Bring on the mess

Little boy playing with Play-Doh

Unaltered image. Jose Martinez, Flickr. CC license.

Before I had my son (who’s now 3 years old), I used to facilitate developmental playgroups in community libraries for kids ages birth – 5 years. I used to love bringing out the cloud sand, shaving cream, water bubbles and play dough — and the parents loved it as well. I received comments all the time about how parents were overjoyed that I used these activities in the group because they wouldn’t dream of doing this with their child at home. And, honestly, I was a little taken aback. I thought, “But look at how much your child loves playing with this.” It seemed like a simple task to me at the time.

Now that I’m a parent myself, I totally get it.

I understand the hesitation to pull out the shaving cream for sensory play. Who wants to clean up even more messes in a household on top of the laundry to do, toys to pick up, dishes to clean, floor that needs vacuuming, and so on? The messes in my house seem to never end and I can feel myself cringe when I pull out the Play-Doh® for my son to take over the kitchen table with. But I have the background experience to know how important getting messy is for my child.

Why being messy is important

Allowing your children the opportunity to get messy lets them express their creativity, have pure fun making a parent-approved mess, and lets them work on improving multiple areas of their development.

Let’s take the shaving cream example. When my son plays with shaving cream, he is improving his fine motor skills (the small finger muscles that allow a person to grab small objects like a button or Cheerio). When he makes two “snowman friends” he’s working on his social-emotional skills (skills needed to understand emotion and interact with others). When those two “friends” talk to one another, he’s working on language and communication skills. The best part: This doesn’t even feel like a learning activity to my son!

In today’s world there’s too much pressure on kids to color within the lines, stay squeaky clean outside, or even keep their hands clean after eating an ice cream cone. I mean c’mon — I can barely keep clean after an ice cream cone myself!

There are days when I shake my head after I pull out a stained shirt from the dryer, but I try to remember the fun that my son had while making that mess. Childhood comes with sticky hands, messy faces, skinned knees, dirt under the finger nails, and black bath water. That’s the fun of childhood!

– Stephanie Babcock is an IFS coordinator with the Parenting Program. She’s a proud mom of one with another on the way.

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