A few weeks back, we had one of those nasty rainy mornings. The kids were stuck inside seemingly all day, and (literally) bouncing off the walls. The sky cleared, and we were thrilled to throw the doors open to a sunny spring afternoon. The playgrounds were wet and mushy, full of puddles and streams. In my experience, the kids usually fall into two distinct groups: those who very much do NOT want mud (or paint, or potatoes, or glue, or oobleck, etc.) to get anywhere near them, thank you very much, and those who seem to be attracted to the various forms of slimy stuff like a kitten to a ball of yarn. And indeed, despite my repeated attempts to keep the kids reasonably free of mud, half of my class was walking with a squelching sneakers’ full of rain water within an half an hour, hair caked with mud and mulch, grins from ear to ear. My own 15 month-old spotted these kids, and squealed with delight. The three-year-olds took this opportunity to REALLY show my toddler their sweetest puddle jumping moves, shouting “Watch this one baby!” The kids were blissed out, splashing and twirling through the mud like, well, a preschooler in a rain puddle. We returned these drippy kids to their bemused folks, happy and bath ready.
More than just wear and tear on your beleaguered laundry machine, these often messy encounters are major brain builders. Think of your kids like little (mad) scientist performing all manner of glooping experiments. As they squish and squash, their brains are firing away, sorting and categorizing the world. Through creative and artistic pursuits we can unlock and integrate the learning potential of both hemispheres of the child’s developing brain. A young child’s brain is a sponge in constant search of a new experience. What we feed that sponge is hugely important to the overall healthy development of the brain. Experiences like mud puddles and finger painting offers a child endless possibilities and new worlds to discover. It is a way to let off steam, get lost in a thought or a movement, or just experiencing a new way of using their hands (or feet, or tummies!) without abandon. Our jobs as teachers is to first keep them safe, and second to offer them a wide word of texture and opportunity to explore. What is important is the exploration of the process, not the final masterpiece or muddy mess. Exploring the world’s goo strengthens eye-hand coordination, spatial learning, fine motor skills, emotional and loco-motor learning, and above all else, it’s just really cool. Just because getting messy is a high powered learning experience, it above all else should be dynamic and fun.
Get messy, go crazy, and never ever wear anything that you don’t want splattered in a newly discovered shade of paint at the end of the day! Just like you diligently go to work everyday, likewise your kids are going to their “office”. So when your child returns to you at the end of the day with 15 layers of dirt and paint, you can say “Job well done!”