Time To Get Messy
Parenthood is messy – I’mPerfect Activity Room is embracing it.
Celeste Percy-Beauregard, December 05, 2022 // Brantford, OntarioVictoria Campbell, owner of the I'mPerfect Activity Room. Photo credit Sarah Evans, Shoebox Pics.
“There's nothing about me that fits in a box,” says Victoria Campbell, owner of the I’mPerfect Activity Room in West Brant. Which makes sense, because she’s created a place where kids – from babies to school-aged children – are encouraged to break the “rules” and make a mess.
After high school, Victoria moved from Burlington to Brantford and commuted for post-secondary school in London. “So I didn’t make a huge connection with people because I drove back and forth every day,” she says, “And then as soon as I was done that, I started painting.”
As a self-employed house painter, she didn’t take more than a few weeks’ maternity leave when she had her son five years ago, and felt that as a result, she kind of missed out on creating her parent village. She remembers thinking, “It's not just me now, we need more [community].”
And so the ‘Let’s Get Together - Brantford Mom Edition’ Facebook group was born, a space for local child wranglers to connect both online and off, forming a support system, a place to get advice, pass on items kids had outgrown, commiserate over the challenges of parenting, and help the greater community through the charity fundraisers Victoria spearheads. “I can't necessarily afford to [personally] donate or whatever the case may be. But I have time,” she says, “It's kind of like a win-win for everybody. We can get together, we can have a good time, and we can raise money for something or someone that needs it.”
Little artists making big messes. Photo credit Sarah Evans, Shoebox Pics.
A common thread that came up when group members were making plans, was the lack of indoor spaces for parents with young children to meet up and do activities. “There was gymnastics and there was swimming,” Victoria says, “That was about it.” In fact, Victoria was regularly driving to Burlington when she wanted to take her son to a playgroup.
When a shoulder injury prevented her from painting for six months, Victoria took a leap and signed a lease on a space at the Cordage Heritage District. With keys in hand April 2021, Victoria spent the first six months of her lease, during the province’s second stay-at-home order, carrying out her vision for a play space where parents and their littles would feel comfortable, right down to the child-height sink and toilet.
Since officially opening her doors in October 2021, with Halloween-themed events and open-play times, there’s been “a lot of setbacks,” Victoria shares, such as the unreliable nature of running a drop-in program. “One person a day doesn't make it worth it [financially] for me to do that.” Over the past year, she has pivoted towards registered programs, designed in consultation with early childhood educators, including themed summer camps, parent-child sensory play-days, and ongoing courses with specialized instructors, like early-exposure to French language.
The set-up for creative expression. Photo credit Sarah Evans, Shoebox Pics.
“It's always evolving,” Victoria says, “There's always something different and we try to add things that other people want or people didn't even know existed.” Like adult-only craft nights, photos with Santa – one day for pups and one for kids – as well as do-over school photos, with elaborate set-ups, including the same backdrops used by professional photographers. Parents book a five-minute slot, during which they can take as many photos of their youngsters as they want. “Five minutes to some people seems like it's a blink of an eye,” Victoria says, “If you've got kids, five minutes is a lifetime.”
But the program that has taken off in the biggest way is Messy Art. It’s an hour-long registered class with songs, story time, and various sensory art stations with the invitation to – you guessed it – get messy. But unlike a typical “class,” participants are encouraged to explore new ways of doing things, which can initially be challenging for kids used to following a prescribed way of doing things. Victoria remembers one of the early classes, when a participant took an activity in a new direction and her son, also in the class, had the instinct to correct him. Victoria stepped in to say, “No, it's okay, that's the point here. It doesn't matter if you want to write on the paper with paint instead of a pen – do it,” she says, “You want to use your hands instead of the brush? Do it. If you want to use your feet, do that!”
Victoria leading the artistic path. Photo credit Sarah Evans, Shoebox Pics.
Budding Jackson Pollocks can book a private Messy Art party, which is more like a studio space set-up, with “A drop cloth on the floor against the wall, and then a big sheet on the wall and they just get to throw paint and do whatever they want. They can squish it, they can paint it with a brush, they can roll it, put their hands in it, they can squirt bottles, and they can run around,” Victoria says, “Kids just like to make a mess. It's fun to watch kids do whatever they want.”
Quiet crafts and a cake or cupcake decorating station round out the event. “There's all kinds of sensory stuff for them to do and get messy and then they leave,” Victoria says – leaving the mess behind. While for Victoria, “the cleanup is intense,” this was what she envisioned when she first dreamed up I’mPerfect Activity Room – a safe space where parents could bring their kids and not constantly worry that their kids are doing something “wrong.”
“Because that's stressful for a parent – especially young women – all day long,” she says, adding that dads, grandparents, and other caregivers and siblings are always welcome. “This village is not just moms.”
To learn more about upcoming programs at I’mPerfect Activity Room, click HERE.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Celeste Percy-Beauregard’s first form of storytelling was as an actor, and her eager curiosity and interest in a variety of subjects led her to writing. Her work has appeared in Toronto Star and Today’s Parent, and she is enjoying exploring Brantford and learning about the people and places that make it such a special city.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Born on a frigid winter's night, Sarah Evans knew early on that the only way to warm her soul was through art. During her time studying Film and Video Production at York U, Sarah discovered her love for photography and has been shooting ever since. Other things Sarah has done is worked on film and television sets, painted a terrible mural in high school, opened a floral business and bitten into a paintball (it wasn't a chocolate covered blueberry!).