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Archive for August, 2009


I had a lot of ideas for mess-making. A LOT of ideas thanks to many friends and some internet searching. Most of which didn’t get used but the warm up to focusing on saying yes to the mess was helpful and fortunately, ideas don’t go bad.

And in focusing on saying “YES!” to messy projects for a week, I learned (or relearned) a number of things.

  • Process, process, process…it is all about the process. LP was totally happy playing with the shaving cream so we didn’t get around to adding food coloring or paint. When I set up paper mache, she wanted to play with the ripped up newspaper, the cardboard, the tape and the glue in turn but wasn’t interested in putting those elements together. AND I also had reinforced that LP’s body is her favorite canvas.
  • If you love it, do it again! LP is always a fan of playdough and clay. She was particularly happy with the homemade playdough that I made with this cornstarch/baking soda recipe. I think she used this at some point every day, some times on its own and other times with paint and toys.
  • There is always room for more YES! LP wanted cornstarch and cornstarch and more cornstarch to play with. She made a small “snowdrift” and rolled around in it and wanted more. Sadly we were out but oh, how I wished for a huge box of cornstarch to see what would happen.
  • Ask myself “why not?” When I didn’t want to do something, I asked myself why…when LP wanted to add playdough to the paint, my first reaction was “no” but really, there’s no reason why not. This question also lead me to some rearranging. LP has an easel but it despite her love of doing things art-related, it wasn’t getting much use. Now the easel is on an easy-to-clean-up mat (instead of the hardwood floor) and has open space around it (at least lessening the opportunity to paint and color “accidentally” on other things).
  • And ask myself “why not?” again. By focusing on saying yes to mess, I also was giving myself space to look at when I say “no” (or want to say “no”) and check out why. I also was able to pay attention to how to make our transitions out of messy play a better experience for us both (start early, give lots of verbal prep and break it down into small steps…I’ve tended to be all gung-ho and then go “oh no! I have to make dinner” and rush from one thing to the next which is not the way to go for this 2.5 year old).

So it was a worthwhile experiment and one I’m sure I’ll do again.

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I’ve been in a rut. I like to think of myself as “mama-who-embraces-messy-play” and philosophically, oh yes, I do! And….the reality of messy play is sometimes not something I want to deal with (i.e. clean up after). I’ve noticed that over the past month or so, I haven’t been as open-to, generative or creative about finding the fun mess.

LP is oriented to tactile experiences. She’s the kid painting her arms and legs and sometimes hair who can engage with clay for an hour and who is so happy when there is glue involved because she delights in that texture. She’s the kid taking a mud bath and rolling in the sand. It makes us a good match…I love the idea of messy play and she’s all over the reality of it.

SO here’s the improv challenge for me…how can I say a bigger YES to messy play?

Over this week, I’m going to look for opportunities…maybe it will be about incorporating new materials or about finding a way to go for it even more in the getting messy. Maybe it will be about me getting more into the materials simultaneously (I have to confess I often use messy play time as a little “me-time” because LP gets so engrossed in it). I’ll be finding out and after I’ve cleaned up, I’ll post about what I learned.

AND here’s the improv challenge for you: take an activity you enjoy doing with your little person and see if you can say YES to it in a new way. The activity can be art, playing ball, gardening, reading, racing toy cars…anything at all. Experiment with different ways to offer more engagement with something you both like to do.

This morning I got the ball rolling with an art project…it started with glue and paint and evolved with more paint, cornstarch and some bits of nature from the back yard:

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Improv Crafting

Improv is a state of mind…it is a way of thinking about and experiencing the world.

The core principles as I’ve learned them (say yes and yes AND, make your partner look good, trigger your partner’s imagination and celebrate failure) are truly and deeply a part of my life. I use these principles to reflect on my relationships and interactions and I get a burst of glee when I find a new place in my life that has room for improv.

I like to make stuff. I don’t enjoy following directions and I am totally challenged on the spacial front…learning to craft like an improvisor has been a relief! It is a mini-journey rocketing forward now that LP is full-on into the arts & crafts experience.

I do often looked for reference points and help on complicated projects (or ones that I had a need to “get right” like the quilt I made for LP before she was born with mega-help from friends). AND I’m finding myself more and more willing to jump in and figure out what will work using the inspiration of the moment and the materials at hand.

LP is starting to have an interest in kitchen play, so I dug up some felt and set out to make a mess of cherry tomatoes. They are a little odd and lumpy but totally easy and satisfying to make and even more satisfying to watch her play with them.

As I made them, when thoughts about making the “perfect” cherry tomato would arise, I could let it go — realizing that LP loves to turn books into puddles, a cooking spray can into her friend the rapping frog and flowers into ice cream. She doesn’t need perfect (in fact, even these might be more representational than she likes)…and I was happy to discover to see that I don’t either. Yes!

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Often LP’s actions remind me how easy it can be to say “yes” to imagination. Or perhaps better said is how easy it can be to “trigger your partner’s imagination” (as one of my all-time favorite improv teachers, Patti Stiles, would say)

On a very sloooooow walk home from the bus, LP stopped to inspect a plant, observing it was “spiky” and “spiny.” I offhandedly said it reminded me of a stegosaurus…and boy howdy, she took that idea of plants being dinosaurs and took off with it!

Pointing to one plant after another…that one is a tyrannosaurus rex:

That one is a brontosaurus:

That one is a triceratops:


That one is a anklylosaurus…

What a pleasure it was to see her face light up and energy soar as she played with the idea of plants as dinosaurs.

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