Like many parents, you may not be a big fan of messy play. You probably think of the idea of crafts and finger painting as a fun thing to do, but the reality of glue, paint and glitter getting everywhere in the house and the inevitable clean-up operation that follows it prevents you from having this kind of activity with your kids. The thing is, research has shown that messy play is one of the best ways for children to learn and develop, so you should really consider embracing it!
We’ve been encouraging our boys to engage in messy and sensory play since they were very young and we still do it as much as we can as the benefits are many. This kind of play helps promote curiosity and allows children to use their senses, explore their interests, and develop many important skills essential to success in life. It’s well known that children learn best when they actively engage with their environment and use all their senses. This is because children need to see and feel their world in order to understand it. When you engage in messy and sensory play with your kids, you’re helping them to learn about a variety of textures, materials and properties in a manner they understand best.
But they have their educational toys, you may think. Toys are great and fun also, but they can be restrictive by having a specific intended use or function. They’re good for exploring certain skills, but messy and sensory play with open-ended materials like play dough, slime, rice, salt, etc, can help kids learn to play independently. This in return, helps increase attention span, provides opportunities to problem solve, and build self-confidence and self-esteem. Plus, we clean up all the mess together!
Kiddos can learn to pick up after themselves even from an early age. Keep their crafting supplies in boxes and have your kids load them back up when you are done. Aside from this, here are other tips that you can use to let your kids have a great time while keeping the mess under control.
Get Kids Aprons to Help Prevent Mess on Their Clothes
Before getting involved with paint, wet, mud, or anything that can get your kids covered head to toe, consider protecting them with an apron. I got the boys a jeans kids apron that aside from looking cute is also comfortable to wear. The model that I chose comes with pockets to hold brushes, scissors, glue, etc. and also has adjustable neck-straps that allow the apron to be adjusted as the child grows. Durable and versatile, a jeans kids apron helps protect their clothes from spills and messes, so that together we can focus on having fun.
I’m a big fan of the Montessori way of learning and one of the things that I love about this program is the approach to aprons. The Montessori sees aprons as more than simply a tool to protect the child’s clothing. It considers aprons a material, a part of the environment and a learning tool. The act of putting the apron on at the beginning of the activity and taking it off at the end means the apron helps to define the activity.
Plus, learning to put the apron on and taking it off is an activity. When my children were very young, I used to offer as little help as possible, only giving them as much assistance as necessary. This is a good way to help foster independence and lessen children reliance on others, promoting their sense of self.
Ideally, you should have a designated place for your children to store their aprons near the activity where they will be used – a place where they can always find it and put it back. This will help promote order.
Set Up the Play In a Place That Is Easy to Clean
The kitchen, the bathroom or backyard are generally the best places for messy play as these spaces can be easily cleaned up. The kitchen sink, the shower and the bath are perfect places for washing hands, pots, brushes, etc, and there is no better way to clean up in the garden than with a hose.
Make sure you use a messy mat or vinyl table cloth underneath the tray or bin. This way, the majority of the mess will be contained within this area. You can then swoop up corners of the mat to dump out the rest of the mess at the cleanup time.
Limit Materials During Crafting
Consider getting out only a limited amount of supplies at a time. Give your children a small number of supplies at a time and then replenish their supplies as need it. If you limit yourself to one or two messy items, you’ll less likely to become overwhelmed at clean up time.
Make Cleaning a Game
Kids really enjoy playing games and they’re too young to realize that you’ll be actually making them do chores. For my children, whatever they do is a race, so they often run around cleaning because they both want to win. Over the years, they’ve got used to cleaning up, and I hope they’ll keep this habit forever!