(Goblin is 28 months)
In my post about water beads I mentioned that despite them going absolutely EVERYWHERE I stayed calm and actually found the experience quite amusing. In fact I am quite calm about mess from most forms of indoor sensory or messy play but this has not always been the case......
When I first started doing messy sensory play with Goblin I found the whole experience really quite stressful. I'd want to contain and limit the mess and I'd spend my entire time trying to make sure that rice or lentils or what ever we were playing with stayed on the mat or blanket I'd put down. I'd walk round the mat with a brush and dustpan brushing up any stray bean and putting it back on the mat. I'd snap at Goblin to play more carefully. And eventually my heart would be racing and there would be a constriction in my throat and I'd just yell "RIGHT THATS ENOUGH!" and man handle Goblin out of the way so I could sweep up the mess.
Fortunately it didn't take me long to realise that this reaction wasn't in any way beneficial to Goblin or to me. I had two choices: I could stop sensory messy play all together or I could get over it. But as Amanda at Dirt and Boogers explains in her post The Importance of Sensory Play, kids get a lot out of these experiences. So I opted to get over it.
Here are some tips I used to help me 'Get Over It'.
- Prepare your area.
- Accept that there will be mess.
- Assume you will not be able to reuse the play materials.
- Get down and play with the material yourself.
- If you start to stress count to ten.
- Do messy sensory play as often as possible
Preparing your area: If you prepare your area you may be able to contain some (but not all) the mess. I have a mat that always goes down. It is pretty useless at containing all the mess but it does make it easier to lift the bulk of the mess out the way fast.
Accept there will be mess: If you assume their either won't be any mess or that you will be able to contain the mess, you will be disappointed. Mess is pretty much inevitable and the more you can accept it will happen the less stressed it will make you. A subset to this is 'Don't run round with a brush during your child's play' - you will start to resent their play as it creates 'work' for you.
Assume you will not be able to reuse the play materials: We reused our rainbow rice for 6 months. But if you are worried about sweeping up every last scrap and placing it carefully back in the tub you will be more stressed out by the handful that disappears under the sofa. Lets face it, rainbow rice probably only costs £1 to make, it won't break the bank if you hoover half of it up.
Get down and play with the materials yourself: Since I started playing with Goblin (using the digger to load the dumper truck with rainbow rice or painting on a big piece of paper) two things have happened - first I'm too interested in the play to notice the mess (especially as some of it is my fault) and secondly I have really started to appreciate why toddlers like this type of play, its very therapeutic.
If you start to stress, count to ten: When I do start to get a bit stressed by the mess - which is usually on the rare occasions I agree to let Goblin play with shaving foam (I HATE SHAVING FOAM) - I try to disengage for a bit by sitting on the sofa or making myself a coffee. Just long enough to remember why we are doing the activity in the first place. Of course this can completely backfire when you return to the room to discover your shaving foam covered toddler has decided to watch TV and got foam on the remotes, the sofa, the DVD shelves and pretty much every other surface in the room. "What the what? But I was only gone for two seconds!!!"
Do messy sensory play as often as possible: The more you do this, the less stressful it will become.
If you are a relatively self aware person you will know whether you will be able to make this shift in approach. There are some extra things you can do to help if this feels more like a giant leap than a small step to the side. You could:
- Start small: Try doing sensory play with much bigger easier to clean up items (like a whole tub of magnetic letters that your child can pour on the floor and mess up - it will test your ability to control your emotional reaction to mess)
- Find a friend who enjoys sensory play and take your child to their house: If you don't have to deal with the clean up you may find the mess easier to handle.
However I have a good friend for whom this type of play simply would not be possible. The thought of the mess would actually make them feel physically sick. If that's how you are feeling having read this post, I think the best advice I could give is 'Just don't do it'. Yes kids get a lot from sensory play, but I suspect they won't get much benefit if you are having a nervous breakdown while they play.
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