Good mess versus bad mess
Recently a meme did the rounds noting the better parent was the one with the messiest house because clearly they spent more time playing with their children and less time cleaning. It reminded me of my children’s birthday parties, where I would spend all morning cleaning and telling them not to play with their new toys, not to eat cupcakes on the floor and not to use the bathroom I’d just cleaned in preparation for guests.
But are messier kids really happier kids?
Yes and no. You see, it turns out not all mess is created equal.
Take dirt for example. Children making mud pies in the garden or digging up worms is a good mess. According to microbiology and immunology expert Mary Ruebush, Ph.D. "exposure to dirt helps children build strong immune systems that will provide lifelong protection." Plus those things are just plain fun! Dirty kitchen bench tops for making sandwiches on the other hand is simply unhygienic.
Take blueberries as another example. A baby in a high chair squishing blueberries between their fingers and then smudging it all over their face is engaging the sensors and practicing their fine motor skills. A child learning to count with blueberries is stimulating multiple senses and according to research as a result their brain is more likely to remember what’s being learned. Stepping on blueberries as you cross the white rug to sit on the couch on the other hand is a bad mess.
Now take your living room. Unstructured play is a wonderful learning experience allowing children to use their imaginations and be free with their thoughts. It makes them think for themselves. They become engineers trying to work out the best structure for the cushion house. They study physics as they propel different toy cars down their homemade ramp across the floor.
This is not to say the messier house is the happier one. As important as science is it is also important for children to bear some responsibility for cleaning up, to respect their property enough not to lose it and for them to be able to take comfort and security in the household order.
Bottom line, make a mess, make memories and then clean it up!