If there is one thing I have learned about myself as a mom, it’s that I don’t like messy play. Honestly, the thought of letting my kid play in mud makes me want to cry. I prefer a mess-free, rarely achievable approach to motherhood. But I also understand that I have a two year old, and messes and mud and mayhem are inevitable.
I’ve gradually learned that being the mom who likes a clean home with toys neatly tucked away doesn’t make me less of a great mom than the one with toys in the living room and grass stains on tiny leggings.
But also I have learned how to play with my daughter and have fun in a neat way and leave the messy play for Abuela. So if you are a mom who hates messes but wants to lean into your child’s natural curiosity and development, here are some fun ideas that require no creativity and little effort for you to try at home!
Our daughter loves colors, and early on she picked up on sorting colors. So we decided to promote that learning interest into fun games for her.
For the first activity, we purchased rainbow silicone cupcake liners and pom poms. Line a muffin tin with a rainbow of colored liners and let your child neatly sort pom poms into perfectly contained piles. Also, keep in mind, they are a child and you will find them on the floor.
Next, grab some pipe cleaners and twist together one of each color. Pour a bowl of fruit loops and let your child practice fine motor skills by beading the fruit loops into the pipe cleaners. Don’t stress if they eat more than they play. They are fruit loops after all.
Painting gives me anxiety. There, I said it. I hate painting. It gets everywhere, and it stains and gets under fingernails. My mom is an artist and can paint all day with her nieta. But not me.
That is until I learned this trick. Place a piece of paper on a cookie sheet and pour drops of paint on it. Then cover with a plastic bag or Saran Wrap and tape down the sides. Let your child squish and drag their fingers over the plastic to paint but with easy cleanup and mess-free clothes.
If you’re willing to branch out and make a little mess, I recommend shaving cream and food coloring. Hide toys under the shaving cream and let them search for tiny treasures. Add a few drops of food coloring, so as they play, the colors mix. Shaving cream is foamy and fun for tactile learners, but it is also used to remove stains so it’s easy to clean out of clothes. It’s easy to clean off a cookie sheet and little fingers, and if you miss a spot, it is easy to clean after it dries too!
This is less play and more real-life learning, but let your kids help with cooking. Okay, maybe not everything is toddler safe. I’m not saying to let them grill steaks. But making pancake batter and rinsing fruits are easy and safe activities for little ones. Ours loves to use a toddler-safe knife to help chop SOFT veggies and likes to help make bread crumbs in a ziplock with her rolling pin. She’s also a fan of mixing salads and mashed potatoes.
Play this one to your child’s strengths, interests, and SAFETY. This not only teaches them real-life skills but allows them to bond with you. Toddlers hate feeling left out. Letting them help where they can makes them feel included. “But, you said mess-free!” You’re right, I did, but you were going to clean up after dinner anyway, so it’s not additional messes. And aprons are a thing too!
And don’t forget the ultimate toddler activity: drawing! Drawing and coloring with your kiddo boosts their creativity, imagination, and fine motor skills. And it’s an easy activity to take with you on the go for distraction. Just avoid markers.
And don’t forget, you are the best mom for your kids. So don’t feel guilty about prioritizing clean play and mess-free fun for your little ones.
Originally published January 2022.
The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ABQ Mom, its executive team, other contributors to the site, its sponsors or partners, or any organizations the aforementioned might be affiliated with.