Messy play at home is a great, big hairy, green monster to parents. It’s scary! You don’t want it in your house. You probably don’t even want it in your neighbourhood! But, it doesn’t need to be that way. With a little preparation, you can take the stress and worry away and bring back the fun.
There are four little words that send shivers down every parent’s spine.
Messy. Play. At. Home.
We imagine paint splattered walls, pink slime ground into the carpet, the television covered in glitter glue, our children covered head to toe in green permanent marker, and flour thrown across the living room. No way! Not on my watch! Not at my house!!
But what if I told you it’s possible to enjoy messy play at home, without the risk of an apocalyptic, burn the house down mess. Don’t believe me? Lean in and I’ll share our very best tips learnt through two years of creating fantastically fun, colourful, and extraordinarily messy invitations to play.
Consider your floor
Carpet, tiles, timber, laminate? There are so many different types of floor coverings, and some are better for messy play than others. A carpeted floor is not an ideal spot to experiment with slime and play dough. Even with industrial strength containment measures and dry materials, like rainbow rice, you can guarantee some level of spillage. Floors that can be easily swept and mopped are therefore preferable, perhaps if your house is carpeted keep the sensory play to the kitchen, or the bathroom, or take it outside. If you can’t avoid the carpet, be sure to have your vacuum at the ready.
Contain the mess
Grab a tarp, an old sheet or a mat to cover your floor, and a container with sides. Tuff trays, under bed storage containers, kitchen bowls and plastic tubs all make great sensory play containers, and best of all they help to contain some of the mess.
Avoid porous surfaces
Your vintage wooden table is not the best place for an experiment with vinegar and bicarb of soda! Before you set out with some wonderfully imaginative, creative plays consider the type of surface you are setting up on. Wood, laminate benchtops, and some terracotta or ceramic tiles can stain when paint or food colouring is spilled onto them.
Take it outside
If you have the option, sometimes outside is best. This could be a verandah or balcony, the backyard, or a courtyard. You’ll be able to give the kids a little more freedom to explore, without the worry of slime in the carpet, and paint on the walls. Not to mention, the clean up will be a little easier with some help from mother nature.
Or at least to the bathroom
If outside is not possible, try the bathroom. A bath is the ultimate hack for messy play! Not only does the bathtub contain both the kids and the mess, but it also makes cleaning up a cinch. The kids can explore and experiment to their heart’s content and you’ll be able to clean up both them and the mess in one swift turn of the tap. Magic!
Plan your clean up
The key to success is always a good plan! Think about how you’ll clean up before you kick off the invitation to play. It’s always wise to have a towel available to wipe messy hands throughout the playtime, and if your playing with sticky materials like paint or slime, a small bowl of water can also be handy. Will you need to sweep or mop up the mess, do you need a dust pan, some cleaning spray or simply a cloth to wipe down surfaces. Or, is it simply a matter of asking your children to wash their hands and shake the mess off their clothes? Having the equipment you need at the ready will make cleaning up a breeze when the kids run out of steam.
It’s also worthwhile thinking about how to keep the kids busy while the clean up is underway. Will it be lunchtime, or naptime? Could you set them up with a favourite toy, some building blocks or a busy bag? Or, could you extend the play by getting them involved in the clean up by washing the toys, or vacuuming or sweeping the floor?
Think about disposal
Finally, how will you get rid of your messy play materials? Will you bag it up and throw it in the bin, wash it down the sink or compost it? To avoid unexpected problems, think carefully about how you’ll dispose of your materials. In particular, disposing of slimes in the sink could result in a very expensive call to the plumber!
Expect the unexpected and have fun!
Messy play is about fun! It’s about experimenting, imagining, and creating. It’s about testing ideas out, trying new things and adapting materials to solve problems. As parents we’re always looking two steps ahead to prevent potential calamities, but in being cautious we often underestimate our children’s abilities. Try to step back, and give your children the freedom to explore. If the materials spill, the trucks get stuck or their play dough snow man won’t stand up you’ll be there to help, and they’ll be learning.