Allowing kids to mess up

Amongst the blogs that I follow on WordPress there is a fun one by Dorkdaddy. This blogger does awesome things with his kids like this Lego Maniacs and this Walking On Air. I read these posts and I think what a fabulous childhood his kids are having. He is creating so many amazing memories for his kids to look back on and treasure. I would never have been willing to spend the money on such projects given that I couldn’t be sure that I could successfully get them to work or that my kids would respond as his have done.

Even the more simple achievements such as this one Butterbeer… YUM!! would have worried me – a bit like letting my kids paint at home. With three children under five to care for I could never rely on being there to provide the necessary close supervision at the stove or mixing stuff up. I didn’t want my furniture finger painted while I dealt with a toilet visit or stopped elder son pouring black paint all over his younger sibling’s prized creation.

One thing that I could let them do though was chalk paving slabs. I would buy cheap buckets of of thick chalks and, on a dry day, let the kids loose on our patio and driveway. With chalks there were no limits; walls, slabs, fences and outdoor furniture could be decorated. Whatever mess they made would be washed away with the next rain shower; the kids and their clothes could be washed just as easily; they had fun. I do remember one friend’s dad picking up his daughter after a particularly creative afternoon and exclaiming at the state she was in. I felt a bit guilty about that.

My kids were not bought good clothes or expected to stay tidy. They were provided with cheap and practical outfits, many of them handed down from relatives, and I never worried about mud and mess. I learnt from experience that when other people’s children came to play at our house their parents had to be warned that they may get dirty. I don’t think that the parents always understood how literally I meant this. Our garden has interesting slopes, perfect for racing sand trucks down or for sliding and scrambling on. They get very muddy when wet.

We have a big sand pit that I filled with cheap, builders sand which can turn kids and their clothes orange before it is washed through often enough with rain. The pit held two tonnes of sand so was not going to be kitted out with the sanitised stuff advertised as safe. I am a firm believer in letting kids get messy, thus building their natural immunity to bugs. My children are rarely sick.

Playing in this sandpit my kids and their friends would build castles and tunnels; craft out canals; fill them with water from our rain barrels; sail plastic boats between fortresses manned with plastic dinosaurs, dragons and knights. That sandpit gave more pleasure over more years than the expensive climbing frame and swing set that soon lost their novelty because every child’s garden had them.

Our garden also has a section of gas pipe linking a raised deck to the lowest ground and providing a tunnel slide. Visiting kids loved to clamber up this on the outside; the unprotected drop from the top gave several of their parents palpitations. The rope ladders and wobbly fireman’s pole (a section of scaffolding sunk into concrete) provided enough perceived danger to feel exciting. Yes, I allowed risks to be taken.

The only time visiting kids encountered real danger was when a group of them played hide and seek inside the house with all of their parents present at a party we threw. They managed to knock a large and heavy television off a chest of drawers while trying to crawl behind it; I still thank God that no child ended up underneath the fallen and broken mass. That was the last time that I let visiting kids run free and unsupervised upstairs. I know what my children are likely to do but could never guess how other people’s children would behave or how their parents would react to what I saw as normal children’s interactions. Leaving them to sort out their own problems, and learn from the experience, was not always seen as acceptable.

From what I can see, Dorkdaddy is an amazing parent, providing his kids with awesome experiences. I have friends who do this in different ways. They spend the school holidays taking their kids around theme parks and attractions, to movies and shows, giving their kids memories to discuss and treasure. I guess I just do things differently.

I know that there are times when my kids feel that they are missing out because we wait for the latest ‘must see’ film to come out on DVD before we buy it. We have not done Disneyland or even travelled abroad as a family. What we have done though is walk and cycle and camp together. We get messy, climb trees, cook on an open fire and talk endlessly.

I am way off being an awesome parent but I do my best, as all parents that I know do. I hope that when my kids are grown up they will look back on their childhood as a happy one. Whatever else passed us by we didn’t fuss, we got dirty, and we didn’t follow convention.

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One comment on “Allowing kids to mess up

  1. dorkdad says:

    “Walk and camp and cycle together. We get messy, climb trees, cook on an open fire, and talk endlessly.”

    That’s it. That’s all it takes. No Legos. No hovercrafts. No movies.

    Kids spell love t.i.m.e.

    That’s where awesome childhoods come from.

    -Dork Dad

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