I was recently saddened to overhear a mum say she refused to let her son feed himself because he made too much mess and it was just too much hassle to clean up after him. Now, if you are concerned about the mess a 7 month old makes when eating then how on earth will you cope with a toddler wielding a dripping paintbrush through the house or (god forbid) a permanent marker? How will you deal with your child splashing about in puddles or making mud pies in the garden? How will you react when your little one arrives home from school looking a little less pristine then when you dropped them off?
It got me thinking about the few times where I, or my teaching colleagues, received complaints about sending children home a little bit messy. Maybe they had dried paint on their shoes (yes they wore aprons and yes, they took off their jumpers) or a pen mark on their t-shirt or some playdough stuck to their trousers. These things happen – they are children! I’m afraid I’ve seen parents tutting at the mud kitchen, turning their noses up at the sandpit, moaning because their child got a little wet after dancing gleefully in the rain (yes they wore wellies and yes, they put raincoats on).
All these activities aid healthy development and play a huge role in how children learn about the world. And yet you get the occasional parents who complain about the fact their little one is partaking in such activities when you, the teacher, have clearly failed to teach them how to read and write (hardly surprisingly considering the child is but four years old).
As apologies were dished out and explanations were given as to the importance of learning through play, I would stand there wondering what all the fuss was about. The worse case scenario was that the child would need a bath and their clothes would need to visit the Vanish fairy before taking a trip to the washer. I’m guessing it’s wise to invest in more than just one set of school uniform…? Anyway, the conversations usually ended with a muttering of ‘just you wait until you have kids…’
Well I am now a mummy too and when I recently went to pick bub up from nursery, he was looking a bit worse for wear. A member of staff came running over and began apologising profusely about the state he was in – she had obviously been on the receiving end of parental wrath at some point. So, they had been painting, it had ended up all over Oshi, they’d tried their best to clean him but he had run out of spare clothes and it was still under his fingernails but I wasn’t to worry because it would wash off.
Once I could get a word in edgeways did I rant about how busy my life was? How I resent the amount of time I spend loading and unloading and reloading the washing machine? How the nursery staff should hover over little ones during such activities or, better yet, not let them do the activity? Or how my son’s clothes are designer so how dare the nursery let them get dirty? (They are mostly TU by Sainsburies by the way). No, I simply smiled and shrugged – she looked incredibly relieved when I replied that this look is the norm in our house. It’s just life when you have a child – a mucky, chaotic, mess filled life!
So, I’m afraid I don’t understand why some parents find it difficult to just let their children be children. They are already forced into growing up too quickly with our increasingly fast paced lives and exposure to various media influences. The recent SATS debacle is just one example of the pressure being placed on children by a test driven education system; it is clearly resulting in unhappy and unhealthy individuals. Childhood pursuit of pure organic fun is being placed on the backburner and there’s little room for imaginative play, creativity and mess making in life. Surely muckiness is a rite of passage for children?
So please don’t be adverse to messy play – make time for it. Put the tablet down. Switch your phone to silent. Let your child miss one of the five weekly structured after school classes they attend. Pull on some scruffy clothes and embrace your inner child with your child.
And if you absolutely abhor mess and the sight of glitter or sequins makes you want to scratch your eyes out then I can only encourage you to take a look at this website http://plainvanillamom.com/2014/03/surviving-messy-play.html. It shows that, with a bit of organisation and ingenuity, there are ways you can embrace messy play that leave behind a little less mess.