Being the mother of three boys, I am well acquainted with mess. That’s not to say I like it. So often I say “no” when my boys want to do something out-of-the-box messy, but my mom heart feels guilty because I know how much fun it would be. Moms like me avoid shaving cream fights or stomping through mud puddles because let’s face it – kids are messy enough without giving Mom something else to clean up.
Karie Fager, a mother of four, believes that giving your kids messy experiences every now and then makes it easier for the times when you say, “Not today.” Allowing kids to experiment with the gooey and the sticky gives them opportunities to explore different textures, create fun memories, and experience the thrill of doing something that’s typically off-limits. To help your kids create some messy memories, consider one of these outdoor activities that only require hosing off and changing clothes when it’s time to clean up.
Water Play. Getting wet is one of the easiest ways for kids (and moms) to ease their way into messy play. Fill a bucket with water, give your child some paintbrushes, and let him “paint” the driveway, house, and deck. Or turn on a sprinkler and lay out a Slip n’ Slide for hours of water fun.
Mentos Experiment. You might have seen the choreographed Mentos and Diet Coke YouTube video, but your kids will get a kick out of creating their own Mentos geyser. Open a 2-liter of Diet Coke, drop in three or four mint-flavored Mentos candies, and jump back as the soda spews up like fireworks.
Outdoor Painting. For her son’s fourth birthday party, Wendy Kimmey created a giant painting experience for the young guests by setting up a large canvas on top of a plastic painter’s drop cloth. The kids dipped textured balls into paint and then rolled or threw the balls on the canvas to make a one-of-a-kind painting. To give your kids their own chance to paint in the great outdoors, pick up some washable, nontoxic tempura paint, hang up a dollar store shower curtain or a huge canvas, and let them unleash their inner Monet.
Jello Balloons. Take your typical water balloon fight to a whole new level by filling the balloons with Jello instead. Follow the directions for making gelatin on the box but before chilling, use a funnel or a turkey baster to pour (or squirt) the Jello mixture into the balloons. Place them carefully in a fridge to set, then surprise your kids with a sticky, colorful fight that no one will be expecting.
Whipped Cream Pies. Help your kids draw a large body on a piece of cardboard and cut out a hole for the face. Next, make a batch of whipped cream and spread it into pie pans. Give your children turns putting their heads through the cardboard hole while the others take turns smashing the whipped cream “pies” in their faces. Carolyn Brednich, a mom of four boys who borrowed this messy tradition from Mexico, says this activity is one of her family’s favorite memories. “Some of my boys were crying because they were scared to be covered in white, but the others loved smearing whipped cream all over themselves.” Don’t be surprised if your kids abandon the cardboard body and start “pie-ing” each other right and left.
“Snowball” Fight. Winter isn’t the only time of year you and your kids can enjoy snowy fun. On a cookie sheet or in a large bowl, mix together two boxes of cornstarch and one can of shaving cream. Help your children carefully mold the soft, fluffy mixture into an arsenal of “snowballs” and watch their faces light up when you yell, “Ready, aim, fire!”
By keeping the mess outside, these six activities will give your kids (and mine) the freedom to have fun while keeping the cleanup to a minimum for Mom. In twenty years, when my kids are grown, I hope they won’t remember the times I didn’t let them make a mess. Instead, I hope they say to each other, “Remember that time Mom pelted us with Jello balloons?”
Sandi Haustein is a freelance writer and a mom to three boys who are helping her broaden her messy limits.