Let's face it- toddlers and mess pretty much go hand in hand. Yet as a parent, or caregiver, it seems to be the one thing we are always trying to contain or regulate.
Now I’m not sure where exactly on this journey into adulthood we lost sight of the joy of using organic matter like …lets say chocolate pudding to produce magnificent master pieces on every inch of wall space not previously covered by the trappings of adulthood. I don't know when baby powder sprinkled on every surface loses the luster and magic of pixie dust. And I couldn't venture a guess as to where the freedom to even think of trying either of the above mentioned goes to die as we get older. But what I do know, as do countless researchers and experts in the field of early childhood, is that children learn best when they are allowed to explore their environments with unabashed freedom. That’s not to say you should leave junior alone with the 300.00 Henkle knife block you got as an engagement gift from Aunt Gert, but within a reasonable safe space children learn about their worlds when they are allowed to explore them. And they do this quite adeptly thorough the ancient art of … play.
Don't believe me? Well lets run through some things that happen when children get messy through play…
Kids naturally engage in messy based experiential learning (a fancy term for play) because … it’s fun! When babies learn to eat (one of the most difficult milestones to master —bet you thought it was walking) they touch, squish, smell, taste, smear, drop, spit out and a whole bunch of other things that I guarantee are making those reading this a little bit uncomfortable right about now. They are learning about their world by using all of their senses. Developing thought processes that will expand and take them to the next levels of learning and self preservation.
As toddlers and pre schoolers gain freedom and more autonomy, they start to manipulate their worlds. Given the opportunity to make a mess without parental interference, the leaps and bounds of knowledge are remarkable. Even things as simple as play dough, paint, markers or anything that evokes the ‘OH NO WAY’ response can create some of the greatest amounts of learning in the smallest increments of time.
Children who are given the opportunity each and everyday to explore their worlds though experiential messy play have been found to be quicker and more complete learners. Want to know why? Because while engaging in those activities children will explore ideas without conformance to preconceived ideas of learning. They will process those ideas, in their own way, and develop pathways to solutions. Then they decide, based on that information, on the one that best meets the needs of the problem they are trying to solve. They will compare and contrast. They will make observations and predictions. They will measure, count, separate by size and color. And then they will add to, take away from these groupings to form an understanding of the simple mathematical concepts of more and less. In their careful examination of these things they will develop the observational skills for scientific study. They will use descriptive words and advance their language through discussion of their creations which enhances their ability to think critically and formulate ideas. Necessary skills being honed in toddlerhood for the world of written communication that awaits them in the primary grades and beyond. They engage in pretend play as they make a cake from colored clay, serve it and eat it too. All fostering the development of the social skills needed to become active members of a society. They will workout the muscles using the very important fine motor skills that are so necessary for writing, a skill we push too young without much training; akin to asking them to run a mile when they’ve just learned to walk. And most importantly they learn competency and confidence through non punitive cause and effect personal attempts.
All that from one little mess…