child riding bike through mud

Magical Messy Moments

Magical Messy Moments

Written by Jo Fletcher

Pick up time from Preschool. While you are collecting your little one’s bag and saying hi to her teachers, you see other children leaving with their parents, all displaying differing levels of chaos – paint on their shirts, half a soaking wet sleeve, dirt and mud on their feet and even better – big smiles on their faces.

This is what I would call evidence of a day well spent!

We shouldn’t be worried about mess; we should be excited about it. Children coming home in various states of disarray shows us they are exploring, they are jumping and climbing and splashing, they are manipulating things with their hands and creating masterpieces, they are rolling around and sliding and wiping their mud or paint covered hands on their clothes.

These words bring to our minds our own carefree moments as children. Think back to a time when the worst thing about messy clothes or hands was that they got in our way of doing what we did best – playing! Years ago in childcare or Preschool settings the ideal was that every child – even tiny babies, would put on their paint smocks before doing any form of creative experience, or they simply couldn’t participate for fear of getting paint on their clothes. But things have changed, and I think, for the better!

Smocks are so constrictive to children, especially the little ones, they limit free movement, and get in the way of the experience itself, and they don’t really do a good job of keeping clothes clean anyway!

Our little humans are designed for mess, and the clothes we dress them in should accommodate this. We should all remember that children, and their clothes, are washable!

We encourage children to be outside, to experience free play and exploration of nature, limited only by their imagination. Not everything in a day needs to have a learning outcome or be planned or documented to be analysed later on, and this definitely applies to any kind of messy or dirty play.

It’s important we don’t limit or curtail children’s play for the risk they will get dirty. Imagine how many lost play moments, moments of learning and discovery, would be missed if we didn’t allow children to express themselves in fear of getting messy?

There is so much research that tells us dirt is healthy for children – playing with it (or even eating it – who would have thought those mud pies we used to make could actually be a thing!!) strengthens children’s immune systems, lessons the chance of developing allergies, and children who play outside have more exposure to Vitamin D, which children need to protect the health of their bones and immune systems. Important to remember is that getting dirty, playing in the leaves and the mud and all that comes with it, will help children ground themselves emotionally, which has many benefits.

Feeling and touching the earth in all her forms – the dirt, the mud, the puddles, the cold of the wind and the heat of the sun, the early morning dew on the grass, all help children understand their planet more, and their part in it.

Children who get outside and enjoy the mess are less stressed and simply being outside relieves anxiety in children and adults. Playing in the dirt boosts children’s moods; take a look in their eyes and you will see the spark of happiness that comes from something so simple. The same goes with creative experiences like painting with their hands or fingers, the sensory happiness from squeezing a pile of goop through a closed fist – even if a little does end up in their hair – it can all be washed away at the end of the day, ready to start again tomorrow.

So, my suggestion would be to accept the hand-me-downs, or let them wear the heavily-stained-but clean clothes to Preschool or Childcare – let them love the magically messy moments that make up childhood.

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