Here’s what we’ve been up to this week:
A little while ago I wrote a post about our starting a ‘weekly welly walk’ tradition. Well I think I can report that it is well and truly established, with the children asking to go on one most days! We do our main welly walk each Friday, and sometimes we do shorter ones on other days too. The Daddy often takes the children on an extra one at the weekend, while I get dinner ready. Off we go, through the gate in our back fence and into the country park beyond.
I let the children choose which way to go each week. Sometimes we go up the hill and watch the diggers and cement mixers building houses at the top of our estate. Sometimes we go down the hill and around the pond, looking for frogs and newts. We’ve also found some chickens which live outside one of the houses along the path, and the children love to visit them.
It has been fascinating to watch winter turn to spring over the weeks. There are lots of new things to see on the way round and we’ve been looking at leaf buds and catkins on the young trees – just the right height for the children to inspect! We even saw our first butterfly of the year this week, although it didn’t let us get very close!
We often bring things home to explore – seed pods, feathers, daisies, dandelions, stones. The Daddy has taught them how to put their finds in their pockets, so they now arrive home with their pockets stuffed!
I’m looking forward to Spring turning to Summer so it will be warm enough to take our morning snack with us to eat en route!
Linking up with Country Kids at Coombe Mill. Can’t wait for welly walks on the farm in June!!
Do you worry about letting your toddler get creative if it means lots of mess? Here are some top tips to help you relax about the whole process, enabling some fantastic learning experiences for your children, and great insights for you about how their brains tick!
When I was teaching, I was a great exponent of getting messy and the benefits it could have for children. The freedom to explore without it mattering about the mess itself – just about what they were gaining by doing it. When I had my own children and had to apply this theory in my own home, I was a little more unsure. For a start, at school I had a lovely cleaner to help finish cleaning up at the end of the day. I was used to three year olds, who you wouldn’t expect to pop a big lump of playdough in their mouths, or smear red paint in their hair, up their nose or all over your lovely light beige hall carpet (what were we thinking???!!!!) and now I had two children at the same developmental (put it in your mouth, up your nose, on the carpet) stage, most of the time on my own.
I have had to take a deep breath, remember all the things I know they can gain from getting messy, and make some alterations to my approach to make it manageable. I want to let them get messy, but I also want to retain my sanity (and a clean(ish) hall carpet) at the same time.
The most important thing is to look beyond the mess. Don’t see the paint up their arms and noses. See what they are doing with their hands, the language they are using, the involvement in their Very Important Work. They are learning about so many things, exploring using different senses, finding out how different materials behave, what they can do with them.
Here are my top tips for getting messy with toddlers:
Make sure you get everything together you might need, in advance. You don’t want to have to be running out of the room to fetch something after you have supplied your little one with the potential to cause havoc in your absence!
A waterproof mat is good to use for things like paint, glue, shaving foam etc. Dunelm sell them on a roll so you can buy whatever size you need. It’s a good idea to go for something as plain as possible; a busy pattern will distract their eyes and therefore their brains from what they are doing.
Alternatively, you could upcycle an old coffee table or bench by painting it with some exterior wood paint, which will make it wipe-able – great for using outside, which is one of the best places to get messy! We have a couple of Ikea’s Kritter tables which are wipe-clean too.
For ‘dry’ mess (like rice, flour, lentils, straw etc), old sheets and/or towels are invaluable. They will help stop the mess travelling a little bit. If you drop a handful of rice on a tiled floor it will scatter to every corner, but if you put a big towel down it won’t go quite as far!
Have a bowl of warm water and cloths ready for cleaning up at the end. I use muslin cloths which I have still have from when my two were babies and they are the best thing ever! I’ve found this really useful, even if it’s just there to remove the worst of the mess from their hands; the alternative can be (and has been here on occasion) paint all over the downstairs cloakroom door handle, the sink, the toilet seat… However, don’t be tempted to try to clean either them or the area until they have finished – there really isn’t any point, and the time you spend trying, in vain, to contain the mess will mean missing seeing what they’re doing and learning! You also don’t want to give them the message that mess is a bad thing, as this may constrain their explorations in the future.
Encourage the children to help with the clean up at the end – they will love washing paint pots, wiping the floor and learning how to use a dustpan and brush. It will also help them learn how to take responsibility for looking after their environment.
Decide in advance what you can and can’t handle. Only you can decide this, it doesn’t matter what everyone on Pinterest seems to be doing. You want this to be an enjoyable experience all round, not one which makes you feel totally stressed out! Start simple, and go from there.
If you can see they’re about to do something you’d prefer they didn’t, try to distract them. If you say “don’t put it in your mouth”, they will only process the last bit of the sentence and think “ooh, put it in my mouth, that’s a good idea!” If you distract them by, for example, inviting them to squeeze something in their hands, they will probably forget about the thing you didn’t want them to do!
If you have a reluctant explorer, it’s a good idea to get stuck in yourself. They may just want to watch to begin with. If they see that it’s nothing to be worried about they’re more likely to have a go. Try not to take over once they get going, though – they need time and space to explore uninterrupted, too.
There are so many possibilities for getting messy outside, there are whole blogs dedicated to it. It’s much easier to cope with the mess when it’s outside the house! Don’t be put off by the weather, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t paint in the rain (plastic sheets or bubble wrap are great for this) or explore mixing rice and wet mud, as long as they’re dressed properly. Adults are far more bothered by wet weather than children!
Watch your child. Watch how they explore. Do they focus on how it feels on their hands? Do they make marks (with fingers, brushes, anything else you add for them to explore)? Are they interested in how it moves (pouring, dripping, etc)? All these things will tell you a little bit about how your child likes to learn, and give you ideas for other things you can provide for them to explore.
It’s really great fun getting messy and the more you do it, the easier it becomes. I’ve found that children become so absorbed with messy activities, and so focused on what they’re doing, that transferring mucky stuff to places you really don’t want it is the furthest thing from their minds!
If you have any other tips for getting messy with young children, I’d love for you to share them in the comments!