A Messy Childhood Is A Creative Childhood

April 2, 2019

As someone who values artistic expression and creativity, you would think I’d be a lot more encouraging of this with my children. However, I often find myself anxious over messes and things not going the way I envisioned. It’s something I’m actively working on. Like Elizabeth Antonia, photographer Meg Perotti is one of my mom friends that I look up to for how she is raising her family.

Meg embraces motherhood with such honesty and grace. She doesn’t sugarcoat or hide the hardships, yet somehow you know how magical and precious childhood is to her. She isn’t afraid to let her kids get messy, explore new surroundings, do things differently. Sometimes I find I’m too rigid with routines, but Meg seems to shake it up. She is allowing her kids to be champions of their choices. That’s not to say she doesn’t give them structure, but she does it in a way that feels empowering.

I asked her to share what creating a creative childhood means to her and her tips for expanding imagination and encouraging play for her children.

Photography by Yan Palmer 

“Truth be told, I am not a very tidy mother. Our house is littered with piles of things. Piles of dirty clothes. Piles of clean clothes. Piles of toys and stacks of blankets. Piles of mail and mountains of books that keep arriving in Amazon boxes that I am hoping to read at some point in my lifetime. Many of these piles ignite stress and anxiety in my otherwise relatively calm brain, but there are also piles around our house that energize and inspire me. 

There are piles of rocks, piles of dried flower petals, piles of papers filled with scribbles and milk cartons covered in paint and feathers. There are piles of treasures we’ve collected on trips to the beach and piles of love notes my daughter has cut and pasted together and filled with adoration. There are piles of baking supplies and piles of gardening tools. Piles of seed packets and piles of tree stumps we hauled home last week to put in the backyard. Much to my husband’s dismay, there are even piles of garbage (is it garbage though?) on our attic stairway just waiting for some little pair of hands to choose it and turn it into something beautiful.

children are magical creatures who surprise and delight us in unexpected ways.

I am not a very tidy mother, but I do consider myself a creative mother. Creativity isn’t a tidy game and welcoming it into our home is one of my core values as a parent.  Oftentimes we find our children living in a serious world. They are hurried off to school, handed worksheets, taught to walk in a straight line and not to speak out of turn. There is value in those lessons, of course, but children are magical creatures who surprise and delight us in unexpected ways. The saying goes, “You cannot teach children to color inside the lines and then expect them to think outside the box.” Children are naturally born with the ability to think outside the box because they don’t even see the box. An old friend of mine posted a video of her daughter looking out a window. In it, she looks at her mama and asks, “What does the inside of the sky look like?” Her mom responds by quietly asking, “What do you think it looks like?” Her response? “Maybe memories?” 

How many times has a child taken your breath away by sharing with you the way their forming brain is processing the world around them? This is creativity at its core – the brain using imagination to form original ideas. What could be more beautiful and more inspiring than hearing a child, without reservation, send an idea like the sky is full of memories out into the world? Inviting children to use their innate sense of creativity to learn and process information and giving them the freedom to do it their way can only strengthen their individuality and give them confidence, reinforcing the idea that learning is fun.

I believe it is our duty as parents to use creativity to help keep the magic of childhood alive. I believe children should be given the freedom to explore the world around them in their own ways. I believe they should be sent outside to play and given a box of garbage to make something out of nothing. I believe they should pick up as many shells as they can at the beach to take home and arrange in their fairy gardens and I believe it is your duty as a parent to carry that backpack full of the rock treasures your child finds in the riverbed. I believe in blank paper, not coloring books and that the answer to the dreaded, “I’m bored” is a bin full of puffballs, paint and glue. 

If you do consider yourself a tidy mother, I get you! Just because creativity can be messy doesn’t mean there aren’t some tricks to help contain it within your home and you can let your child roam the land of the creative within the boundaries you provide. Even I have my limits- you can imagine why, but glitter is NOT allowed in our house!” — Meg Perotti 

How many times has a child taken your breath away by sharing with you the way their forming brain is processing the world around them? This is creativity at its core – the brain using imagination to form original ideas.

Here are some of my favorite simple ways to help foster creativity in your home:


Designated art areas for making art and displaying art.

“If you build it, they will come.” We have a corner in our dining room with a child-size table and chairs. There are two file folders that hang from the wall that have paper and activity books and colored pencils and crayons are always available here. Across the room from the table is a chest of drawers with anything they might need for their projects. It’s easily accessible and completely their zone. I keep it stocked; they keep it active! We don’t have space for this in our house currently, but a dear friend of mine has a “gallery” in her home. Her kids get to choose which works of art are displayed in their “shows,” and they rotate them each season.


Outside play zones.

Set up some magical invitations to play – fairy zones, rocks to paint, a chalkboard wall, tree stumps arranged to hop from one to the next, and buckets of collected shells.


Ask your child to tell you about their art rather than praise it.

“Oh, that’s so pretty!” Is the end of the activity – “Tell me about it!” opens the door for them to start talking about their creative process. It teaches them about methods and also gives them a sense of ownership and pride in their work. 



Containment for crafting helps clean up! We use a kraft table cloth that I can shake out when we’re done, and each child has a tray that I snagged in that lovely Target dollar section.


When your child asks for youtube (because let’s be real, they all do) show them videos of people making things. Find things and subjects that will inspire them. Even screen time can lead to creativity


A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine art, in and of itself.”

― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear

If you liked this post, you might also like Elizabeth Antonia On Encouraging A Creative Childhood + There’s No Place Like Home 

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Meg quotes one of my favorite books ever, Big Magic. Get your copy here.