I am sitting here, on the computer, listening to animated voices, slams and bangs of metal and ceramic above – and I am very afraid. The snow may be falling outside, but it is the potential mess within that has me huddling over my work in the basement like a besieged citizen in a bomb shelter...anticipating in trepidation what I might discover when I emerge.
The girls are baking.
At ages 8 and 6, they have just enough culinary knowledge to be dangerous, and...yeesh, I just mopped the floor in the kitchen this morning, already.
I gave them permission, although it pained me to do so, and I am fully aware that their baking adventure will entail a good deal of supervisory effort on my part to ensure that everything gets put back to its pre-kid-culinary-foray status. It doesn’t help that the oldest of the two has an incredible propensity for, shall we say, untidiness. (Ever heard of a tornado inside?)
Bottom line: There’s no way this baking adventure will end without a gargantuan mess.
So why, you ask, do I allow it?
Because I have learned that messes do wonderful things for homeschools.
That’s right -- as much as my control freak organizationally-minded self hates to admit it, messes have a benefit for my kids and for our family. I didn’t get this, really, when I first started homeschooling, and there is no doubt that I still have to balance the mess benefits with the keep-mommy-sane benefits, but I will now personally testify to the advantages of stepping outside the neat-and-tidy box with your kids. So if kids’ paint projects make you start to seize, and the idea of leaving kids alone in the kitchen starts to give you hives, consider these things that making messes can do for your homeschool:
- Messes allow kids the freedom to nurture their creativity. Virtually everyone wants children to develop creative potential, but to do so, they must have the opportunity to express themselves creatively -- and creativity often = mess. The freedom to make messes eliminates the boundaries that can restrict kids’ inventiveness and ingenuity, affording them the chance to let their inspiration shine. Just like a muscle, creativity is nurtured through practice.
- Messes teach kids about responsibility. The good thing about messes is that they can be the perfect way for kids to learn how to clean up. In neat-and-tidy, well-organized households, it’s not uncommon for Mom to be the foreman, if you will, of keeping things in their place. When kids are allowed to make messes, it becomes an opportunity for them to take charge of cleaning up after themselves, and to begin to recognize just what is involved in keeping the household under control. With a bit of close supervision and training, kids will not only have an appreciation for the consequences of creativity, but will gain the skills of responsibility to restore their environment once they are done.
- Messes encourage camaraderie. Something about making messes brings people together! Siblings who are bent toward bickering can suddenly become comrades as they cooperate to make a meal, and tensions that arise between Mom-the-teacher and kids-the-students can be alleviated when everyone is watching a baking soda volcano explode in the garage. Making messes takes everyone out of their typical roles and responsibilities and encourages those involved to work together to accomplish whatever necessary creative end. Make a mess and make a friend!
- Messes help children put what they have learned to practical use. Fractions take on a new importance when the ability to use them makes or breaks the way cookies turn out. Measurement skills become significant when they determine whether or not that playhouse gets completed. The messes that result from children applying their knowledge in practical ways are small prices to pay for the benefit of facts becoming useful to the child. Making messes can be one of the best ways to cement learning and take academics from theory into application.
- Messes encourage the learning of new skills. Not only does making messes help children use what they already know, they also engender new learning. Kids are much more willing to figure out a new technique or skill as part of some project they are doing than they are when Mom simply tries to teach it to them carte blanche. A child wanting to paint her furniture a new color is likely to be invested in figuring out how much paint she needs for the project, even if she is not exactly sure how to go about it. A boy wanting to build a remote control car will probably have no problem taking the time to look up information on circuitry. Hands-on, messy learning is one of the best ways for kids to, well...learn!
- Messes result in a product. It is easy, in academics, to work and work and work, without having much to show for it. Making messes gives children the chance to produce a something -- a sculpture, construction project, meal, piece of clothing, etc. -- a tangible product. This gives kids a sense of satisfaction they often cannot attain from effort that is primarily intrinsic. The thing that results from the mess can give kids confidence in themselves, and can even end up being useful to the family or others (homemade dinner, anyone?)!
- Messes keep school fun. It’s just the truth -- book work can’t hold a candle to messy projects when it comes to excitement! Making messes keeps school from being boring and formulaic; and it just does something wonderful for the spirit of the home school! If the kids are getting cranky and Mom is getting annoyed, it might just be time to put away the books and make some sort of mess together.
So next time you cringe when your child says, “Hey, Mom, can I get out the paint?”, think twice. Breathe, count to 10, and remember all of the good that could be coming your way.
Sometimes it is precisely the thing you fear that can bring the greatest...
Ummmm -- what was that crash?
Yeah, you’ll have to excuse me as I come up out of the bomb shelter about now and check out the debris...
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