Squish, squelch, splash, slime, drop, smear, toss, spray, and ooze.
I love watching my daughter make a mess because I know the benefits of messy play far outweigh the necessary clean-up.
Children are active learners and learn through play. Messy play is particularly valuable because it stimulates many of their senses at once. They can feel, smell, see, and sometimes even taste the consequences of their messy active play.
Children are doing many things at once when engaged in messy play. They can be observing, creating, building, exploring, imagining, discovering, investigating, interpreting, even relaxing.
They are the ones directing the learning opportunity.
There was a moment a while back when I realised that not all parents appreciated the value of messy play as much as me. I was walking home from the train station with my daughter. It had been raining and there were puddles everywhere. I was delighting in watching my daughter jump from one puddle to the next. Another child about the same age was watching and decided to join in. She jumped into a puddle with a huge smile on her face. ‘Splash!’ Seconds later her Dad slapped her and cursed at her for getting wet.
I was horrified that we had tempted the child to get into trouble, but I was even sadder that she’d lost an opportunity to experience the delight of jumping in puddles.
Strategies for minimising the ‘mess’ in messy play
I understand that parents don’t always have the time to clean up mess and that it’s often easier to avoid the mess in the first place. However, here are our strategies for ensuring the ‘mess’ in messy play doesn’t get out of control:
- Pack spare clothes when out and about, or at the very least have a set in the car, so that wet and muddy clothes can easily be replaced with clean ones.
- Restrict messy play to occasions when you have the time to clean up the mess.
- Protect clothes with a paint smock or apron.
- Use water-based paints because they are easier to wash off skin, clothes and furniture.
- Cover surfaces with a washable drip sheets or old towels. I have a large washable plastic sheet that I put down before my daughter starts painting or playing with play dough.
- Restrict the messy play to an area that’s easy to clean, like the bathtub, shower or outdoors.
- Set clear rules about what children can and cannot do with the medium they are playing with. For example, ‘the mud stays outside’, or ‘the playdough stays on the table’.
- Supervise. Children making mess can get lost in the moment and forget the rules. They’ll likely need you to be nearby reminding them of their boundaries.
- Relax and smile. You might not like getting covered in mud or sand, or having to travel home in wet clothes – but kids love it.
Do you embrace messy play or is it something you try to avoid?
- Practical Tips for Enjoying Messy Creative Experiences
- Let Go and Let Them Learn
- How Clean is Your Mess-O-Meter?