The Wild, Wild Mess
A roundup of sloppy, squishy projects that (yes!) benefit kids
the look of pure bliss on the face of a 6-year-old splashing in a puddle, you know that a little mess can bring a lot of joy to a kid. The truth is that getting wet or sticky is also a component of healthy development for children. “Think of messy play as turning on your child’s brain,” says
Meghan Fitzgerald, a former elementary-school principal who founded Tinkergarten, an outdoor education program with locations in every state. “When they’re covered in mud, they’re seeing, feeling, hearing, and smelling the mud. All of their senses are activated, and their neurons are lighting up.” However, if kids are deprived of a chance to get messy, they can have trouble tolerating certain textures, which may contribute to issues like picky eating, says Pittsburgh-based occupational therapist Alisha Grogan. “If a kid isn’t comfortable touching something unfamiliar, they may not want to put it in their mouth either.”
These days, providing kids with the opportunity to get dirty is more important than ever, given that many of them have been sitting in front of screens for much of the year, explains Jeffrey Hutchinson, M.D., an Austin-based pediatrician and coauthor of the most recent guidelines on play from the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Online play is structured and limited. The brain isn’t picking up those different types of input.” To get kids started, we’ve offered up four full-sensory ways they can make a glorious mess.