Messy play helps kids expand all of their senses and their brain. Experiencing new things sends signals to the brain that help strengthen neural pathways that are essential for all kinds of learning. They hone their classification skills (how is this different than that?) and develop trial and error techniques. Messy play also gives children a sense of self-expression because there is no right answer in the project. And making time for sensory play is even more important now because kids don’t have as many chances to experience it in our screen-enabled world.
A messy fun play date may sound like a daunting way to have your kid’s friends over to the house, but if you keep a few things in mind, it can be as low stress as a typical play date. I actually sometimes find them easier. The other moms and I have had our best grown-up conversations at messy play dates because the kids are so engaged in what they are doing.
Some things I’ve learned through trial and error with these play dates:
- Take it outside. So much easier to hose off the patio than the couch or the berber rug.
- Limit the number of kids. Think about how large your space is and envision all of the kids running around with shaving cream covered hands. One too many in that scenario and someone will be in tears. And let’s hope it’s not you…
- Have enough to do. I’ve found the best formula for what to plan is (k=kids) – 1 = # of messy stations. This creates enough space for both joint play and independent experiences.
- Have cleanup stations handy too. You don’t want them to have to traipse through the house to wash hands. Clean and soapy water buckets, towels and a hose work well.
- Containers contain the mess but not the fun. Use slime in a plastic bin. Have water play in a baby pool. Etc.
- Use washable everything. Sounds stupid, but double check that label on the bottle of the paint. If it doesn’t say washable it’ll probably stain. (I’ll save my nightmarish story about a bottle of purple tempera paint for another day.)
- And finally, create a safe zone for kids to escape to. Messy play can get overwhelming for some kids as it helps fire their senses on many levels. And wound up kids can wreak havoc on a house. Backyard swings, climbing toys or even a blanket with some books can all help kids decompress and recharge for another round.
Most of all, relax and have a little messy fun yourself. Move over kids, mommy’s playing with the shaving cream now.
Some easy, mostly store bought (or recycled!) messy play ideas:
- Jello play bin Make a couple of different flavor batches of sugar free Jello (less sticky) and throw them into a bin with some cookie cutters and plastic silverware. This is a great activity to stimulate multiple senses (how does that feel? what does it smell like? what happens when the colors mix together?). Don’t have the time to make Jello? Pudding cups and yogurt work too.
- Target Station Clip paper plates or flattened cardboard on a fence or the ground, fill spray bottles with colored water and squirt away.
- Large Form Painting Set up large cardboard boxes or freezer paper taped to the ground or a fence and put out cups of paint, brushes, sponges, rollers, whatever to paint with. There’s something very freeing about doing stuff on a large scale.
- Shaving Cream A couple of cans of shaving cream, a plastic bin and stuff to move through it are all you need. Some of The Babe’s favorite shaving cream accessories are sponges, spoons and toy cars.
- Sensory Snack Station Messy play makes kids hungry. Set up a snack station that feeds their senses! Think foods that are crunchy, soft, fragrant, sweet, salty, smooth, chewy, etc. I love to doing a monochromatic setup of very different foods (carrots, mango, cheese) so they can experience something more than just color.
Got any secrets to stress free messy play? Let me know in the comments.