Getting Messy!

Group of Children Playing in a Classroom

The more mess the more fun, that’s what I think and, I suspect, your children will be on board! The more mess, the more fun; the more fun the more engagement; the more engagement, the more learning!

But face it, mess is…ugh…mess! Organization is the key, whether the mess is paint, sand, or …mud–some pre-planning (and teaching) will make the mess fun, the clean-up a breeze, and the whole activity a great learning experience.  Here are some organizing ideas:

  • Locate messy play over washable flooring. If your room is all carpet (oh, those short-sighted builders) heavy vinyl tablecloths can do the trick – and can be tossed in the washer when the day is over.
  • Provide easily cleanable play surfaces – smooth is best. Cover easels with clear contact paper – clean-up will be as easy as a quick swipe of a sponge.
  • Keep supplies close at hand and/or limit the amount of carpet area kids must cross to get to materials, a display area, or clean-up materials.
  • Keep messy areas away from doors or other heavy traffic areas – Murphy’s law says that paint spilled in the hall in front of the door will inevitably land on the cuff of your principal’s new Armani pants suit (not to mention her Manolo pumps.)
  • Put messes close to a water source – preferably one kids can use themselves. A child-sized sink and cupboard stocked with cleaning supplies is great – better is a mobile clean-up center (a great idea from Tom Drummond) which contains clean-up materials and can be moved about the room to where it is needed.
    • This is a terrific opportunity to teach kids about ways to use a variety of clean-up tools – sponges, scrub brushes, whisk brooms – as well as non-toxic cleaners.
    • Invest in some child-sized hand-held brooms and dustpans and kids love those small, hand-held vacuums like the ones used in French restaurants or those swell carpet sweepers.
  • Be sure to have cover-ups appropriate for the mess – old adult shirts (with sleeves cut off to a child’s arm length) are great for paint and play dough; plastic is better for water-play, building snow castles, and mud.

Now that you know how to organize for messes (and the inevitable rain), how about some “Mud-lucious” learning:

  • Mud in the sensory table. What’s more fun than being up to your elbows in mud? We adults pay good money for this at spas. Add farm animals to bury (and later to wash in the cleaning center.) Use vocabulary words like squishy, slimy, oozy, yuk, and gross.
  • Read and re-enact Robert Munsch’s Mud Puddle (“Oh, lovely mud”) book about three farm animals who LOVE mud.
  • Let the mud dry and experiment with making it mud again. How much water do you need to make mud?  How much is too much?
  • Make “white” mud with cornstarch and water. Dump in four boxes of cornstarch and add water until the mixture is slimy?  Keep a tub of “real” mud around for comparison.  And here’s a vocabulary word—viscosity—great opportunities for discussion about the differences in feel, ingredients, and behavior.
  • Make “clean” mud with Ivory Snow, shredded toilet paper, and water. Ooooh, slimy!
  • Make adobe bricks with mud mixed with dry grasses and leaves. Use any container from ice cube trays to shoe-boxes to dry the adobe in.  Use the bricks in your block area or create an adobe building area on your playground.
    • Hypertufa, a more permanent substance, can be made by mixing one part Portland Cement, one part mason’s sand or perlite and two parts milled peat moss. This hardens like cement and can be used to make bricks, fake rocks, and containers for planting.  Kids should use hypertufa with rubber gloves and long sleeves as it can stick and harden on the skin.)Well, these “mud-i-ful ideas should keep you going for a while–happy  slogging!

(adapted from First Teacher)

Some Mud-luscious resources:

And some books:

  • Mud Pies and Other Recipes by Marjorie Winslow
  • Mud Stew for Two by Gloria and Sarah Thrall
  • Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham
  • Rain School by James Rumford
  • Pigs in the Mud in the Middle of the Rud by Lynn Plourde
  • Mud by Mary Lyn Ray
  • Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy E. Shaw

During my travels I realized a fundamental truth – the child is the true curriculum and the teacher is the true environment. The quality of education is not dependent on the beauty of your classroom or materials or the expectations placed on you. The real environment is the heart of the educator, the real curriculum is the journey with the children. It all boils down to the relationships in our classroom communities. The power of who we are is far greater than anything we can buy or put in our classrooms.

Sally Haughy

This article was contributed by Mary Perkins for the Early Childhood Express newsletter. Subscribe to Early Childhood Express for monthly articles, tips, and professional development opportunities delivered to your inbox.