I’m a big fan of baby and toddler groups. My little girl had a full schedule of them up until she started preschool. They were great for her confidence and also helped to get us into a good routine. We did them all: gymnastics, music, swimming, dancing, playgroups…. However, there was one thing I just couldn’t stick with, and I certainly won’t be taking my new baby to.
I’ve never mentioned this before for fear of a backlash, but today I’m coming clean (so to speak).
I just don’t get messy play.
There, I’ve said it. I just don’t get it. I know it’s all about providing sensory experiences for babies and toddlers, letting them run free, having someone else clean up their mess and all that jazz. I know I’m supposed to love it, but honestly? Does it really justify the hype?
I’m sure there’ll be people reading this thinking, ‘Messy play? What’s not to love?’. Well here, I’ll tell you what’s not to love. It’s this:
- Messy play groups come with small print, and any baby class that needs its own small print is immediately suspect to me. This small print is usually along the lines of ‘We recommend you bring an extra pair of clothes’. An extra pair of clothes?? Straight away this should ring alarm bells. Why in the name of all things fingerpaint and shaving foam would I pay a few pounds to take my child to a play session, only to receive a bag of stained, soggy, dirty washing in return? Does this really make sense to anyone?
- Messy play often goes against one of the fundamental rules of table etiquette, that being the universally accepted principle that food should not be played with. If you take your 10 month old to messy play to writhe around in a tray full of spaghetti for half an hour, how can you then credibly tell them at meal times that they must not throw their bolognese at your dining room wall? Getting a baby or toddler to eat can be hard enough. Why make it even more difficult for yourself?
- Whilst evidence suggests that messy play can be beneficial to a child’s development, I struggle to believe that any studies included the observation of a child fingerpainting their hair and somebody else’s nostrils down at Alfie’s Playbarn. I may be wrong…
- Chasing after your toddler with a packet of wipes or a towel, while at the same time trying to delicately remove grains of rice from their ear, is not conducive to forging friendships or acquaintances with other parents. Neither is feeling like an absolute clip because you’ve got a red toddler handprint on your new top. Surely baby and toddler groups should have at least some benefit for the parents too? Nope, not messy play, apparently.
- If the previous four points are not enough to convince you, then let me just say this: Nobody ever sat me in a box of cold baked beans for 30 minutes when I was a child, and I’m still doing alright (mostly).