Children, especially young children, are messy. It’s almost a given that in any situation, if a mess can be made, it will be. (Who said that? Aristotle?) This makes some parents and teachers reluctant to provide kids with materials that could make a truly monumental mess, even if these same materials are part of a fun, creative, and educational project.

Here at Valley Learning Centers, we know that sometimes there’s value in a mess. We encourage our students to be creative with their projects, and if that means having to clean up afterwards, well that’s no big deal. But we also understand that sometimes you, as a parent, don’t have time to clean up those really spectacular messes, so here are a few easy ideas that let your kids be as messy as they want while saving you from a lengthy cleanup.

1)      Go to the dollar store and grab a few cheap plastic tablecloths. If there’s no dollar store nearby, party stores usually have them pretty cheap as well. If your kids are about to get messy, throw down one or two of the table cloths, and they make an effective barrier between your table or carpet and messy finger paints or Play dough. They’re also easily washable in the sink o with a garden hose, and if anything permanent happens, they’re cheap enough not to worry about throwing away.

2)      Rubber or Vinyl raincoats are a great substitute for smocks, and your kids probably already have some tucked away in the closet for a rainy day. As long as paint or marker is washed off relatively quickly, these coats are almost completely impervious to stains.

3)      Use something that won’t stain. One idea that has become popular recently is to spread out a black sheet of plastic (possibly the aforementioned shower curtain), and use shaving cream to finger paint designs and pictures. If your children are too young to know that shaving cream shouldn’t be eaten, you can also use whip cream. This way, even if there is a mess, you won’t have to worry about long-term damage.

4)      Have a designated “mess room.” This obviously only works if you have the space, but a small spare room to turn into your children’s play room can make a huge difference. Let them know that it’s OK to leave things lying about as long as they keep them in this room, and it’s possible to save the rest of the house. If you can’t stand looking even at this mess, you can always shut the door.

5)      If you find yourself without any plastic or table cloths, try letting them use their messy materials in the tub. It sounds a little odd at first, but if you tape a large sheet of paper to the bathtub wall, the kids can get the paint wherever they please, and all you have to do when they’re finished is rinse everything down with the showerhead. Just make sure you use water soluble paints!

So go ahead, let your kids make a little mess. If you follow these tips, after just a few minutes of cleanup, your house will look as good as new.