Meaningful Mess

Child PaintingSpring. 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 melting, 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.

Babies Touching Books… with Bunnies

family with baby read book 2

When I first started facilitating the Books for Babies program, I was struck by the thought, “Wow, there are a lot of board books about bunnies.” And if the combination of books, babies, and bunnies rings any bells for you, there is a good chance you’re thinking of Dorothy Kunhardt’s Pat the Bunny, which has been in print since 1940 and is one of the best selling children’s books of all time.

Pat-the-BunnyPat the Bunny was actually one of the first interactive books for children. Instead of telling a story, it is more of a collection of things you can do with your toddler. You can try on mommy’s ring by putting your finger through a hole in the page, look into a mirror, flip through a smaller book inside the book, and of course, pat the bunny’s (fake) fur. This also makes it one of the first “touch and feel” books.

Fast-forward 75 years and there are a lot of touch and feel books for children, and a lot of them feature bunnies. I won’t try to explain all the bunnies, but there are good reasons why these interactive touch and feel books are so popular with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.

Bunny_book1.  Babies and toddlers are busy exploring and learning about the world around them, and many things are not as smooth as the pages of a book. The added dimension of texture in a touch and feel book helps our little ones connect what they are seeing in the book with things they have discovered around the house, or on any trips you have taken together outside the home. Babies around 4 – 6 months old are especially drawn to things they can distinguish by touch (and taste) because their vision started out quite blurry. The more things they feel, the easier it is for them to understand the difference between textures, which makes things easier to recognize by touch.

2.  Babies and toddlers find these books so engaging because they are learning to control the fine movements of their hands and fingers. This might not sound very exciting, but if you can remember the excitement of learning a musical instrument, or the satisfaction of getting better at a sport, think of how satisfying it must be to go from near-random flailing to actually willing your fingers to explore something that catches your eye.

3.  While our tiny human friends are busy exploring their environments, they have an easier time remembering and identifying things they can associate with more than one of their senses. So if you are sharing a book with your child that features an actually fuzzy bunny, they get to see the bunny, hear you talk about the bunny, and also feel how soft the bunny is.

Sensory exploration is an important part of child development. So as gimmicky as these books might appear, they offer quite a range of experiences to growing children, and even when they enter school, many kids will still gravitate towards the books that offer them something different to touch. This bias is quite strong in young children and for good reason.

 

Books for Babies program schedule:

http://www.famlit.ca/programs_and_projects/programs/babies.shtml

hashtag: #books_for_babies

Go Ahead and Let Your Kids Play in the Mud!

There is so much information lately about sensory play and the benefits of letting our kids get dirty. Being a mom who loves to dive right in and get my own hands dirty, I hopped on the sensory play bandwagon immediately! A mommy friend and I excitedly planned our first sensory play date. After the items were picked and the space was prepared, the kids were ready and it was time to begin!

Since our little ones still put everything in their mouths we needed to use things that were edible. Cornmeal was the first texture for the girls to explore. We started modestly with a small container and a few scooping toys. This was very similar to playing in the sand although it would not be as bad if they decided to give it a taste.

Things got messy in a hurry. The girls really enjoyed feeling the cornmeal in their hands and between their fingers. It was dry and slid off the skin easily. It gave us the opportunity to use new words such as gritty, coarse, and mild when talking about how the cornmeal felt or smelled, and the girls tried to repeat the new words back to us. The new vocabulary and fun we were having made it well worth the mess!

We were pleasantly surprised that it took longer than we had expected for the kids to taste-test this new texture. Although they made yucky faces, they persisted in trying it again and again. They even used the spoons to feed it to each other.

We were so happy that they were sharing and using the spoons successfully that we waited a few scoopfuls before adding more new vocabulary. Share, feed, lick and taste were just a few of the words we found ourselves using.

We were also learning about how to keep the floor clean while still having fun! In came the water/sand box from outside as our new, larger exploration space. We decided if we were going to do this sensory play thing we were going to go all the way!

My daughter loved how it felt having the cornmeal showered onto her face, neck and head. This gave us the opportunity to talk about those body parts and location words like in and out. Then we let them go in and out of the sandbox as they pleased, so they were in control of what they were, or were not, showered in. And why stop at playing with food? The containers were just as much fun; a bowl could also be a hat or a drum!

Next we added some dry rice, and then some oatmeal. Once again we found ourselves using more new vocabulary. Flat, round, hard, soft, light and dry were just some of the words we used.

Our next step was to slowly add some water. The girls were very comfortable diving in and exploring these new textures, as things got messier and messier, with little or no direction from mommy!

After a quick spaghetti and tomato sauce lunch to refuel, we were ready for round two! The leftover spaghetti was a perfect addition to the sensory play space. Although it was a texture and taste the girls were familiar with, it was new to get to squish it between their fingers and toes.

The girls continued to try tasting every new item we added and neither of them showed any sign of wanting to stop. This made us feel awesome!

The last food we introduced was tapioca pearls (the kind used in bubble tea). The pearls came in an array of colours and sizes. Eventually the gritty cornmeal stuck to the sticky tapioca exterior. Because we did not add sugar to the pearls, as the recipe suggested, the girls attempted to eat them, spat them out, then tried other ones. They probably did this fifteen times each!

The girls loved to stand up and sit back down, transfer textures back and forth between containers, and taste-test items over and over again. With music playing in the background, covered in goo, they even stood up and danced!

It was time to clean up and take our sticky kids to a new sensory play space – the bathtub! Our play date was ending, but we continued talking about all the new words, textures, tastes and smells we had experienced that morning.