My friend Stephanie De Puy is an incredible early childhood educator. Preschoolers are absolutely obsessed with her because she is fun, has the best ideas, and most of all, seems to really trust these little people to explore and learn in whatever way feels good to them.
For the past four years or so, I’ve known Stephanie as the instructor teaching the outdoor playdate we attended, as a preschool teacher in a formal school setting, and as the backyard preschool teacher who literally saved our behinds when we were desperate for childcare during a pandemic. And now I get to call Stephanie a friend. She is a wealth of knowledge and I’m happy to share some of her insights with you!
One of the things I’ve always admired about Stephanie is the way that she comes up with the most creative, messy ways to get kids to learn and grow. For example, last week she stopped by my house to test out a new activity with my kids: hot chocolate slime. It was oozy, gooey, MESSY, and so much fun. My two boys could have played with it for hours. We know that most kids like to get messy, but is it also developmentally good for them? I asked Stephanie and she answered!
Here’s my interview with Stephanie:
- Tell us about yourself!
Originally from Maryland, I moved to Charleston in 2014 to be closer to the beaches and warmer weather. I live on James Island with my husband, my golden lab, Milo, and my potbelly pig, Phoebe. I don’t currently have any children of my own, but I love spending time with everyone else’s! I’ve been working in childcare since 2006 – it’s the only thing I know!
2. What motivated you to start your business, Little Palms Play Garden?
For several years my dream was to open my own child care center, but as you can imagine, it’s a very tedious, elaborate, and expensive venture. So I started my series of preschool meetups in the park! This idea provided me the freedom of creating my own plans, teaching in my own style, and essentially having my own “classroom” without all of the overhead. I kicked off my very first Little Palms session in January 2019 with a total of seven kids.
I wanted to provide children with activities that allow them to dive in completely – activities that are more about the process and less about a final product. A lot of times children’s activities are based on a final product. Something to hang on display or put in a memory book. Product art is something every parent loves. It’s the cute little penguin you hang on the fridge with its eyes and beak placed just right. However, in product art, and that’s just what it is, a picture-perfect product, the adult has carefully cut each piece and sometimes even told the child exactly where to glue it. There’s not much fun or learning in that for a child. In fact, that is sending a message to the child that says, “I don’t trust you to make this on your own.”
Process art would be giving your child a handful of mixed supplies and having them create their own vision of a penguin. This is what children thrive off of! They want to be independent. They want to explore and create and do so without so many restrictions. Imagine the confidence boost you are giving a child when you allow them to create their own piece of art all by themselves. These are the kind of activities I wanted to provide. The activities that simply let children express themselves.
Kids just want to be kids! I believe that children learn best through hands-on, engaging experiences that allow them to explore, create, and get messy all while having fun.
3. Why do you think kids love to get messy?
I believe kids love getting messy because it’s fostering their curiosity and imagination. Messy play is often unrestricted and open-ended, allowing children to play any way they choose, whereas blocks are for building, a kitchen is for cooking, etc. Messy play gives children a sense of freedom, and it’s fun because it’s not always allowed.
4. Why is getting messy good for kids and their development?
Where do I even start? Messy play is extremely beneficial for babies and even elementary-age children. It teaches cognitive thinking and allows children to learn cause and effect. It promotes creativity and imagination. It improves fine motor skills and focus. As children play in their own way and make their own discoveries, it builds their self-esteem and gives them a sense of self. Messy play also activates all of our senses, which helps to build nerve connections in the brain, ultimately leading to more complex and critical thinking.
5. What are your favorite “getting messy” activities? What activities do kids love the most?
Shaving cream. Shaving cream is so simple and incredibly fun. It’s something you can always have on hand and bring out at any time. It’s also pretty easy to clean up. Whether children are simply using one finger to write in it on a baking sheet or smearing it up their arms, it only takes water to make shaving cream disappear. It smells good too!
6. Tell us an easy “getting messy” recipe (please!)
Another easy favorite of mine is cornstarch and water. “Ooblek” is the real technical term for this recipe. 1 ½ cups of cornstarch and 1 cup of water. You’ll need to use your hands to really mix it to the right consistency, but once it’s ready, it’s so fun! And again, water simply makes this mess disappear!
7. Why do you think parents are afraid of doing messy activities?
Parents are already incredibly busy. I think the idea of adding another mess to the equation can be overwhelming. I think there also might be the thought process that if a child is given permission to make a mess during a sensory activity, they’ll think it’s okay to make a mess at the dinner table, or in other situations.
8. Any tips for making these kinds of activities less stressful for moms who are afraid to do it?
Choose a location that offers easy cleanup. For example, outside where the mess can easily be washed away with a hose. The bathtub is a great spot! This option could help restrict messy play to a certain time each day. Your child would know they get a certain amount of time to play with slime or shaving cream in the tub before it’s time to take a bath. Setting a timer also helps kids know when it’s time to clean up.
Just remember that kids are 100% washable!
9. Should moms join in on the messy activity?
I think this ultimately depends on the child and parent. Some children are extremely focused during sensory play, and an interruption could distract their concentration or put them off track of what their original plan/ideas were. However, other children may be a little hesitant to engage in messy play. In this case, a parent joining in can show the child that there is nothing to be afraid of, it’s exciting and fun.
Ultimately, if a parent enjoys diving into sensory play, I say definitely do it! It can be an incredible way to bond with your children. Your child will never forget the time that mom started a noodle fight in the backyard, or jumped in mud puddles with bare feet.
10. What’s something you want all moms of preschoolers to know?
Open-ended, messy, sensory play is so important for a child’s development! You can find many materials at home to incorporate into messy play. Give it a try! Your child will thank you.
Our family is obsessed with Miss Stephanie and Little Palms Play Garden and I think you will be too! Check out Little Palms on Facebook and Instagram. Stephanie does THE BEST birthday parties, park playdates that are perfect for moms who want to make new friends, and play boxes that can be shipped anywhere!