I know, I know, I know. You want your kids to be able to do fun, hands-on, and stimulating craft projects or sensory play; but the thought of the giant mess that they might make gives you the willies. You think it just might not be worth it. They'll never know what they're missing, right! Crayons and paper are just fine! Well, that may be true to some extent, but there's no question that many kids love messy projects and they do have tremendous benefits! If you take the right steps, you can keep calm while your kids make a mess. Here's some tip!
Get Everything Ready Ahead of TimeHave everything ready before your kids come to the table (or wherever you are working). Think your project all the way through. Have paint squirted in cups. Have all the brushes you'll need. Have wet paper towels or rags ready to wipe hands or faces if necessary. Have your smocks near by. This way, you'll be able to stay nearby during the entire project. I can't tell you how many times my kids have managed to spill a whole cup of paint or tip a whole bin or sensory rice during the 10 seconds it took me to run to the kitchen to grab one extra thing. Get it ALL ready.
Cover Your Work SurfaceUse an old sheet (or just buy a cheap one if you don't have a spare) to put on the floor if that's where you'll be working. We spread out a queen sized sheet when we do sensory bins on the floor. When we work at our kitchen table, it is covered in a cheap, washable table cloth, and then the kids work directly on top of wipeable placemats. Most of the mess is contained on the placemat. The rest goes on the table cloth, which gets washed on an as-needed basis (usually once a week, along with the rest of our kitchen linens). You can also consider taking your project outside, if necessary!
Cover Your ChildrenHave your children wear a smock or an old t-shirt. My husband gets several T-shirts a year through his high school teaching job. He requests small sizes, and we use them for the girls to wear when we get messy. You probably have several old T-shirts around that you can use. I usually take all of of my girls' clothes off underneath their paint shirts, so that I don't about their pants or the bottom of their dresses getting messy either.
Set Clear RulesBe clear about how materials and supplies are supposed to be used. The activity should stop when the rules are broken. My kids know that they cannot dump an entire box of sensory materials. If they do, we're done. Similarly, they know that paint is supposed to go on paper (or whatever we're painting). If they deliberately paint something else, like themselves or the table cloth, we're done. Let your children know what is expected of them.
Use Washable SuppliesThis is a no-brainer! Most washable materials are pretty good and do in fact wash out if washed promptly. Don't let a big paint smear sit for a week before you get around to washing it.
Plan Time To Clean UpPlan your messy play at a time when you'll be able to devote enough time and have the energy to clean up. We typically do messy play in the mornings, and then I let the girls watch some TV while I clean up. Make sure you're not about to have to run out the door for a lesson or get dinner started right when you're finished.
What other tips do you have that you can add to this list? LOTS of moms have trouble letting their kids do messy play, so let's help them out!
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