If you have kids, it can feel like your days are dominated by messes, spit-ups and diaper blow-outs which then give way to drool and thrown food. Then you move into the "I do it all by myself" phase which involves whole gallons of milk spilled on your floor (ahem, I've lived this horror several times) and then potty training.
So why, WHY, fellow parents are we even talking about adding MORE mess to your day? Because messy play is great for your kiddo's development. It helps your child develop and refine their tactile or touch sensory processing skills.
Those are important for fine motor skills (translation: handwriting, shoe tying and loads of other things you want your kid to be good at one day). Good tactile/touch sensory processing skills can also help your child not lose his ever-loving mind during tooth-brushing, fingernail cutting, haircuts and other grooming tasks. Annnnnd, they can help reduce the risk of your child being a picky eater!
So let's look at a simple, super-fun way to add some messy play to your kiddo's day...and some mom-to-mom tips for making it go as smoothly as possible.
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Tip 1: Use unflavored gelatin
By using unflavored gelatin, you make it a whooooole lot less enticing for this activity to involve your little one shovelling handfuls of sugary food-dye into his mouth, which is likely if your child is between 5 months and 15 years.
It's also less likely to attract ants and other critters if you do this activity outside.
Tip 2: Prepare for the mess
Mental preparations: If you have a hard time watching your kiddo get messy, brace yourself. This activity might make your skin crawl. Take deep breaths and remember that messy is GOOD for your child's development. Or, if you have a spouse or friend whose threshold for mess is higher than yours, ask them to supervise this one.
Logistical preparations: I'm a fan of taking messy play outside but that is, of course, weather dependent. If you're stuck inside, spread out a highchair splat mat (or keep a plastic shower curtain handy for just such occasions). Then, contain your Jell-o in a shallow container - I used a casserole dish for Tummy Time and a large plastic storage bin for seated play.
Strip your little one down to a diaper or underpants for this messy fun!
Have wipes or damp paper towels handy to do a first pass at cleaning. But definitely plan to give your child a bath after this activity.
Wipe up hard surfaces promptly, before the Jell-O hardens into impossible to remove brightly colored flecks .... all over your front porch decking (I may speak from experience on this one).
Tip 3: Modify for different ages
Tummy Time: This is a GREAT activity for introducing novelty in Tummy Time (which is one of my biggest tips for babies who don't love the belly-down position). If baby isn't yet reaching in Tummy Time, prop him over a nursing pillow (love my Boppy) or folded blankets/towels. Just be sure to cover any surfaces that you don't want to risk getting stained. Find more Tummy Time play ideas and infant learning activities in my book, Begin With A Blanket.
Standing Squish Time: You can keep this activity a little less messy by putting your Jell-o in a container under the feet of a baby in an exersaucer or jumper.
Sure, as a therapist I don't looooove these pieces of gear and encourage that parents limit baby's time in them to 15-30 minutes a day (combined) , but as a mama I know they're in most homes and that they can keep baby safely contained and happy during essential daily routines. So why not turn regular old baby-containment time into sensory play while mama takes a shower?!
Want to know which baby gear types and brands I recommend? I created a free Happy Healthy Baby Gear Guide just for you. CLICK HERE to get it!
If your little one is pulling to a stand, offer a container with high sides for baby to practice this fun skill. Or place the container of jello near something safe for baby to pull up on.
Seated Play: Once baby can sit, this becomes a fun upright activity. Hide jello inside of containers for baby to dump and fill.
This made a fun sibling play activity in our large storage bin. There was lots of imitation, silliness and mess.
Toddler/Preschooler Play: I let my toddler help prepare the Jell-o by dropping food dye into the cups and guessing what color they'd be when I added the (very hot, toddler move back) water. He opened the fridge door over and over as I loaded the cups in. And he used a little toddler knife to cut the finished Jell-o away from the edge of the cups to dump them. Helping is a toddler's love language, so seek out ways to include your little one in the prep (safely).
Jell-o play can make for awesome pretend food play with kitchen tools like spatulas and whisks, spoons and bowls!
You can also "hide" toys in the Jell-o as you're making it for a fun treasure hunt (for example, a dino excavation dig, etc.) for your kiddo.
I created a free email course just for you! Understanding your baby's development and how to promote it shouldn't require a degree or a 200 pg. book that you don't have the time to read. I created a free course that will give you:
- an understanding of the mini-milestones your baby needs to reach before the BIG milestones like crawling, standing and walking
- simple developmental play activities to promote those mini-milestones with stuff you already own