Making Messy Messes

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to a lot of moms about a wide variety of products from child development to education to politics. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to have this level of face-to-face dialogue in an often exclusively virtual world.

In most of these conversations, though, sooner or later, the conversation has turned to messy play. It’s summer, and messy play is definitely part of the picture. I was fortunate to grow up in a world that was, as e.e. cummings describes, “mud-luscious” and “puddle wonderful.” There were more than a few times that after climbing trees and dirt clod battles, my brothers and I had the hose turned on us before we were allowed in the house.

Kids love mess, and even kids who might seem a little squeamish at first can get into the wonderful sense of freedom and empowerment that comes from making messes. I’m happy to say that moms for the most part support this, and are even amused by it, even if the prospect of cleaning up is somewhat daunting at times. (We’ll talk about learning to pick up and clean up indoors another time.)

That’s one of the reasons I’ve been so delighted to see the strong, positive reaction to two of my personal favorite toys of this summer. (I guess one never grows out of the pleasure of making a mess.)

Spin Master’s Squishy Baff is a totally contained slime experience that kids are loving. While it’s designed for the bathtub, you may want to try it in a wading pool outside for more fun. Kids get all the delight of bathing in goo and the odd sensations of it, and a the same time, the mess is contained in a tub or pool. The dissolving works really well, so there’s no harm to septic systems or drains, and the sensation really is like being in a clean mud puddle.

Crayola’s Outdoor Color Bubbles had a rocky start in 2011, with some staining issues that frustrated parents. Well, thanks to chemistry and ingenuity, the staining issue is gone. I’ve gotten them on more dress shirts than most people, and the stains have come out in the normal wash. Kids love the brightly colored bubbles, but—let’s face it—they also love getting the colors on themselves and their friends. While this is messy and play clothes are recommended, and outdoor play is essential, the clean up was effortless and successful.

Making messes is, of course, silly fun, yet it also can be very empowering for children, inspiring them to be creative, push boundaries and feel free and daring. Finding ways to provide that experience while controlling the collateral damage seems to be scoring high with parents.

Of course, some of the people I talk to are a little shocked to hear about some of the things the kids in the neighborhood did when I was growing up. For instance, no one had a Slip ‘n Slide, so we created a long stretch of dirt that we soaked down and created this amazing mudslide that kept us playing for hours.

When I tell that story, the comment I hear most often is, “Oh, your poor mother!” Fortunately, our mother had a great sense of humor, an appreciation of how even though we were filthy it was pretty harmless—and she had the hose.

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