Clear rules and procedures limit the mess associated with art centers.

Early Childhood Art Center Rules & Limits

by Dana Tuffelmire

If the thought of painting or crafting with your preschooler is often followed by a wave of nausea, you're not alone. Art projects with kids are messy, there's no doubt. However, creating a specific area in your home for art can limit the mess, or at least confine it to one specified area. Setting limits helps your child know what is acceptable and unacceptable while painting, gluing, cutting or glittering to her heart's content. Teach your little Picasso a regular clean-up procedure to encourage independence and responsibility while you rest easy knowing you won't be finding glitter in your hairbrush -- today, at least.


Organizing your art supplies in a clear manner ensures your child will be able to find supplies when she needs them and put them away when she's done. Separate supplies into labeled, plastic bins for easy access. Use pictures and words to help your little one learn where items belong. Explain to your child that using the art center is a privilege that comes with being responsible enough to clean up after herself. Place a plastic tablecloth on the table and floor to catch drips and keep a broom handy for easy sweep-ups.


Every child goes a little nutty with anticipation upon seeing a rainbow of art supplies lined up on the table. Before you turn him loose, set clear behavioral limits. Teach your child that good behavior at the art center means using the supplies as they are intended, not on the walls or his body. Other topics to cover include sharing, cleaning up after yourself and using an indoor voice. Teach him that he won't be able to use the art center unless he employs good behavior.


Keeping your child safe is likely second nature by now, as you've learned throughout the toddler years that an inquisitive child can be a dangerous thing. Safety rules teach your explorer that employing creativity comes with limits. Scissors are used for cutting paper, nothing else; paint should be applied to paper and never tasted, regardless of an enticing smell; art projects are best completed with both feet on the floor or your bottom in a chair. Teach your child the rules by modeling the first several times you use the art center and with regular reminders.

Clean-Up Procedure

A child's idea of cleaning up generally involves placing his paintbrush on the table, hanging a dripping portrait on the fridge and walking away. It's your job, Mom and Dad, to teach him otherwise. Decide what your child can contribute to the clean-up process based on his age and capabilities. Show him exactly how and where to rinse out his paintbrush or put away supplies. Guide him as he cleans up the first few times, providing encouragement and praise. Although it can be tempting to do it yourself when you see your artiste has left a mess, call him back to the art center to clean up so he learns it's his responsibility, not yours.

About the Author

Dana Tuffelmire has been writing for DMS for three years. She taught elementary school for seven years and earned a master’s of education degree with a specialization in literacy. She is currently a stay-at-home mom to two sons. Her dream is to one day write a children's book.

Photo Credits

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