8 Reasons to Let Your Kids Get Messy
Every child has unique gifts and talents, but there’s one thing they all seem to be good at: making messes! In fact, living with tots in tow can sometimes feel like you’re trapped in a circle of icky spills, sticky fingerprints, and dirty clothes. With lots of patience and guidance, though, you can teach your child to step up to the clean plate by tidying up his room or wiping off the table. But as you nurture those good habits, don’t say “no” to all messes, as some actually help young tikes learn about their world and build essential skills. Here are eight reasons to let your child get good and messy today.
SPARK HIS FIVE SENSES.
Start exploring the benefits of messy play at a local park or beach. Allow your tyke to pick fresh berries, feel goopy mud between bare toes, listen to the sounds of falling leaves – these sensory experiences help your child understand his world better than any book.
Believe it or not, these moments provide excellent opportunities for skill building. Want to reinforce math concepts? Let your child sort and count dirty shells, rocks, sticks, or leaves. They all look, smell, and feel interesting to him (especially compared to store-bought toys), and when multiple senses are stimulated, his brain is more likely to remember what’s being learned.
GROW A FUTURE SCIENTIST.
When you’re ready to bring the dirt closer to home, let your little one roam free in the yard. Toys like water tables encourage small messes, but these may limit your child’s play. Instead, carve out a spot in your yard where she can dig, roll, climb, and crawl. Add a sandbox to her backyard play pen so she can build sculptures and castles. Offer her some shovels or water buckets — but leave the rest to her imagination.
Kids are bound to get dirty when playing outside, but it’s worth the price of laundry detergent to provide a spot for open-ended play, exploration, spontaneity, and discovery — where an insatiably curious kid can see “what happens if…”
MAKE A MASTERPIECE.
When your little one is ready to get clean, plop him in the tub for paint time. Painting in the tub can get messy, but cleanup is fairly quick and painless.
Plus, you don’t need to use special materials. In fact, you can make your own paints by mixing one-third cup of baby shampoo with one tablespoon of cornstarch and a few drops of food coloring. Another idea is to give him some of dad’s shaving cream and let him go wild (supervised of course!).
Give your artist cotton swabs to use as paint brushes. Letting him practice gripping and maneuvering the thin swab will help to increase his fine motor skills (keep careful watch that he doesn’t insert them into his ears, nose or anywhere else on this body).
MEASURE AND MIX TO LEARN MATH.
As you become more comfortable with a little dirt and disorder in your life, start taking things into the kitchen. When you cook with your child, flour will cover the floor, batter will spill into that unreachable crevice next to the stove, and eggs will splatter on the ground. So why do it? Because, here you can show your budding chef that math is important.
Even a toddler can help with simple baking projects, so explain small (teaspoon) and large (cup)…A preschooler can get an introduction to basic addition (1Tbsp + 1Tbsp=2Tbsps), and older kids can explore fractions and division.
Giving a young child more control at the dinner table is a sure way to end up with a ruined carpet and stained clothes. The payoff? A confident, self-sufficient child.
As soon as she starts solids, offer your munchkin a spoon (even if you have to help get the food in her mouth). Around her first birthday, she can begin picking up bits of food with her fingers. At age 3, let her try a fork, and by preschool-time, show her how to pour her own drink from a pitcher. These simple tasks build better muscle control and spatial awareness, skills that will allow her to do other things on her own.
GET CREATIVE WITH CRAFTS.
All you need are some supplies and a table, and you have the makings of a crafts space for your child. The materials spell disaster for neat freaks — scissors, markers, paints, crayons, glue, glitter — but you can minimize the mess by using smocks, laying down a mat or newspaper, and teaching your artist to only color on the paper. Just be prepared for splattered walls, some glitter on the dog, and scraps of cut paper everywhere.
On the plus side, you’ll encourage your child’s creativity. In addition, learning how to cut with (kid-friendly) scissors and grasp writing utensils builds muscles that are essential for everything from buttoning a coat to using a pencil.
Like the yard, it’s nice to have an indoor zone where your pipsqueak can make a mess that you don’t have to clean up right away. Keep this area free of electronic toys, video games, and television. Instead, make it a place where she can engage in dramatic and constructive play.
Remember, what looks like disorder to you may be your child’s work in progress. So let your little one blend, reinvent, and get creative with her toys.
CRACK DOWN ON CLEAN UP.
Of course, no one wants to live neck high in dirt and clutter. The good news is that it’s usually easier to motivate a child to clean up play things when he’s aware of the rules and expectations from the start. Before he begins an activity, tell him that making a mess is okay during play time, but when the activity or game is over, he needs to pick everything up if he wants to have fun like that again. Offer rewards on occasion if he maintains a good record of cleaning up — like more buckets for his mud pit or an extra cookie from the batch you’ve made together.