Don’t Make a Picture, Make a Mess! from’s MOTHER!!


It’s me, Jessica Williams creator of L.O.V.E. Parenting. I am in the home stretch for the publication of The Ultimate Parenting Course due this month. My mom (who happens to be a children’s book author and an educator!) is here with a guest post. ENJOY!

“Don’t Make A Picture, Make a Mess!” by Stephanie Waxman

I took my 2-½ year old granddaughter Zena to the local mall for “Toddler Tuesdays.” Enthusiastic Sheri in a bright red apron directed us to a table where other toddlers sat. At each place was a cup of crayons, a cartoon of a smiling puppy, a collection of pre-cut plastic shapes, a roll of double-sided tape, and a tin pail with two eyes and a mouth printed on it. I felt overwhelmed when I saw all these supplies, so I can imagine what Zena must have felt!

The project was to finish the face on the pail using the tape and shapes. Sheri showed us how to affix the tape so that the “hat” would sit right. The cartoon picture was to be colored with the crayons. Loud music blared. Mothers sat next to children exclaiming, “Oh! That’s beautiful!”

Zena asked me to tear a strip of tape, which she then stuck onto the plastic tablecloth. I tore off another strip and showed her how to stick it on the paper, then how to stick a shape to the tape. After about 4 minutes of doing this, she climbed on my lap. Sheri was flitting from table to table offering high-fives to those who’d completed the project. When she came to our table, she gazed at Zena’s picture for a moment, then with false cheer offered, “Oh, that’s different.”

I remembered an experience I had when training to become a preschool teacher. I sat at the clay table where 3-year old Jason was concentrating intently as he rolled and stretched the clay, which got soft from his handling. He molded it carefully. It looked like a dog. Or perhaps it was a dinosaur. Careful not to assign a particular designation to his creation, I tactfully asked, “What is it?” Jason turned to me and said simply, “It’s clay.”

Whether it’s the pliable feeling of warm clay, the tactile delight of sand, the liquid magic of water, or the slippery feeling of finger-paints, young children take pleasure in the sensuality of things and how those things interact with each other. Part of their process might include the discovery that, “This clay looks like a snake!” but when adults set up a project with a desired outcome, we impose an adult expectation onto a child’s experience of process and discovery.

And if children hear their parents exclaim, “Oh! That’s beautiful!” it might feel good, but it’s confusing: why is Mom so happy that I stuck tape on paper? When a child shows her “creation,” if we say something along the lines of: “Looks like you had fun exploring how the sticky tape works!” it more accurately reflects her experience. If we keep our enthusiasm in proportion to the event and match our enthusiasm to hers, the child feels seen.

It will be a while before the idea of “representation” enters Zena’s head; for now, she’s interested in what every artist first wants to know: what do these materials do?

For information on Stephanie’s best-selling book What Is A Girl? What Is A Boy? visit Amazon.

Jessica Williams

About Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams created L.O.V.E. Parenting with a series of techniques for effective communication, deepened connection and more joy in parenting and life. Jessica is also the creator of with the best of today’s progressive parenting experts together in one program. Jessica is a featured expert internationally on both’s Ask An Expert and the upcoming Jessica is a regular contributor to Mothering Magazine’s All Things Mothering, LA Parent Magazine, LA Mom Magazine & DailyBuzzMoms. She has been interviewed on television and radio and taught workshops at family wellness centers, schools and doctor’s offices. Her BirthKit has helped women have a transformational & empowering birth. Jessica maintains a private coaching practice in her native Los Angeles where she lives with her husband and their three children. “Truly amazing woman. I love her advice.”—Carrie-Anne Moss. “All you have shared has helped tremendously.”—Lisa Bonet. “I am experiencing nothing short of a miracle thanks to your laser beam approach.” –Andrea Bendewald.

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