Let’s make a mess!

Every time I sense a parent who is overly concerned with getting all the things right and keeping objects in order when raising a child I ask that person to prepare flour, rice, sugar, grains and all kinds of ‘loose messy food’ . These are the main ingredients for our session with the child. The purpose is simple: we are going to make a mess. Condition nr 1: we are not allowed to clean our hands in the process and we play that way with our child for at least 30 minutes. Condition nr 2: It is approved to add all kinds of  kid’s favourite toys: cars, little dolls, blocks etc. Condition nr 3: the child needs to smile a lot! The parent who passes my test is awarded with a very special rank: the General of Spontaneity!

Clean it up!’, ‘Stop messing around!’, ‘Put your toys back!’… we teach children to keep an order from their early years and it is obvious to have this inner instinct of taking care about the things that surround us. There is no question that controlling the objects and taking care  of aesthetics is a very important virtue. However, it is also important to give a child sufficient time to understand the rules and respect order. Once it overtakes spontaneity and becomes an obsession –  it’s time to abolish the evil through making a mess!

It is so natural for a 1-year-old baby to drop an interesting thing on the floor and listen to the sound it generates. It is perfectly fine for a 1,5-year-old child to spill her drink and mess while self-feeding. Splats and splatters are fun and important learning experience for your baby. It is also common that most of the 2-year-old children to simply adore messing around and emptying all possible boxes in order to explore what’s inside. All of these stages are gradually replaced by more controlled and intentional activities such as creating, sorting, manipulating with things. Unfortunately, some parents want their children to clean up and put away toys too early. Mum is eagerly cleaning child’s face when feeding him with a spoon, commenting ‘do not drop!’ when lifting crayon from the floor, feeling irritated when cleaning up the spilt drink from under the table. It is the shortest way to make her child feel guilty and to associate his actions with fear. Young children need a mess to get their sensory needs fulfilled, to understand basic rules, to develop their senses, to improve their eye-hand coordination and planning, to enjoy their day and many more. Cleaning up can’t be priority during the first  years of child’s life.

By creating a mess children can learn so much! There are plenty of opportunities to support child’s development from the therapist’s point of view when letting a child to freely explore and scatter around. It is the abundance of new vocabulary that makes speech and language therapist in me happy when playing with messy materials. Falling down, breaking, sorting, sifting, less, more, soft, hard, help, looking for – these are the words that immediately get into action and thus into the child’s language. I simply adore observing how kid’s sensory needs are fulfilled when he’s allowed to play that way and my greatest fear is that the very same child might never experience such freedom when obsessively taught putting away and cleaning by parents.

Here are some of my favourite ‘messy’ ativities:

– making a road/map with fingers through loosely spread  powders, flour, rice on the table and then adding new elements such as junctions, roundabouts, parking. Using car toys and small figures to create the imaginary world out of the chaos…

– finding a small hard element such as a rubber ball, broad beans, a key in a container fillled with loose stuff such as rice, tiny pasta, lentils; using fingers to detect the different sensory experience…

– making cookies and pastry with simple cutters, mixing the ingredients with fingers, shaping, baking, waiting and  eating!

Leaning up is similar to a healthy relationship that comes after a lot of trail and error. We can’t obsessively love anybody, nor expect the relationship to be perfect from the beginning. It takes time to sort the problems out, name them and overcome together. It is so important to make mistakes and find the right solution along the way because it makes the couple’s life so much easier and richer. The very similar process applies to learning your child putting things away and cleaning after herself. It simply takes time and should be a good experience. Besides cleaning with a parent’s gentle support and cheerful attitude can be a great fun too!


 text : Agata Lesiowska

photo : Agata Lesiowska

All rights to the texts and photos are reserved.

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