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Embrace messy play, mama—it builds confidence and problem-solving skills

To the mama who feels exasperated by another mess your little one has made today, I want to offer you this perspective from a mom who misses it now: try to pause and see the magic in the mess.

Embrace messy play, mama—it builds confidence and problem-solving skills

As I carried a large plastic bin filled to the top with water through my hallway, drops splashed around my feet. I made a mental note to wipe it up when I came back through—my thousandth mental note of the morning—and I continued toward the towel I'd spread out on the kitchen floor.

The towel was there to contain some of the mess I knew was coming. I carefully set the bin on the towel, and immediately it transformed into a large lake teeming with sea creatures thanks to the imagination of a little boy.

In went toy boats and toy animals, toy villains and toy heroes, and they all made quite a splash. My son chattered on as he acted out the scene, and water soon soaked the towel and seeped onto the floor all around the bin. Something beautiful was happening on this very ordinary day on my wet kitchen floor as the sound of play echoed through my home.

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A happy memory was being made. Joy was present, as it often is, alongside the messes our children make.

I can recall many such instances that I now look back on fondly. Cloud dough tracks across our tables, piles of Lego bricks dumped on the floor, paint that missed the paper it was intended for, and so many other messes actually were evidence of creativity and happiness. Of course, I didn't always see them that way, though I did try to often.

There were times when the messes made me feel irritated or anxious, but all in all, the benefits of the messes far outweighed the trouble of cleaning them up. Many of my fondest memories were made amongst the mess.

So, to the mama who feels exasperated by another mess your little one has made today, I want to offer you this perspective from a mom who misses it now: try to pause and see the magic in the mess.

Note the joy on their faces and really hear the sound of their laughter. Watch in awe as their imaginations run wild and their creativity unfolds. They aren't little for long, though it may seem to be dragging on slowly now. My mother-in-law always told me that she'd trade her now clean and quiet house for the loud and messy chaos of little children any day. And now I completely understand why.

This is not to say that it isn't difficult, mama. I know you're exhausted. You're tired of cleaning up. You're longing for some quiet order. I also know that sometimes a small shift in perspective is all it takes to get through one more day or to feel a little more joy. A change in how you see your circumstances can allow you to fully embrace the beautiful season that you are in because soon, a new season will come. That is motherhood.

Our favorite messy play activities

Messy play is good for a child's development—it helps them express themselves in new ways. It allows them to use their imaginations, be creative, explore their senses, build problem-solving skills, work on fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, and so much more! Messy play can also help calm anxiety in some children and help regulate their emotions, building confidence along the way.

With magical messes in mind, I'd like to share with a few of our favorite messy activities:

1. Sky's the limit with cloud dough

They loved to use their construction vehicles to scoop, dump, and move it around, and they enjoyed using various molds to make people, animals, and bricks. I used this two-ingredient recipe from Happy Hooligans. Mix eight cups of flour with one cup of baby oil and mix with a whisk or spoon.

2. Tap your inner artist with colored shaving cream

My boys painted with shaving cream in the tub for a little creative play that was easy to wash away! I simply filled a muffin tin with shaving cream (I used the kind for sensitive skin) and added a couple drops of food coloring. They could paint on the tub and shower tiles to their heart's content, and then we just washed it down the drain. (And it didn't stain which is always a plus!)

3. Ooey gooey slime

In one container, mix 4-ounces of white glue with one-half cup of water. Add food coloring if desired. In a separate container, mix one cup of water with one teaspoon of Borax powder. Slowly stir glue mixture into the Borax solution. Knead to a proper consistency.

4. Edible homemade finger-paint (love this recipe from Momtastic)

Put two tablespoons of sugar into a saucepan, add one-third cup of flour and two cups of water. Whisk until smooth and stir until mixture thickens. Pour into small cups and mix in food coloring as desired. Let it cool completely!

5. There's magic in a simple bin of rice or beans

As toddlers, my boys used to love to play in a big bin of uncooked beans or rice. I'd give them plenty of large spoons, cups, and bowls for scooping and pouring—favorite toddler activities—and they'd play for quite a long time. Thankfully, both are easy to sweep up!

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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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