If your child doesn't enjoy getting messy, head to the end of this post for sine tips that my help your little one ease into it!
Below you can see the creativity that unleashed itself in the first fifteen minutes of a painting session. While I introduced painting with balloons, the rest was discovered on his own:
: Balloon paint & hand prints,
Leaning over to make "belly prints"
Tray of paint on the head & painting "blind".
If I were to stop him, it would disrupt the flow of learning. As I watch him put paint in his hair, I know that he is creating quite a sensory experience for himself. As he shakes an enormous amount of edible glitter all over a Christmas cookie, I know that he will learn in a moment when he tips the cookie, that it won't all stick. Eventually he will figure out why, or perhaps I casually sneak in a bit of knowledge.
This isn't anything that soap and water can't handle!
There's so much to learn about mixing colours, consistency and texture... So many motor skills to refine...
To me, it's always worth it worth five to ten minutes of cleaning for the typical half an hour or longer session of discovery. I have learned to cover the table with an old sheet. I know to have everything for the bath ready just in case. Ty has been quickly trained on how to walk with his hands help up in front of his chest on the way to the tub to keep it off of the walls (though if he "failed" at that, it wouldn't be a big deal anyhow).
In our home, we create art for arts sake, not for an end product.
If you can't even see the bottom of your tub, you know you and your little one have done an extra great job!
If this entire post seems useless to you because your child doesn't like to get messy, there are other ways to let them explore, and rest assured that many children break out of their mess-hating status eventually. Believe it or not, Tyler went through stages where he felt that Mama trying to get him to finger paint or touch wet sand was downright abusive! The key is to never force a child or make them feel weird about their aversion, but to ease them into activities slowly, respecting their qualms.
You can try squish bags for a mess-aversive child, using shaving cream, ketchup or hair gel.
Your child can try marble painting, which is fun art made by putting paper inside a box or tray with paint and marbles. Tipping the box will allow the marble to paint for them!
Give your child a brush to use instead of finger painting. Get some paint on your own hand and show them how it washes off. If the child is still unsure, providing plastic gloves is an option as well! Be sure to provide a smock or old t-shirt if they're scared of getting their clothes messy.
Providing bath paints may be a good option for some children as they are already in the water and can be readily cleaned off. Bingo Markers/Paint Markers are also fun and can be used with little to no mess on paper. I've also heard that Color Wonder finger paints have worked well for some children!