Controlled Mess… it’s a thing!
There is actually such a thing as 'controlled mess'. No, I am not crazy, trust me, I have figured it out! Before you go jumping to conclusions, it's not just because my child is well behaved and does what she is told, therefore doesn’t make a ‘mess’ (this is true for my first, but quite the opposite for my second).
The secret to controlling the mess is to set very clear but simple boundaries and put strategies in place from the start. I’m going to share with you a few simple things I do to ensure my messy play is ‘controlled’ and does not end up with paint all over the walls or couch, better yet, I am able to relax a little more when my children are playing.
Tip #1 – Use a drop sheet
I use an old sheet and my girls now know that they can only paint/do messy activities (including play dough, craft etc.) with the sheet down and everything, including themselves must stay on the ‘messy mat’. This obviously keeps floors clean, but it also makes tidying up super easy too, because you can just fold the mat/sheet in on itself and store it away.
Tip #2 – Have a designated place for messy activities
If you have a yard/courtyard, great, but if you are like us and your outdoor space is limited, then find a place inside where you can be away from walls, carpets, lounges etc. Make this ‘the’ place you do all your messy play: art and craft, play dough, painting, sensory bins, etc. This dedicated area doesn’t need to be only for messy play, but it is the only place where messy play can happen.
Tip #3 – Be organised
Get everything ready including what they will paint on (paper, card, boxes, leaves, etc.) and what they will paint with (brushes, sponges, sticks, cotton tips, etc.), before you put the paint near your child. This means you don't have to walk away again and you avoid any little hands going for paint pots when you aren’t looking. My girls are both now very good at staying on the mat (to keep the mess contained), but it definitely reduces the risk of any mess going anywhere else if you don’t have to turn your back on them, especially in that initial set up phase. Once you have given them some paint in their painting trays, pots or pallets, put the actual paint bottles up high, out of reach. You don't want them coming along and helping themselves when they think they need more paint. Learn from my mistakes!
Tip #4 – Have a ‘messy cloth’ ready
Having a wet cloth ready to go, to wipe their hands, feet, face, etc. once they are finished, is a must. This simple bit of pre-planning definitely makes things run more smoothly when it’s time to pack up.
Tip #5 – Have an exit (clean the kid) plan
If your child is like my youngest, they will not only paint the paper, but themselves too. There are a few options here when it comes to cleaning up: a hose down outside, a shower or a bath. If it's warm we hose off outside, which always turns into more fun playtime, but if it's rainy or cold I carry her straight up to the shower. Just have your ‘exit plan’ in mind so that when the time comes, you are ready for it.
Tip #6 – Organised tidy up
This one might sound a little odd, but having an ‘organised tidy up plan’ actually really helps and means less work later and less chance of any accidental mess happening. Put the brushes and pallets straight into the sink, you can wash these up later. Put the paintings up high to dry, fold up your sheet and you're done! If it’s play dough you are using, get your chid to help tidy it all away, placing the play dough into their containers and the utensils/toys where they belong.
Once you have incorporated these messy play tips a few times, they will become second nature and you will feel a lot more relaxed and less anxious around painting, craft, play dough, experiments, etc.
There are so many benefits to letting your child get messy. Messy play not only fosters curiosity, imagination and exploration, it also supports the ability to play independently and is a fantastic way to develop fine motor skills, problem-solving skills and language. It also stimulates their senses, and involves them in a learning journey that encourages creativity and open-ended thinking.
So, I challenge you, let your kids get messy!!! :)
- Kirsty Gibbs (Learning Blocks)
Kirsty is a Teacher and the founder of Learning Blocks Australia, an educational hub, based on the Gold Coast, Australia. Through parent coaching and consulting, as well as school-readiness classes, tutoring and now with the recent release of the School Readiness Toolkits, Kirsty's passion is supporting parents and children in the early and primary years. You can follow her adventures in education, learning and 'mum life' on Instagram at @learningblocksaustralia or check out her website www.learningblockscentre.com.au