As parents, it can seem like we are constantly cleaning up after our children. It’s a never ending battle from day one to keep up with the added mess our bundles of joy bring into our lives. And since we are the ones who are continually running around cleaning up those messes and washing the never ending dirty laundry, it seems outrageous to actually encourage your child to make a mess (gasp!).
The thing is, up until around the age of seven, children’s brains are literally like sponges and many of the things they experience in life are first time experiences. Sure, we look out in the yard and see mud over in the corner by the bushes and all we can think of is how to stop them from playing in it to prevent getting their clothes dirty, but for them it’s the first time to encounter such a fascinating thing, and so it seems only natural to stick their little hands right down into it! Besides, with all those amazing new stain remover products out there, we don’t even need to worry about those nasty stains anymore, thank God!
Getting messy is an essential part of your child’s learning and developmental process. But instead of getting annoyed or feeling overwhelmed by their natural curiosity, if done the right way and with a clear set of guidelines, getting a bit messy can be a priceless learning experience for them, and a great bonding experience for both of you.
Here are some of the best reasons and ways to let your child get messy and let their brilliant little minds expand!
One of the best ways to let your child be messy and learn is to create activities or engage them in anything that targets the 5 senses; touch, taste, smell, sight and sound. For pre-school age children, cooking and baking are great options for this. Allow them to help with preparing or washing ingredients (touch, sight, smell and maybe taste), measuring or mixing things together (math and science) and enjoying the end result (taste and smell). With children of all ages, baking is an exceptionally great way to enforce numbers, math and science. So, get your little one a stool to stand on, explain kitchen rules and let them give you a helping hand. Even if it means getting some flour on the floor, tomato juice or chocolate cookie dough all over their shirt, a little Clorox Clothes will go a long way for cleaning up a greasy stain from this healthy, well-rounded learning experience.
There’s no doubt, kids are often too curious for their own good. Rather than let that curiosity go un-checked and lead them into trouble, help them to discover in a safe space. If you have a baby or toddler, make homemade non-toxic paint for them to explore with. The simple act of using their hands to mix colors and create something new is a meaningful but simple activity. As children age, small science experiments can be supervised at home that tap into their investigative side, like an erupting volcano or making their own ocean after your beach holiday to play with and observe. For toddlers, toy eggs with different items hidden inside, treasure hunts or this amazing Skittles color experiment are all excellent ways to get them asking and answering questions.
Developing Motor Skills
Let your kids ride their bikes and come home caked in dirt, give them a pair of safe scissors and designated area to cut up materials you provide them with, let your infant or toddler use their hands to feed themselves, buy water soluble coloring supplies, and get your hands on some Play-dough or make your own at home. Bringing home stains on their clothes should be the least of your worries, because any way your child can use their body to do or create something their mind and muscles will grow and remember. Developing hand motor skills are especially important before children enter school and are expected to color and write on a regular basis.
Think about it, we fear what we don’t know. Or, we just don’t do what we don’t know. Yes, parents want to protect their children, but allowing them to be messy, investigate and play will also teach them independence. Allow your children to do things for themselves, even if it may cause a mess; like brushing their teeth, washing their own dishes, helping pack their lunches and bags, and picking out their own clothes. Though these seem like basic skills that can be taught later, the sooner they learn the better. By indulging in these manageably small messes now and helping build their independence, you will also be saving yourself a lot of work and bigger messes as your children age.
Creating a small space for your child where they can let their favorite imagination game take hold has so much value for them. Whether they’re into Legos, playing dress up or acting out their favorite job, setting up a table, bin or area where they can have access to this at any time is a great outlet for whatever it is that triggers their imagination. Keep this space free of electronics or other items that would distract them, and remember that if your child moves on to a new favorite activity you can always update their space. The idea is to have a 24/7 area that caters to their favorite dramatic and constructive form of play.
The key to any of these activities is your engagement with your child and setting as clear rules and guidelines as possible, appropriate to their age. Once your child knows they have approved times to unleash their messy nature, they’ll be better at keeping this routine and keeping you sane. So for all you mamas still stressing about your kids’ ruined clothes and messy kitchen floors, we are all in the same boat. Thankfully we live in a time where it’s just a matter of having the right products around the house to clean up the mess. And what’s better than a mess? A controlled mess!