing is a key cornerstone of their fine and gross motor skill development.
But developmental benefits aside, this is the main reason you should be painting with your child:
It brings you closer together.
Honestly, I can think of few other activities where an under-five will sit with their grown up for a considerable period and concentrate, create and discuss. Obviously, activities and expectations should be age appropriate, but even babies and crawling infants can gain a lot from the sensory experience of paints.
As they hit the toddler and preschool stage, most children love to talk imaginatively about what they're making, and when painting and drawing together, we're actually bonding, so much more so than we realise. It's also a great way to encourage quieter children to open up.
Here's what made the penny drop for me. On Sunday afternoon, my little girl (who's three) and I were watching TV. "Mammy, can we do some painting?" she asked. I groaned (because obviously, I was really engrossed in that particular episode of Twirlywoos) and then got up to get the aprons and watercolours out.
What happened next really surprised me. I decided to paint alongside her and got my sketchbook out to make some new designs, but I didn't hold out much hope for it lasting that long. How wrong I was.
We painted together for about an hour and a half.
During that time, I managed to draft a whole chunk of new ideas, but I also got to discover that Small-Me has made two little friends at her new 'big nursery', that she has been 'practicing how to do washing my brush with the water' and also that she thinks 'we're being good girls because we're doing paintings'. She showed me how she's been trying to hold her brush and told me why she thought it was too hard, then used 'the other hand' to crayon with.
We drew circles together as she insisted I use black for everything (odd little beast). She asked me lots of questions about the drawings I was doing, about painting shapes and then told me to be careful using my pens 'with your poorly hand' - I'd been wearing a splint the other day.
She painted messy picture after messy picture and we talked about each one...as well as other topics along the themes of nursery, what happens at a vets and why Minnie Mouse wears gloves inside the house (a genuine mystery).
Then, just before tea, she looked up at me and said "I love doing paintings with you mammy", before jumping down from the table and telling me quite bluntly that it was 'tidy up time'.
And the mess?
Yes, there was mess. Red watercolour juice all over the previously-clean table and soggy paper bundles "drying" in the corner, but I tidied that mess with a grin. Then I realised - I'd actually had fun.
Painting with your child is undoubtedly good for them, but as a parent, it's good for you too. Your child learns about the world, and you learn about your child. Art promotes positive relationships, and that alone is worth any mess.
So, are you a paint-fan or paint-phobe?
Blog originally published on Rosarts.