A totally great example of self-directed learning and a parent brave enough to follow

This is a guest post from Ilana Wiles. Parent’s magazine crowned her the Queen of Instagram. You can follow her @mommyshorts and she blogs at Mommy Shorts.

I started following @2sisters_angie a little over a year ago. Back then she was posting the typical stuff you see from moms on Instagram — pics of her daughter at the park, pics of her daughter eating breakfast and lots of photos of her daughter playing dress-up.

You know, the same stuff I post.

Then, about nine months ago, Angie’s feed started to change. It became clear Angie’s daughter (she calls her “Mayhem”) was more interested in fashion than the average 4-year-old. Mayhem shunned her store-bought princess dresses and started wrapping herself with scarves and sheets creating her own styles.

Then one day Angie got tired of finding her clothes in Mayhem’s toy box and suggested they make a dress out of paper. Mayhem loved the idea and they haven’t stopped creating paper dresses since.

I’ve been continually amazed every time Angie’s pictures pop up in my feed. The dresses started like this:

And over the last few months, I’ve watched them evolve to this:

Having a 4-year-old daughter of my own, whose biggest fashion moment was putting a red bow around the waist of her green Super Soccer Stars t-shirt and calling herself “Peter Pan,” I had a few questions for Angie. Namely…

How much is done by you and how much is done by your daughter?

The ideas are pretty much a 50/50 split, but Mayhem constructs a lot more than most people would probably believe. That’s one of the best things about this project, I see her learning new skills every single day. At this point, she knows exactly how many sheets of construction paper she needs to make herself a top and a bottom. She can lay the entire thing out and tape it together all by herself. Definitely, the more complex designs have more of my time invested, but she’s literally always beside me learning something new if she’s not tearing or taping or gluing while I am.

Do you have an example of a dress she constructed on her own?

She made the dress below entirely by herself. I wasn’t even home and she couldn’t wait to show it to me and have me photograph it.

Are all the dresses made of paper?

Most of the time. We use a lot of construction paper, but we also use tissue paper, wrapping paper, and gift bags. We have also used silk scarves, tulle, and aluminum foil. Basically, if we can find it laying around the house and it’s pliable, it’s fair game. Clear packing tape and glue are our adhesives of choice.

Where does she find her inspiration? Is she watching runway shows and award shows?

We pull inspiration from wherever we go. The shark dress, for example, came as a direct result of her first visit to an aquarium.

She also gets a lot of ideas from shows that she watches like Minnie Mouse.

Or from books we read, like My Little Pony.

Sometimes I’ll Google images the day after award shows, so she can see the dresses worn on the red carpet and pick which ones she wants to make.

We also leave a tab open on our iPad with a search for “project runway dresses” so that we can quickly reference those as well. She’s never actually seen an episode of Project Runway, but I did show her a clip one time explaining that there is a show all about making dresses and I thought she might hyperventilate.

Have you always been crafty? Were you a fashion designer in any sense before this started?

No and no. I actually don’t consider myself to be the least bit crafty. Don’t ask me to build something out of popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners … you’ll be incredibly disappointed! Cutting and taping paper is about all we do. And the most ironic part of this whole project is that I am literally the least fashionable person you will ever meet. In reality, I know nothing about fashion and cannot sew a straight line to save my life. A friend suggested I could start sewing these creations from scraps of fabric and I laughed at her. I’ll take paper and tape any day over getting anywhere near a sewing machine!

Do you think this is going to be a lifelong interest for Mayhem?

After we made our first paper dress, Mayhem requested another the very next day. Then another the day after that. And no one is more surprised than I am, that she still wants to make them nearly 9 months later. I have no idea if it will continue, but as long as she wants to make them, we’ll keep doing it.

14 replies
  1. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    I just shared this on facebook yesterday! I was wondering how much of the actual construction was the daughter’s, and how much the parents were involved. Very fun to see the answers here! The creativity and actual production are beautiful!! Keep it up, Mayhem.
    Sarah M

  2. Kim
    Kim says:

    These are really neat ideas. Sadly, my daughter has a two year old brother who would love nothing more than to destroy and possibly eat all of these.

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      Ugh, little brothers are the worst.

      Just kidding! I think it’s okay if none of the dresses survive. Baby brother seems like a good lesson in how to kill your darlings (darling ideas, that is).

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The thing that most impressed me about the adult involvement is that it didn’t seem like this is anything the mom ever aspired to do. She’s not crafty. She can’t use a sewing machine. So I really respect that she pushed herself to get involved in something just because her daughter is interested.

      So often I think we parents have ideas of what a good childhood is, what we would have wanted, what we like now, and we push kids toward that. This mom did something else. It’s harder and I like that.


      • Kim
        Kim says:

        This is such a great point, Penelope. How often I’ve wanted to push my kids into being math geniuses because I wanted to be good at it, myself. I used to think that homeschooling was the more organic way of pushing your kids into a hole. It’s great that she’s able to follow and support her child’s interests even if she doesn’t have the skill herself.

  3. mh
    mh says:

    I love this.

    I have only boys, and they are happy to create their own stuff without much Mom involved… but the youngest one wants me to help him make a good theater for puppet shows.

    I’m very excited to see his shows.

  4. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Yes the designs are utterly delicious, but what is most exciting and marvellous to me is this little girl’s air of creative confidence. You can just see how excited and satisfied she is about each creation realised. Wonderful wonderful.

  5. Paxton
    Paxton says:

    The pic of her dressed like jennifer lawrence is so cute. 4 is such a fun age. Oh how I miss when my daughter was that age. At that time she was learning to play and getting really good at video games and it was amazing to see her little hands and fingers use a big xbox controller very efficiently.

  6. Liz
    Liz says:

    this is amazing. thank you Penelope and Ilana Wiles for sharing. brings so much hope for what parenting can be and how kids can grow. love this.

  7. Lara
    Lara says:

    This is amazing! Thanks for posting. I have a 3 year old and it is fun to watch her grow and develop interests. It is so important to me that I observer who she is not who I think she should be. This is a great example of that. Thanks!

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