Do you have any memories of finger painting when you were a kid? I do. I remember painting with reckless abandon anything that was put in front of me. I can still smell the paint and remember the squishy feeling under my finger tips. Maybe your messy play memory was in mud or shaving cream but I’m guessing it’s just as vivid. Because messy play works the brain in ways that simple crafts don’t. Here are five of those ways.
Why You Need to Let Your Kids Get Messy
1. It Teaches Cause and Effect.
If we always intervene before kids experience outcomes, will they learn? I’ll admit it, I’m about as big a helicopter mom as they come. But I work every day to overcome my urges to step in and prevent messes. Messy art and messy play in a safe environment lets kids experience cause and effect. If I do this, then that will happen. But you have to remove boundaries for the true effect to be understood. Like when my daughter poured the entire container of vinegar on her tray full of baking soda and soap. My table has never been so clean… Always think safety, but try to push your own boundaries…
2. It Ignites the Senses.
Just like in my finger painting memory, firing the senses makes for vivid memories and more intense learning. You’ve likely heard that some people are visual learners, some auditory learners, etc. These are tendencies, not absolutes, but if learning experiences trigger more senses, you’re more likely to internalize what you are learning.
Sensory experiences also help children to regulate themselves. A sensory experience might feel like it’s too much and a child will learn to adjust to make it more manageable. And vice versa, they will work through scenarios where it feels good and they want more of it. Each time they have to make adjustments, they learn how to make adjustments in the less fun parts of real life as well.
3. It’s about the journey.
I keep hearing about Carol Dweck’s research that found that bright girls respond differently to challenges than bright boys. They are more likely to interpret something as difficult and give up sooner. My daughter tends to fall into the quick to give up category, so I look for activities that are more about the process and the experience, than the final result. I find that challenges seem less daunting when there isn’t an exact right answer. The confidence she builds in open-ended messy play then carries over into situations where there is a right answer.
4. It inspires open-ended thinking.
Life isn’t color by number or craft kit style. It’s messy and confusing and constantly changing. Giving kids the chance to create helps their brain learn how to think without boundaries. And this will help them for their entire life, whether they become an engineer, an artist or dream up something else amazing that they want to be.
5. It’s fun.
Fun is really what makes memories for our littles, right? Well, maybe pain too, but those aren’t the ones you want to stick around. Messy play is fun on steroids, so try it out and see what your kids talk about that week.
Worried About the Mess?
We do a lot of messy play at home, on the blog and at my daughter’s preschool. The number one thing I hear from parents about messy play is “How do you manage the mess?” Managing the mess is about being prepared and having some good tools to help you clean up. You can check out my post The Control Freak’s Guide to a Messy Play Date to start. Or just have some really good cleanup tools ready.
My current favorite cleanup tool is method’s new laundry detergent. It helped me in the aftermath of an epic painting session, even getting some white socks my daughter used for foot printing clean. (Note, assuming that your kid will realize that making foot prints means with bare feet is a bad idea. Apparently it wasn’t obvious…) I love the fragrance (mmm, ginger-mango and fresh clover scents) and I love that you can use it as both a pre-treater and detergent. But most of all, I love it because it takes care of whatever my daughter throws at it (literally…).
And for a little fun for us moms, method has a very cool fashion collaboration with ASOS going on right now. Or you can use THREEFORME for a $3 coupon off your next bottle of their 4x concentrated laundry detergent.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.