I’m excited to introduce you to The Children’s Art Factory, an inspiriting creativity play space in Guelph, Ontario (Canada), founded by Melissa Mazar, aka Missy Pepperpot.
When families walk inside Missy’s space, they’re greeted with process-focussed hands-on activities that engage their minds and bodies. Inside you might find things like open-ended art making, an enormous collaborative painting easel, potion-making stations, rice grinding, baby doll painting (and washing), clay play, drumming, and a theatrical dress up space.
Let’s take a look inside, shall we?
Missy, thank you for joining me today! The Children’s Art Factory is a wildly rich place for sensory experiences, playful learning, and creative problem solving! Can you describe it for us?
We operate as a drop-in process art studio for young children. Our studio is open to the public to come in anytime during our daily hrs with a caregiver. (During the pandemic, please see the CAF’s homepage for updates on the drop-in policy and/or scheduling a small group visit).
We have many different art stations (splatter painting; painting; mudpie kitchen (with moon sand); stage; sand pit; maker table (with paint; glue, scissors, tape and lots of materials). We also have a sensory table that changes weekly (at this table we do activities like baby wash and paint; rice grinding; potions; car wash and paint).
Children are welcome to travel where they wish in our space and can stay as long as they wish at each station. As a drop-in studio, visitors come in at all times of the day, for that reason we cannot provide a long list of instructions each time, thus we have really had to focus our stations to be simple but peak curiousity and open-ended so that any child at any age could participate. We also focus on messy materials (paint; sand; water), as this is what most adults/caregivers want and children love.
What makes The Children’s Art Factory unique?
I created this studio because as an Artist myself, I felt there was no space for young children to go where they could be free to just experiment and play with a rich array of materials. This became more important to me after having my first child, where I found most programs available to young children were presented as step-by-step activities that held little interest or meaning to them. There was also the issue of a dedicated space where children could make a mess, without worrying about cleaning up, a place where they could go to just do art.
The beginning of Children’s Art Factory was to recreate my own experience of what it was like to be in a real studio, with other Artists: Learning and supporting each other. The stereotype of the Artist is that we are like children in our ability to play and experiment with no set goal- that is creativity in its essence- and it is the lens for which I used to create my studio. I see children as collaborators rather than students. I learn from them and I am inspired by them.
All of our activities are a true call and response, between me and the children. By observing them at play, I learn what they need, how I can improve or change the space to suit their needs. As an Artist I experiment with activities, taking risks with materials- knowing that children are interested and curious about almost everything, they are the best audience and collaborators to try things out on.
I created the studio as an artist for other artists, they just happen to be young. Ironically, our philosophy as a studio dovetails perfectly to best practice in early childhood education.
What do you love the most about your space?
I love that I have created a studio that is beautiful but also practical. We have something interesting and engaging in every corner and have used up every inch of space for children to explore and find meaning for themselves.
Take us to a moment in time in your space. What does it feel like?
A space where they can be loud or quiet, pensive or exuberant. When the space is filled with children of all ages working on their things, it is the most wonderful environment of freedom, play, inclusiveness and belonging. A space that is filled with joy.
Do you have any tips for those of us who want to make our homes havens for making?
- Messes. Don’t be afraid of mess. Messes have to happen for art to happen. The more you offer messy things, the less often messes will happen.
- Dedicated area for making. Have a dedicated area where materials are accessible to the child for independent making whenever they choose.
- Patience. When you first set materials out, children may likely use too much and make a big mess. Be patient! The more you trust them, the more they will learn to self- regulate, especially if they know you won’t take the items away. The more trust that’s built, the more you can add messy items.
What three supplies are indispensable to you and your children at this moment?
In our camps this summer, the children have loved pumping water, vinegar, paint and soap for simple plastic pumps! We use gallon jugs and paint pumps. So satisfying for young children to be able to choose how much they can use! Also, coloured tape dispensers and wooden crab mallets- good materials to smash are chalk and used dry tempera paint pucks are very satisfying to hammer!
Can you share a favorite tip for organizing your creative zone?
I like to drill holes in tables to fit cups for paint and water so they are spill proof. I also put velcro on the backs of our dry tempera trays to keep them in place. Moving blankets are great sensory blankets for inside or outside. They are thick enough to absorb spills and help define the area for children. They also look beautiful!
Do you have a favorite tip for cleaning up after a creative session?
Patience! When mess has happened it is because something glorious has taken place, which is by far more important than a tidy house.
What do you hope children will take away from their experiences in your space?
I hope children discover the magic inside them. I hope they lose themselves in their play and become so absorbed in their imagination or by a material that time stopped and they were able to bask in the pure joy of their own making.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I am so grateful that I get to bear witness to children in their element. It is truly an honour to be part of their journey.
Bring the Children’s Art Factory to your home:
If you’d like to experience some of this magic in your home, choose from a handful of kits filled with the materials used daily at the Children’s Art factory. Bonus for friends of TinkerLab, you’ll receive a free gift at purchase if you use the code TINKERLAB at checkout.
The kits offer essential and innovative tools that look beautiful, can be used in a variety of ways, require little to no adult supervision, and nurture independent process-based and creative play. Each kit will build upon the last- providing you with engaging open-ended activities that can be used over and over and allow children to be immersed in sustained play.