In our effort to raise children to be helpers and change makers, we must give them the room to experiment with their curiosity. How else would they gain the courage to rely on their own ideas?
I know life as a parent is chaotic. It takes a herculean effort simply to keep children dressed, fed, and housed in a building containing less than 50 percent dirty laundry and stray Lego® pieces.
Though the messy bits of life can be stressful, it's time to embrace the power of messy fun.
Without the limitations of you might get dirty and I don’t want to have to clean that up later, kids can get remarkably creative with an hour or two of unscheduled time on their hands.
Thanks to a few well-planned and admittedly messy tools, active curiosity can become a state of mind in your house.
Here are 6 messy tools to empower your kids.
1) The UPCYCLE ME Box: Before you recycle, reuse. Store clean bottles, caps, boxes, toilet paper tubes, and other goodies in an easy to reach box, along with twine, duct tape, and an invitation to play. For older kids, consider adding a hot glue gun and, with adult assistance, the drill!
Our Upcycle Box is the essential engine for experimentation in almost every game played by my kids, ages four to 10. Once a month or so I do help the kids clean out the battered items, remove tape form overused creations, and recycle what we can.
2) The Nature Center: Set up a corner of your house to store treasures from nature walks. Fill small baskets with sticks, rocks, pine cones, and other treasures. Add in field guides, a magnifying glass, a bug net, and a recycled peanut butter jar with holes in the top and voila, you’re ready to catch and create. You may want to a set of binoculars and a children’s microscope to encourage even more exploration.
3) A Magic Mail Center: Do you have a young artist at home? Setup an area in your home to create happy mail for anyone who in need of a smile, from far-flung relatives to kids in the hospital. You'll find instructions to set up a kindness-themed mail station here.
4) The willingness to say “Yes you can”: Whenever possible, let your kids explore. For a toddler, a puddle isn't just a puddle, it's an experiment. I know, I know. Sometimes we really need our kids to stay out of the puddles, off the dirty slide, or away from the interesting-looking bug. Sometimes, company is coming and the house needs to stay presentable. The trick is learning when to say yes and when to say no and when to remind them that whatever mess they make, they will have a part in cleaning up.
5) Encourage the helpers: Though it may take longer and be messier, do your best to encourage kids to help with whatever you're working on. Whether they’re rolling out pizza dough, pitting cherries, learning to sweep, or unloading groceries, the more you encourage a child's “I want to help” attitude, the more your child will think of himself as a helper.
6) Keep Play Clothes Handy! Rather than reminding kids to stay clean and guard their cute clothes, keep some raggedy t-shirts on hand for the messy moments. Ours live in a basket near the back door. The kids know that if their big ideas turn into big, messy ideas, they can pop inside for a quick wardrobe change and be ready for anything.
Given a little time and a few tools, I guarantee your kids will surprise you with their big-hearted creativity. Mine built a library yesterday, in what started out as a huge mess -- in fact, I tried to talk them out of it -- and resulted in a beautiful, rainy-day game.