Messy Play Needs Its Space

Mademoiselle Monet

Mademoiselle Monet

Life can be pretty buttoned down these days for children, so much of life seems like rush, rush rush – hurry up and wait, put one thing away before you play with the next…you can’t play with that here!…Don’t make a mess!

Traditional outdoor play time is restricted by smaller back yards and busy parents – yes, childcare does provide for messy play, but approval of and space for messy play is needed at home too.

Whenever I go look at display homes, it always hits me that these beautifully presented houses are the idea of an adult’s “perfect place” but certainly not a child’s!

Sure there are home theatres and TVs in multiple places, and nooks away from adults but downstairs and outside definitely send the message of being a “be clean and neat zone”.

Of course display homes are just that, display, but nonetheless, on the whole, there’s not much thought given to creating spaces for children in modern residential design.

By now you would be getting the idea that while we believe that technological play as a role to play in child development, it needs to be a very small part – especially in the early years. The more “hand-on” experience a child can get the better as powerful sensory feedback and experience builds the child’s internal snapshots and movie-reels of how things do and can work together. A flat 2D experience just doesn’t cut it!

Creativity and exploration are vital. They are not neat and tidy, nor neatly packaged up in a bow – and requiring tidying up immediately after a creative play session can send the message that what a child has created doesn’t matter – just because we’re ready for them to finish doesn’t mean that their little world is done being created yet! (Ever have a child upset about having to clean up?) Yet practically, if their creation has taken up the dinner table, what is a parent to do?

Now while a phone photo of their creation can salve their worries a little, it doesn’t make up for the loss of all their work! (Imagine if you showed someone you loved a project that you had been working on for a few hours and they said “Very nice dear” and then erased it! Most of us would be less than chuffed!)

The perfect place for the creative child is one that is theirs to mess up (or not) as they wish, pretty much free from adult interference – a space where they can invite us to visit and play, but one which they control. As hard as this can be to contemplate, investing in this kind of environment for your child can pay off dividends in the long run in terms of confidence and creativity – great foundations for success in anything they care to try as they grow.

If you have a fair sized back yard with plenty of room to romp and play and get naturally creative outdoors, then messy play is not so hard – there are some really nice ideas here.

But what about in tight spaces? What then? It’s tricky, no doubt about it, but with a little flexibility most things are possible,  these inspirational ideas don’t take much space and invite the child to explore and play. It’s amazing what you can do with natural materials, combining them in whimsical ways. It makes me yearn for being 3 years old again!

If you really don’t have enough room to swing a paint brush without your child coming to grief with walls or furnishings, then having a Treasure Box of arts and crafts materials that lives in your car can be a great idea to take to the park, the beach, or the bush, along with a change of clothes to let the creative juices flow…