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I'll be the first to admit that I am not a neat freak.  However, the idea of messy play still made me feel super uncomfortable.  Why make a mess on purpose?  And it seemed like it would be so hard to clean up...    

But as time has gone on, I feel like I've gotten a system down - and now I am able to enjoy messy play without worry!  So today I'd like to share my tips for managing messy play in the hopes that they help others get more comfortable with what I think is the MOST fun way for kids to play.  :)

1.  Control the amount.

(Playing with Wet Cotton Balls)

Left to their own devices, I feel like kids naturally explore with their whole bodies.  Not to mention - they are often exploring new skills like dumping and pouring!  I have yet to meet a toddler that didn't enjoy dumping things everywhere (or was horribly inaccurate with pouring)!  So when S was younger, I wouldn't give her a huge container of rice or water like I do now.  I would give her a much smaller amount.  That way when it did get everywhere, I had an easier time cleaning it up.  With water, I quickly learned that I didn't need to give her a full container of water for it to be fun.  I could give her just enough that a towel/clothing would soak it all up!  She would still have fun, and then when it inevitably spilled, we wouldn't be left with a soaking carpet.

2.  Cover your floor according to your material.

(Playing with Cornstarch and Water)

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If we are playing with dry sensory materials, I generally just use a splat mat.  A splat mat can be anything that's waterproof.  Initially we used a waterproof disposable tablecloth I found at Target for $2.  It did work for quite awhile, but eventually wore through.  Now we use 2 yards of oilcloth fabric and I think it's ideal.  Oilcloth is very thick and sturdy - if you can afford it, I'd definitely recommend buying the oilcloth to use as your splat mat.  There are also commercially produced splat mats - they will cost a bit more, but they have finished edges and designs, so you could also buy a premade one if that's your preference.  Once we're done playing, I just fold up the splat mat and pour the excess back into our storage container.  

If we are playing with wet sensory materials, I will either lay out a towel on top of the splat mat (this is my usual method for dealing with water) or I will lay out a sheet on top of the splat mat (for something like cornstarch and water or gelatin).  I might still need to wipe down the splat mat after we're done playing, but this makes it much easier.  I just toss the towel or sheet directly into the wash with any dirty clothes and that's it!

3.  Plan ahead.  


Particularly with extra messy things like cornstarch and water or paint, I talk with S about how we're going to do things (I also talk it through with X, but he's a bit too little still to follow all of it, I think!).  I remind her of the rules (staying on the mat until we're done playing) and state if we're going to go straight to a bath, etc.  If it is something they'll need to have washed off in the bath - I make sure I set out soap, towels, etc ahead of time - as these things are much harder to grab while carrying a paint covered child, hahaha.  Often the mess is not bad enough to warrant a whole bath, so I just rinse arms and legs in the sink - in which case I make sure to have a towel waiting next to the sink.

4.  Decide the venue.

(Playing with Gelatin)

Messy play is for sure easiest outside.  But sometimes the weather isn't great (particularly when you live  in Seattle!).  As far as indoor play, there's the bathtub, or there's the floor.  While the bathtub does contain the mess really well (and they're already there for clean-up!), I do appreciate that the floor is less  slippery and affords more space for play.  Over time, I feel like I've gotten to the point where the floor is just as easy.  

Though messy play can be hard on us adults (hahaha), I feel like kids really blossom with it.  I hope that those of you who have never tried it will give it a shot.  The Super Easy Sensory Plays are a great place to start.  If you're new to messy play, I'd really recommend starting with something "easy" like water play or rice play and then gradually moving up to something more messy like painting or cornstarch and water.  

Be messy; have fun!  :)


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All activities here are activities I feel are safe for my own children.  As your child's parents/guardians, you will need to decide what you feel is safe for your family.  I always encourage contacting your child's pediatrician for guidance if you are not sure about the safety/age appropriateness of an activity. All activities on this blog are intended to be performed with adult supervision.  Appropriate and reasonable caution should be used when activities call for the use of materials that could potentially be harmful, such as scissors, or items that could present a choking risk (small items), or a drowning risk (water activities), and with introducing a new food/ingredient to a child (allergies).  Observe caution and safety at all times.  The author and blog disclaim liability for any damage, mishap, or injury that may occur from engaging in any of these activities on this blog.

Comments

  1. Hi, my name is Muriel and my son is 18 months old. I try to do a sensory play for him at least once a week and we do it on the kitchen floor because the rest of the house is carpeted.
    As you said, I always have a difficult time trying to let him play freely without being messy. We haven't done anything with paint because I fear that he is going to run and stain everything (we live in a rented apartment, adding a little bit more stress).
    I will be brave and try, and I think I need to add the talking part, where I explain that we need to stay on the mat and what we are going to do at the end.
    I enjoy reading your posts, I thank you :)
    Muriel Garcia

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  2. Hi Muriel! There might be a bit of a learning curve for an 18 month old where you explain the rules, and he tests by trying to run off the mat with paint on him and then the paint and mat and fun go away until next time when you try again. Eventually he'll understand that if he wants to keep painting, he needs to stay on the mat. I know S went through a little of this and quickly learned that she needed to stay on the mat while painting. Once she was older, it was even easier. And now she could honestly paint unsupervised (not that I recommend leaving children unsupervised, but just sayin') because she's so used to the rules. It takes awhile to teach them, but I think it's worth it! Thank you for reading and hope the painting goes well! :)

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  3. Hi Asia,
    I'm loving your blog! We've been having a blast trying out many of the ideas you share in your posts. My 2.5 year old can be a bit particular about certain textures (he has a very strict nothing goopy, nothing sticky policy when it comes to touching things, and loves playing with water, but does not like being wet) so it's been fun to come up with ways to introduce him to more messy play in ways that not only don't freak him out, but that also really engage his interest. I've noticed that he concentrates best on his play when he is standing up, either on a step stool at the kitchen counter, or outside in front of his sand table. This also helps prevent things from getting on his clothes (he finds that upsetting and wants to change right away). Keeping amounts small, as you suggest, has also been a great way to introduce textures that he won't touch in larger amounts--a whole tray of cornstarch and water were met with a "no thank you," but a few tablespoons of the mixture really intrigued him and he set right to work exploring it with his little construction vehicles. And giving him lots of little measuring spoons and containers for transferring liquids enables him to explore messy materials without actually touching them directly. I've been noticing that the more of these activities we try with these little adaptations, the less he seems to mind (or notice) when something gets on his hands or his clothes, so I think it's been a good way to help him explore messy play. I just wanted to share this experience for other parents and caregivers of reluctant goop-touchers!
    Cheers!
    Kaetlyn

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    1. Kaetlyn,

      That is SO helpful! What great ways you've found to introduce messy play in a non-intimidating way. I love it! Would you mind sharing this on my FB wall so I can reshare? I think a lot of people would find this information useful, and I'm worried not all of them will see it as a comment here. You can find our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/funathomewithkids (if you aren't already there). If you share it there, I will assume I have your OK to reshare on the main wall? Thank you so much! I love these solutions!!!!!

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  4. Hello, what a lot of great play ideas. We have done a lot of messy play at home, not so much the last 6 months due to having our new addiction, we have miss 2, 4 and 7 month old baby girl. my oldest loves messy play, and H had a wee giggle when I saw the photo of the wee one covered in blue paint. my girl does that too, from head to toe, literally. was good reading about some new sensory play experiences, thankyou, I will try with my miss 7 months, wonder how she will react to it.

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  5. Hi Christina! Ohhh, head to toe blue - I hope you have photos! Sounds hilarious! Glad you found us!!!!

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  6. Asia, you are beyond amazing and such an inspiration. My son is a very curious and very busy 8 month old. I am so very excited about sensory play and absolutely LOVE all of your ideas. I am a SAHM and lately, I have found that I am absolutely burnt out. I needed to stumble upon something simple, fun, and engaging like this to get me back into my creative "awesome mom" groove. LOL. Thank you!!!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much!!!! And being a SAHM is a tough gig! I think some of the most fun ages are heading your way soon. :) So so glad that the site is helpful and I hope you two have lots of fun together!!!! :) :) :)

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  7. I found this really helpful, thank you. I have a 5 and a 2 year old and my eldest was never really that into messy play, so I could just tell him to keep the activity in the tray and he pretty much would. However my daughter is much more of a creative, get-stuck-right-in child (and not as good at listening to instructions!) so I am aware that I ought to offer her more sensory play activities but I must admit I can't quite bring myself to yet! Your post gave me some good ideas for managing it that I hadn't thought of. Thank you!

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    Replies
    1. Awesome - I'm so glad to hear it!!! :)

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