Messy Play Hacks

OT Mom says, “Let’s use some [insert something super messy; e.g. paint, slime, sand] today!”

Dr. Dad doesn’t say anything but omits a low guttural sound of disapproval. He doesn’t love it when we make a mess. He does, however, help when we do it anyway.

Respect all life.

Messy play activities are excellent for allowing young children to explore their world. Not only does do messy play activities provide an opportunity to develop a variety of senses, they have the potential to promote skills such as fine motor coordination, pre-writing skills, tactile discrimination, and bilateral coordination to name a few.

That being said, we don’t always have the time, energy, or patience for all out messy activities. Last summer we even had our house for sale, and trying to keep it clean with a messy toddler boy and a food-throwing baby was quite the challenge. While attempting to keep our house close to “show” ready, I figured out some hacks to make messy activities possible. I’ve thrown in some bonus ideas to make the most of messy play opportunities.

Take it Outside

If the weather is nice, take the kids outside to make a mess. When we think of painting, we usually don’t think to do it outside, but why not? A little paint splattered into the grass is no biggie. I use a drop cloth on the back lawn and let them go at it. If it’s especially warm, you can  have some water ready outside for easy clean up.

You can also use mother nature’s readily available messy supplies. Kids love digging in the dirt, playing in rocks, or stomping in mud puddles. We recently planted some seedlings and got dirt everywhere, and it just took a quick sweep to clean it up.

The bonus:  Being outside is associated with a lot of perks in itself, such as associations with many positive mental health benefits.

otmomsays.com-4

Take it to the Tub

There are so many fun, messy sensory activities you can do in the bathtub! You can use what’s available commercially (foam soap, bubbles, bath crayons, bath paint) or go a little bit outside of the box.

We use actual kid paint in the bath tub sometimes when we are doing art projects, just because it makes clean up much easier.

The bonus: Using the vertical sides of the bathtub wall also promotes some great motor skills when doing things like doodling with bath crayons.  Writing on the vertical surface of the tub wall allows for wrist extension and promotes proper grasp patterns children need for good handwriting skills.

Box It Up

Speaking of thinking outside of the box, you can do messy play IN a box to help keep it contained. This is a great idea for things like markers, paint, and crayons that you don’t want a toddler getting all over the walls.

The bonus: Kids love to play in boxes and they are inexpensive (it’s also another opportunity to utilize a vertical surface).

COFFEE

Catch It in a Sheet

I love letting my kids cook and bake with me, but let’s face it, toddlers are NOT good at keeping all the ingredients in the bowl. When we bake, I usually will put a sheet or a picnic blanket on the floor and let the kids help mix the ingredients on top of that. While it doesn’t catch every speck of flour, it does help keep the mess contained.

I also use a drop cloth under the area that my kids play with play dough.

The bonus: Kids can help lay out the sheet and make sure it’s smooth. When the activity is done, they can help to fold it up in a way that the mess won’t fall out and help shake it out outside.

Try Some Good Ol’ H20

The absolute easiest idea is to simply use water. Young kids can “paint” with water on construction paper (you can let it dry and reuse it several times). When my older son paints with watercolors (what I believe to be the easiest paint to clean up), my daughter (who is a bit younger) is perfectly happy with just water.

OTMOMSAYS.COM-5

 

There are also watercolor paint books that have just a touch of paint at the top of each page and “magic” water activity books that are low to no mess.

I’ve even taken it up a step with the water messy play by putting a couple thick towels on my kitchen floor to let my daughter use kitchen items and water for pretend play. She likes to pour and stir the water in kitchen pots and bowls with real utensils. She scoops and pours a little water with measuring cups. Sure some of the water spills, but it’s super easy to clean up. Just about a cup of water (and of course supervision) and she is happily entertained and engaged in a great activity.

The bonus: Using water for pretend play encourages creativity and promotes development of social-emotional skills.

Zip It Up

This one isn’t messy at all. It is however, a fun tactile activity that little ones love.  You can use a zip lock bag filled with something squishy (I use hair gel) and add things such as glitter, water beads, or small toys (without sharp or pointy edges).  I’d also recommend taping the bag shut and always supervising kids closely with this activity, in case the bag does happen to get ripped open and since if not used correctly a suffocation and choking hazard. When my son was a baby, I’d tape it to his high chair tray for a fun, easy activity to do while I prepped dinner. If you’re really brave, you can have a young helper assist in making the bags.

Copy of Zip it up

The bonus: Visual perception/discrimination games can be incorporated into the play. Some ideas include: have the child point to all the blue items, identify alphabet beads, squish all the purple water beads to the same side. This activity also provides an opportunity to practice finger isolation to poke at the sensory bag for fine motor development.

Make It Edible

We all have to eat and a lot of young kids are already making a mess, so another option for messy play is to stick them in the high chair or at the table and paint with yogurt, jam, avocados, sauce (whatever you have on hand). This way, if they are in a stage where they’re putting anything (or everything) in their mouth- it’s a good thing!

The bonus: Try to incorporate practice using utensils for fine motor development and promotion of self-help skills. Even if your child doesn’t use a child spoon accurately yet, it’s great to still allow for some practice and exploration of the item.

halfway

Plan Ahead

This may seem obvious, but I’ve learned the hard way. Having your clean up materials at arms length is half the battle. If your doing some kind of wet messy play (e.g. paint, goop, food, etc) have some wet wash clothes or baby wipes nearby. If it’s some kind of dry mess (e.g. rice, sand, etc) have a broom or vacuum ready to go. This way, once the activity is over, the mess can be minimized before it spreads and takes over your house.

The bonus: Having the kids help you gather the needed items allows them to be involved in the routine and can serve as a learning opportunity. Concepts such as before, during, and after can be explained and the preparation, action, then clean up can help kids with transitions between activities.

Clean Up Together

Let’s face it, sometimes messy play (no matter how you plan it or what precautions you take) makes a BIG mess. That’s ok, because there are many great skills to be gained in the clean-up process.

The bonus: During the clean up process, kids get a sense of participation in the family routines, motor skills may be developed, and more sensory input is included, such as proprioception.

Add or Remove Clothing

Either way is a good way to go- Using a smock or an old shirt designated for painting, or allowing for some shirtless messy play, you get a reduction of ruined cloths and:

The bonus: practicing self care dressing (and undressing) skills.

Messy Play-2

Use Everyday Stuff

Messy play can simply be fun, cheap, creative play. There are so many activities you can do using the items you have in your house at any given time. In the kitchen, have the kids explore produce:  pumpkin guts, squishing (and eating bananas), dried rice for a sensory bin, playing in flour, or dried dried noodles. You can head outside to stomp in the mud, dig for worms, or jump in leaves. The options are endless, just look around!

The bonus: by looking at an everyday item in a different way, imaginations can soar.

I hope your next mess is a good one! Let me know how it goes 🙂

*Disclaimer: The information presented in the blog is intended for information purposes only. Please consult your physician with any medical concerns and/or for medical advice. The information presented is not intended to be used in place of individualized therapy services, please contact your health care team for skilled therapy if you think it is necessary. Please supervise your children (or friends, spouses, etc)  if you decide to try any of the activities or ideas presented as the author or this blog does not claim liability for possible injury or negative consequences related to the activities and ideas presented here.

Advertisements

Embrace the Power of Proprioception

Dr. Dad says, “Stop taking apart the couch!”

OT Mom says, “Not just yet. Stack those those cushions, kids!”

You may be wondering, what the heck is proprioception? Proprioception is the sense of our joints position, the location of our body parts in space, and the awareness of the strength being used for a particular task. It allows us to know where our limbs are and how much force we are using at any given moment. The sense receptors for proprioception are within the muscles and joints of our bodies. This sensory system is super important and allows us to move and react to our environment and works in connection with our other senses. In particular, the tactile (aka touch) sensory system and proprioceptive system work closely to help use develop body awareness as children (Kramer & Hinojosa, 2010).

embrace-the-power

While most of us can self regulate our sensory needs to succeed throughout life, some of us need or could use a little more help. We are all on a continuum in the realm of sensory experience, and I believe that my kids happen to be more towards the sensory seeking end of the spectrum.

When my 3 year old gets out of bed, the first thing he does is STOMP down the hallway. He love to to crash, spin, jump, and dance. He screams just to scream and instead of just walking to his door of the car, he rubs against the car on his way. My daughter, who loves to spin and dance and push our kitchen chairs around the house seems to be following in his foot steps. It’s pretty normal for toddlers to be full of energy and active and it’s such a good opportunity to let them engage in sensory  activities. 

Your own kids (or yourself) may not be towards the sensory seeking end of the spectrum, but they are somewhere on the sensory continuum. Some of us seek out input, some of us avoid it, and most of use do a combination or do something in-between.  Sensory input is all around us, and the way we process the world impacts our functioning in many ways.

So adding proprioceptive activities to your daily routine can help regulate your alertness or arousal to an optimal state.

Proprioceptive input is powerful.

It can calm you down or amp you up a bit. An easy way to think of proprioceptive input is to think of “heavy work” activities. You want these sensory experiences to impact your muscles and joints. My son is awesome at figuring out ways to engage in heavy work through play, but he sometimes needs a little help with he’s getting off track or when we are not at home when his usual go-to’s are not available.

Learning from the best, we can look at the favorite self-sought activities from my awesome little three year old:

  •   Stacking the couch cushions– Although it’s probably not the best thing for our couch (and drives Dr. Dad crazy) it provides multiple sensory inputs. He gets the heavy work from lifting and stacking the cushions. He also loves to climb over them and squeeze himself under them providing deep pressure input. An added bonus is that I can see his imagination at work. He likes to build “volcanos” and “hotels.” This activity obviously benefits from close supervision to prevent fall, injury, etc, but with supervision, it’s been a big favorite in my house.
    • In addition to being buried under the couch cushions, my son loves to be buried by toys. Deep pressure following the hard work of moving the toys seems to comfort him. He will remove all of his toys from the toy box and ask to be buried. Again- use common sense and caution. I am looking forward to summer when he might like getting buried in the sand.

Since we are not always able to play in the living room by the couch and my kiddo still craves sensory input throughout the day, here are some additional ideas we’ve come up with to sneak in some input and/or add it to your daily routines.

everyday

  • While at the store– push a shopping cart and help lift the shopping items- this obviously engages the muscles, and most kids think it’s pretty fun. I love that some grocery stores have mini carts for kids, what a great idea, load it up!
  • Have them help with chores– shovel, rake, sweep, vacuum, mop, and scrub. While little ones might not do the best job, they are sure good helpers. Even if the chores take a bit longer, I find it rewarding to allow my kids to help and it provides such great sensory experiences. In addition to proprioception, you’re using lots of other great senses too (visual, auditory, tactile, vestibular)! It also helps develop a sense of accomplishment and roles within the family unit which I think is great for a child’s self-esteem.1
  • Push and pull– my son is a great helper and loves pulling his little sister in a wagon or sled, or pushing her in a stroller. Proprioceptive input that is in a consistent direction tends to be more calming, while push and pull actives (like tug-a-war, mopping, vacuuming) tend to be more alerting. Keep that in mind if you are considering a game of tug-a-war before bed… it might be best as a first thing in the morning activity.
  • In a pinch- Adding proprioception throughout your daily routing takes just a few minutes.  If you don’t have time for a big session, there are little things that can provide some great sensory input. Things like jumping jacks, dancing, yoga poses, animal walks (walk like a “bear,” “crab,” etc), clapping and marching/stomping games can be effective, quick, and easy to incorporate throughout the day.
  • Don’t forget the small joints, they count too! Hard work for little hands can give some good input too. Some ideas for play time include actives like play dough, legos type snapping blocks, and popping bubble wrap. While helping out around the house, kids can help with kneading pizza or bread dough, squeezing a spray bottle, or maintaining control of a hand held electric mixer when baking.

Finally, please remember, proprioception is not just for kids. Perhaps my kids are on the sensory seeking end of the proprioceptive spectrum because I am as well. People who know me, know I have trouble sitting still, and Dr. Dad can attest to my sometimes strange dance moves/hops that can seem to come out of nowhere while just walking through my house (though I tend to restrain myself in public). Part of my sensory routine is going for runs whenever I get the chance or at least doing some light to moderate physical activity on a daily or near daily basis. While my husband isn’t quite the sensory seeker I am when it comes to proprioception, he does feel great and balanced after lifting weights. What do you do to regulate yourself? 

References:

Kramer, P. & Hinojosa, J. (2010). Pediatric Occupational Therapy (3rd ed). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia, PA

*Disclaimer: The information presented in the blog is intended for information and entertainment purposes only. Please consult your physician with any medical concerns and/or for medical advice. The information presented is not intended to be used in place of individualized therapy services, please contact your health care team for skilled therapy if you think it is necessary. Please supervise your children (or friends, spouses, etc)  if you decide to try any of the activities or ideas presented as the author or this blog does not claim liability for possible injury or negative consequences related to the activities and ideas presented here.