6 Tips for Mastering At-Home Messy Activities

By Andrea Kistler March 11, 2021

I've posted stories about my daughter playing in sensory bins of water or dry beans, and even finger painting at home. I love these activities! They're a great way to break up a rainy day or a treat for a lazy afternoon. Plus kids have fun and learn so much from these sensory activities.

You might be intimidated by the idea of a messy activity in your home, where all your nice things are! But I assure you it can be fun and a great treat for everyone. 

Here's some advice to keep in mind for giving your kids some messy fun:

1. Time.

My first thought is always about time, because you need it on your side. Don't have any upcoming time sensitive household tasks that will take you away or some place you need to be be. Factor in time for set up and clean up as well. Rushing usually leads to stress and more accidents. 

2. Set yourself up for success.

Mentally act out the entire activity in your head, set up to clean up. Picture yourself gathering items, setting it up, playing, and clean up. This mental exercise takes a moment but will help you think of lots of small details. Even do a run through without kids around if that helps (it may be fun!). 

Here's some example questions to keep in mind:

  • Where will everything physically go? 
  • What's nearby that could get bumped or splattered accidentally? 
  • Do I have my phone with me for pictures or to answer a call?
  • If there is a spill/accident do I have what I need handy for clean up? 
  • Is there a clear path to a sink for hand washing?
  • How can my kids be involved and help in set up and clean up?

3. Prepare your kids.

The second half of this is preparing your kids. Explain expectations before you begin to establish clear rules. For my 2yr old we repeat 'paint on paper only', and then I ask her if other specific places (floor, ottoman, dog) are allowed to have paint. I also reiterate that if these rules aren't followed then we will immediately stop (and you have to mean it). Have them be a part of set up and clean up to keep them involved and learning.

4. Overcompensate. 

For finger painting I use extra large pieces of paper, I roll up the carpet on that side, and put extra paper under the paint tray. Of course I use washable paint, but I treat it as if it's not. Sometimes I even add water or dish soap to dilute it even further. When I do sensory bins of water or beans I put down a blanket or towel that's about 2x bigger than what I need or I've done it in the bathtub. Just assume they'll ruin their cloths, that way you can only be pleasantly surprised. 

You'll never know where a random glob of paint will end up, a finger will slip, or a splash will be too big. So give your kids space the space to make a mistake and learn from it. That wiggle room will make for a more relaxed and fun environment for everyone. 

5. Focus & Flexibility.

Don't count on this being time for you to get stuff done, resist multitasking. My daughter is always 10x more behaved when I'm playing with her or just my full attention watching her self play. I can slow her down when she starts getting carried away, or immediately catch when she unknowingly makes an extra mess (like a getting a glob of paint on her foot). Keep things simple and focus on what's happening.

No matter all the advice above, accidents and mistakes will happen. Staying focused allows for you to think and respond. Be flexible to add, change, or remove rules based on how things are going. Just be clear with your kids when there's a change. 

6. Practice.

The first time may feel like insanity, but that just means you were learning what to expect next time! If things get too crazy, pack it in. I've had sessions last less than 5min, where it took longer to set up and clean up than actually doing the activity. It's annoying, but the next time she listened and did much better. 

Don't give up! Each time will get smoother and more fun ๐Ÿ˜€

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