(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.
I'm sharing this on
LOL! Love this post. I just know I am too anal to go around this. In fact, I made a new sensory bin for my little guy tonight, took it outside because I knew it would be messy, and when he started pouring it all over the place I was still stressed by it. Even with it being outside!ReplyDelete
At least you know that you won't be able to handle it - its better than not knowing and then exploding at your son when they do make a mess (which is what I did the first time I tried - I had no idea I had such an issue with mess).Delete
This was very well written, and I love the practical suggestions. I am weird and truly don't mind messy play, HOWEVER, I am sometimes guilty of getting distracted and not being fully present with my kids. When I forget to actively engage the mess gets out of control. I'm okay with messy fun. I'm not okay with destruction. ;) I have no one to blame but myself when I get distracted.ReplyDelete
I know what you mean about the difference between mess and destruction. Sometimes Goblin switches very quickly from play to destruction - usually when he's had enough and got a bit bored.Delete
I shared this post on a blog post I wrote about our new sensory bin. You can read it over here if you want.ReplyDelete
Great post! When we first started, I got pretty stressed out by messy play but the more we do it, the better I am with it! I definetly suggest easing into it. Rainbow rice may not be the best choice for a first sensory bin! Pasta is much easier to clean up!ReplyDelete
Yeah I totally agree rainbow rice is something to work up to, it gets everywhere and is so hard to clean upDelete
You're very patient. All I can say is thank you to the great outdoors, and the fact that winter is coming to an end. Bring on the rice!ReplyDelete
Taking sensory play outdoors is a great tip for parents who can't stand to have the mess all over the floor indoors!Delete
I love your post! This and the water-bead post are so much fun yet have very practical ideas as well. In addition to featuring your post at the Living Montessori Now Facebook page, I pinned it to my Any-Season Sensory Tubs/Sensory Experiences Pinterest board at http://pinterest.com/debchitwood/any-season-sensory-tubs-sensory-experiences/ReplyDelete
Great tips!! I totally agree with the advice that if this type of play makes the parent stress out too much then it's not worth it to do it. A stressed out parent is more likely to get angry at a child, and the play is no longer valuable if the parent is angry bc the child won't feel comfortable fully playing in that atmosphere. Better to have a happy parent playing cars and dolls than an angry parent providing sensory play. Though, I think the parent may need to work on giving the child sensory experiences with others either at school, the other parent, or a babysitter.ReplyDelete
Thank you so much for the mention! I love everything you said. Allowing your kids to be messy is hard sometimes, but so worth it in the end! I'm sharing this on my facebook page and pinning it to my kid ideas board. I'm so glad you wrote this...I think this could help a lot of people!ReplyDelete
Great read! I say, "Bring on the messy play!" -Growing A Jeweled RoseReplyDelete
Hi There! I'm stopping by via Dirt and Boogers (saw it on their Facebook page). Loved your post! It made me laugh because this is so me. Fun Mom turned crazy running around with the broom lol. I too have been working on allowing more mess in my life. Great post!ReplyDelete
It wouldn't be so bad but I am not the most house proud person normally so i'm not sure where this desire to clean comes from.Delete
This is SUCH a great post! So many parents have the same issue! Thanks for sharing!ReplyDelete
Its great to see from all the comments that I'm not alone in being a little but nutty when it comes to what I can and cannot cope with in messy play.Delete
Thank you for this well-written post. It makes me feel so much better knowing that I'm not alone in being stressed out by messy play. As my children get older and more independent, though, I find that I can tolerate messy play in small doses, and I feel a bit guilty at how much my kids enjoy it, and how I have kept them sheltered from it... so I'm taking baby steps. Your suggestions are very helpful!ReplyDelete
My rule: TAKE IT OUTSIDE!! When my 16 month old nephew plays, I have a big old tarp that I lay on the grass outside for small objects, bead-y type activities, paint, play-do, shaving cream, ect... I use the tarp to protect his little feet from sticks and stuff, because during messy sensory play, we don't wear shoes!... I can't afford to replace them everytime we play - he mainly just wears a diaper - but sometimes he wears socks, though it can sometimes be slippery on the tarp. Plus he actually likes to stay on the tarp (which is surprising)... without it he'd be all over the place, in the dirt, barefoot and everything!!! Water play is saved for bath, pool, beach, etc. Sand-based play is also reserved for the beach (We live in FL, so it's warm nearly year-round). We do some activities in the bath tub, we love washable, non-toxic paint that he can go butt naked in the tub paint all over the place (using fingers, brush, sponge, ect.) then I just wash him and the tub down all together! We also do shaving cream in the tub! Usually the mess somehow gets out, it's not perfect, You just have to accept that no matter how hard you try, but the tub and the outdoors are both GREAT starts!ReplyDelete