Meaningful Mess

Spring. Get ready for puddles, mud, and messes! Thinking of a nice, clean house getting covered in puddles and grit, and having to start cleaning all over again, sends shivers down my spine. And what about the extra time it will take to bathe the kids and clean their clothes and shoes, with all the other errands we need to run. Just remember, it really is worth it!

As adults, we often forget the joys of playing in dirt and mud or just getting messy, of throwing away paint brushes and getting our hands dirty instead, of changing out of our good shoes and clothes and exploring without the concern of staying clean. We forget that the learning that happens during this kind of play outweighs the need to keep things tidy and orderly.

Children are messy by nature. It is critical to children’s development to be allowed to explore and interact with their world. Sometimes this means that we, as parents, need to take a deep breath and say “sure, you can play in the mud!” By allowing our children to get messy, we are fostering growth in all areas of their development. Messy play encompasses, but is not limited to:

  • Physical development: hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills
  • Emotional and social development: self-confidence and self-esteem, respect for themselves and others; can be an outlet for feelings, experiences, and thoughts
  • Intellectual development: problem solving, concentration, planning, grouping, matching, prediction, observation, and evaluation

Spring is the perfect time to allow our children to be messy while exploring the outside world. The weather is warming up, snow is gone, and all sorts of new life is happening. Being messy doesn’t mean allowing our children to run wild though. It is important that they are still dressed appropriately for outside weather, and monitored and guided through safe play. Here is a list of activities to do outside the house:

  • Playing in puddles: allow your children to explore puddles in the spring. See how high they can make the water splash as they jump in it. Can they make a boat that floats or float other objects in the puddle?
  • Mud pies: exploring mud is a great way to get creativity going. What can we create with the mud (castles, pies, pretend food)? What objects can we add to the mud (i.e. rocks, twigs, leaves, etc.)? What happens if we add more water? If we add more dirt?
  • Sidewalk chalk paint: take your cornstarch and water mixture outside! Add a few drops of food colouring and you have sidewalk chalk; the best part is no paint in the house!

Messy play isn’t only for outside, and can be done any time of year inside. Below is a list of fun, educational, and most importantly, messy activities to do inside with your children:

  • Shaving cream dough: try hand mixing equal parts of shaving cream and cornstarch together to make dough. Keep mixing, as it can take a while for the cornstarch to mix with the shaving cream
  • Cornstarch and water: see what happens when you mix cornstarch and water. This activity is a great way to explore ratios (how much of each ingredient to mix) and textures, and learn problem solving skills
  • Finger painting: learn all about colours and how to mix and match new ones, develop fine motor skills, language, and thinking skills

Remember that it is important for you to be messy too. Don’t forget to join in the fun and get your hands dirty! We, as adults, might be surprised by how much we can still learn from messy play, and there is nothing better than creating memories with your children.  They will remember the fun you all had long after you forget how messy everything was. If you would like to learn more about your children’s early learning and how to support literacy development, you might enjoy one of our family literacy programs. Visit the Centre for Family Literacy website for more information.

Thank You to Our Volunteers!

“Why are you doing this when you’re not getting paid?”

The adult learner this volunteer was working with couldn’t believe his tutor would show up week after week purely to help him reach his employment goals, without asking for anything in return.

“What motivates you to volunteer with us?”

If you want to be inspired, put this question to a volunteer. Then watch them light up. It’s inspiring to hear the passion in their voices as they talk about making a difference, giving back, and their desire to see individuals and families succeed. They also speak about the deep satisfaction they receive from helping others to reach their goals—whether that’s helping a parent to gain new skills as their child’s first teacher, understanding the letters coming home from their child’s school, passing their driver’s test, deciphering a medicine label, or simply gaining the confidence and skills to fill in important forms for themselves.

Our volunteers’ behind-the-scenes commitments typically include board and committee work, assisting with Family Literacy programs, facilitating Adult Literacy Classes, tutoring one-on-one, office support and fundraising events. Their collective impact is extraordinary! Activities are temporarily limited to our distance learning and online programs and communication during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We would like to take this moment to express our gratitude to our volunteers. Together we are working to foster a healthy, literate society where we are all able to contribute and succeed.

Following are some of the responses to our “Why I Volunteer” survey:

It’s the greatest feeling ever to give back in any way I can – and I love seeing the difference the programs the Centre runs makes in our community!
I volunteer because I like to offer my skills to organizations, I want to help my community and because it’s a chance to meet new people.
I love my students and I love their happiness when they know they have learnt something new. They always want to “use” it right away. I also like the people I work with and the atmosphere at the Centre for Family Literacy.
To give back to my community while making new friends.
I wanted to help other families and their children.
I volunteer because I get more back than I give. It fills me up.
I want to help however I can.
I volunteer because I have a deep empathy for the female newcomers who come here and watch their families integrate through their school and work. Left alone for much of the day they feel like they are losing their families to this new world and culture while they sit in loneliness and fear, unable to connect.
The Centre for Family literacy helps people enjoy a better life with dignity and respect.
To meet amazing people in my community and make life a little bit easier for some of them.
To give back to my community and connect with others!
I have been fortunate to have a good job and opportunities to learn. Volunteering is my way of giving back.
I have been a participant with my child in CFL programs for years and wanted to give back.
Because if I don’t who will, and it needs to happen.
For the enjoyment and reward of helping others.
Because I like helping people make a difference in their lives.
Volunteering is good for a community, and it’s a great way to meet people and develop new skills.
It’s fun (though I’ve been away and haven’t volunteered for some time).
I volunteer because giving back teaches me so much more!
Volunteering makes me feel grateful for what I have and provides an opportunity to help improve the lives of the people I touch.
I love to teach and I want to give back to my community.
I enjoy sharing my passions with others.
I volunteer at the Centre because I believe in their Mission Statement and I feel welcomed by the wonderful people who work there.

If you are interested in volunteering to help someone with their literacy skills via online distance learning, click here.


Pancake Alphabet

Writing doesn’t have to be just on paper, and what’s better than being able to eat what you’ve written or drawn!


What you need:

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 3 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 3 tbsp. butter, melted
  • blueberries or chocolate chips (optional)

What to do: 

  1. In a large bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients.
  2. Make a well in the centre and add wet ingredients; stir until still a little lumpy.
  3. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan.
  4. Adults – pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle in the traditional round shape.
  5. When pancakes start to bubble, flip and brown on the other side.


Let your child help you measure and mix the ingredients. Show them the recipe and talk about how you know how much you need of each ingredient.

If you are using chocolate chips or blueberries, you can use them to spell words on the pancakes after you have flipped them over once.

If you are feeling adventurous, place pancake batter in a turkey baster or old ketchup or mustard bottle, and spell out letters or words.


Cooking together gives you a chance to have some great conversations with your child. There will be new words, ideas, and fun along the way while you make something together.

Pancakes add to the fun by being able to make different shapes! By including your child in your cooking, you will also make them feel like they are helping you get things done.

To get over 120 of the best activities to do with your children to boost and build key literacy skills from birth to 5 years, download the Centre for Family Literacy’s FREE Flit app (Families Learning and Interacting Together).

Click here for the iOS version.

Click here to download the Android version.

Watch a video demo of the app.

Paper Plate Puzzles

Puzzles are full of early numeracy ideas and making one together makes it fun!


What you need:

  • Paper plate (plain or patterned)
  • Crayons, paints, or markers
  • Scissors
  • Magnetic tape (optional)


What to do:

  1. Decorate the paper plate. If using a patterned plate you can leave it if you like.
  2. Cut the plate apart into different shapes.
  3. If using magnetic tape, place a piece on the back of each piece.
  4. Put the puzzle back together. If you have used magnetic tape, you can do it on the fridge or a cookie sheet.


Let your child decide how they want to decorate the plate. Help them use the scissors to cut out different shapes—they don’t have to be the same.

Talk about how many pieces you want to have in the puzzle and whether you should cut them bigger or smaller.

When it’s done, let your child put the puzzle together. If they are having difficulty, help them complete it.


Puzzles are a great way for your child to start thinking about shapes, sizes, colours, and matching. Making your own puzzle is easy and might mean more to your child since they made it.

To get over 120 of the best activities to do with your child to boost and build key literacy skills from birth to 5 years, download the Centre for Family Literacy’s FREE Flit app, (Families Learning and Interacting Together).

Click here for the iOS version.

Click here to download the Android version.

Watch a video demo of the app.