Early Spring 2007
Recently, I asked the 7-year-old daughter of an acquaintance if she'd like to try one of our art kits. (Nothing goes in our catalog unless it's adored by plenty of young testers!) Her response was more than a little disconcerting: ''Is it messy? My mom doesn't like me to make messes.'' Consequently, I ended up giving the kit to one of my co-workers. This mom didn't say anything about the mess, but instead mentioned how excited her boys were as they created their individual ''masterpieces.'' These two different perspectives got me thinking about the richness we add to our children's lives by providing them with the freedom to be ''messy.''
When my daughter was a preschooler, I always felt good about her spending time at one particular friend's house specifically because she did come home messy. To me, her rosy cheeks, grass-stained pants, and outdoorsy-smelling hair were all evidence of a day well spent. I relished knowing that underneath each of my daughter's dirty little fingernails were enthusiastic tales of building forts, making mud pies, and searching for ''wild animals'' waiting to be told.
I'm always mystified when I see parents on the beach here admonishing their children, ''Don't get wet!'' Don't get wet when the playground is the extraordinary Pacific Ocean? Why??? I know the mother of that 7-year-old probably means well, just as these parents at the beach do. Most likely, they just don't have the energy to deal with the hassle that is inherent whenever children are in the presence of paint -- and large bodies of water. Realistically, though, so much of the good in life is messy: cookie dough, gardening, puppies, parenting. When we allow our children to experiment and explore (hassles and all!), they learn invaluable lessons about the natural world and their own abilities, not to mention the ability to deal with messes (which are a part of life in many different guises!).
Springtime is all about messes: preparing the soil for a family vegetable garden, splashing through mud puddles, walking in the rain, or whipping up a batch of Valentine cookies. By allowing our children to fully engage in the process, we truly do provide them the best education there is, and when the tuition is in the form of perhaps a few pairs of ruined sneakers and torn jeans, you've got yourself quite a bargain.