Little Makers Can Be Our Teachers

Guest Post by Lauren Watkins

Every Tuesday evening my Mom attended craft classes. She spent many late nights sewing clothing for me and quilts for her bedroom. She created ribbon embroidery pieces so exquisite, that my Dad later framed each piece and proudly displayed them around our home. Our mid- century house was not spacious or perfectly manicured but it told a creative story of a family of makers. Art littered every wall and our pieces became conversation starters amongst visitors - family and friends, old and new.

I enjoyed being a maker and my childhood creativity was inspired much by my mother’s pursuits of art and crafts. I painted on tile, knitted a stuffed toy elephant, experimented with decoupage, and intricately strung swarovski crystal beads into wristbands for elegant watches. My Dad also had a flair for art, colors and textures. After an early retirement he invested in a small framing gallery, where he specialized in choosing the style of frame and mount boards for original artwork or prints.

As much as I appreciate my parent’s artistic influence in my life, for the first year of my daughter’s life I shied away from the messiness of creative life and toddler art and chose not to incorporate art into our days. All the early childhood development literature points to the importance of parents allowing children to get messy because children are fascinated with art that encapsulates all of their senses. The learning benefits that can take place when a child creates art is wide-ranging. Art can build self-confidence and grow self-expression, just as much as it promotes fine and gross motor skills and coordination.

At 14 months, it took my daughter a while to grasp the concept of painting with a paintbrush or her pudgy fingers. Instead she would reach for a handful of paint and gleefully place it in her mouth to eat. The thought alone of her eating paint was enough to dampen my hopes of an afternoon of art-making. I think my aversion to mess and lack of patience was the culprit. Until one afternoon in the early summer I gave her a bowl of water,  a paintbrush and watched her on our sun-lit porch as she “painted” our balcony with great joy and precision. I was delighted in her delight. That afternoon, I drove to Fred Meyer and bought her first set of Crayola washable paints and a long-sleeved art smock. Sometimes our little makers have a lot to teach us. We both needed a little color (and mess) in our lives.

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Sometimes I feel a pang of Mom guilt for not introducing art to her sooner, but it’s never too late to begin. For the rest of the summer, she rose before dawn, anxious to get outside and paint. For some children, mess is distressing but in those early days of mothering and introducing my daughter to art, I was the only one distressed. She comes alive when she is able to draw, paint and create. Painting outside lessened my concerns of having to clean paint off of our black and white striped couch, her cute clothes, and the living room walls.

Today, our favorite place to paint is still outside, under our birch tree, cooling off under the shade of our evergreens.  

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We also enjoy painting at our neighborhood community art center, Seattle ReCreative. The store hosts a “paint playground” every weekday morning geared for little makers between the ages of 1 and 5 years. On our first visit, her eyes lit up when she saw the paint and glitter and her mouth widened in amazement as she mixed colors together.  

Leslie Bushara, deputy director for education at the Children's Museum of Manhattan writes about ways to inspire creativity in your young children. “Prepare for a mess. Set up an art space where your kid can be free to experiment (and get messy!). Throw a drop cloth or a newspaper on top of your kitchen table or in the garage. If weather permits, let kids paint outside. Avoid giving direction. Instead of saying, "Paint a rainbow," encourage her to "experiment with mixing colors using different types of brushes and paper," suggests Bushara.

If you’re needing a little inspiration, I recently read an insightful book, The Artful Parent, Simple Ways to Fill Your Family’s Life with Art and Creativity and it has over 60 art projects for children 1 to 8.  Now in the winter, I bring our backyard art studio into our home, leave behind expectations of what art time will look like, cover our oak table with newspaper and we get messy.

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Lauren Watkins is a free-spirited creative born in South Africa.  She is living and writing in the Pacific Northwest and now calls Seattle home. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Media and Writing and worked in health communication for several years before she moved to America. She currently is a contributor to The Inc.’s blog, a co-working space with onsite childcare. She is married to her husband David and together they are raising their two year old daughter. They enjoy going for walks around the city, cooking, reading and writing. She blogs at and you can follow her on Instagram @readtowriteblog