Our society is over-sanitized. We emphasize order and cleanliness and anti-bacterial EVERYTHING. But when kids do what comes naturally — get messy — good things result. Not only does Adultitis throw a hissy fit, but according to a 2012 report by The National Wildlife Federation, playing in the mud provides benefits to immune systems, hearts and skin, as well as kids’ emotional wellbeing and learning skills.
According to Dr. Joel Weinstock, director of gastroenterology and hepatology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, “Children raised in an ultraclean environment are not being exposed to organisms that help them develop appropriate immune regulatory circuits.” For their own benefit, Dr. Weinstock argues, “Children should go barefoot in the dirt, play in the dirt and not have to wash hands when they come in to eat.”
In addition to Adultitis prevention and health benefits, messes are an especially effective way to create memories with the people you love. (Not to mention the awesome photo ops!) Here are five magical ways to turn messes into memories:
A while back, a teacher at a childcare center told me that they had celebrated International Mud Day. Flyers were sent out ahead of time instructing the parents to pack an extra set of old clothes (including underwear!). On the big day, they used a garden hose to transform a dirty patch of ground into a glorious mud hole and gave the kids permission to go crazy. The children rolled around in the mud and squealed in delight as they covered their teachers in the brown slime.
I was smitten by the concept, and was so happy to learn that International Mud Day is a real thing. This year’s day of splashing, rolling, squishing, sliding, making mud pies is June 29th.
For more photos, resources, and the history of International Mud Day, go here.
For an afternoon that won’t soon be forgotten, just add mud.
Get a teacup or small bowl and pack it tight with flour. Regular, white flour. Flip the cup over onto a plate, remove it, and carefully place a Lifesaver candy on top. (Some people use a coin of some sort, but candy is better in every way.) Then everyone takes turns cutting the flour with a knife, taking care not to disturb the Lifesaver. The person who makes the Lifesaver fall has to fish it out with their mouth. No hands — or feet — allowed.
It is a game in search of an occasion. It’s perfect for birthdays, Christmas parties, even National Flour Month, which is March, in case you’re wondering.
Big Top Living Room
Build an extravagant and elaborate living room fort. Every kid has made a simple, makeshift fort with sheets and blankets, but there’s no doubt the experience and know-how of an adult can add a lot to the party. What extravagant, elaborate fort could you create with clips, clamps, rope, rubber bands, bungee cords, and duct tape? Think multiple rooms, secret passageways, and maybe even different levels!
Our friend Scott used a canceled flight as an opportunity to spend the entire day in his hotel room making an impressive fort of epic proportions, utilizing mattresses, end tables, sheets and bed spreads. If you do this one right, it should take you one or more hours to complete. When you’re finished, bask in the glory of your accomplishment by watching a movie or having a picnic inside.
Next time you have spaghetti…don’t use plates. Just plop the spaghetti in the middle of the table, and have the meal participants pull their portions toward themselves. If you want to keep the messiness to a minimum, make sure to use a plastic tablecloth and clean up will be a breeze!
Now, would the idea of Barbarian Spaghetti make Martha Stewart hyperventilate and possibly slip into a coma? Probably.
Is it messy and cheap and simple and silly and childlike and fun?
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.
And what are the odds that the participants will have created a scene they will not soon forget?
Dinner of Bad Manners
Host a dinner in which good manners are strictly forbidden.
That’s right, forbidden.
Anything goes. Elbows on the table. Napkins optional. Burping welcome. Slurping your spaghetti. Talking with a mouthful of meatballs. Rudely demanding for the peas to be passed pronto.
As you might imagine, the kids reeally look forward to this. And I’d bet my last dollar the parents do, too. Even though Miss Manners might flip her lid, we all need permission from time to time to take a break from the rules, blow off some steam, and not take ourselves so seriously. And who knows? You could actually turn it into a teachable moment about why good manners are important.
Your turn: What’s your favorite idea for turing a mess into a memory?