We are conditioned to create order. When there’s a mess, we must clean it up right away. We have to put things back where they belong. Leave no trace of evidence that our environment was ever out of order. When we are children we are told to pick up after ourselves, that our space should look a certain way. As adults, we organize our lives to make sure that everything is in the right place. Then, we teach our children the same thing. We are taught how things should be, so we never question the order.

I believe that we are in the age of de-conditioning. Taking a step back from the order and questioning the way things have always been done.

In early childhood education, it’s customary to want to tidy up a room or play area to resume order. We’re so afraid of the mess that we forget what the mess is. It’s creation. It’s imagination. We are watching child development unfold right before our eyes. Play residue is leaving the mess and learning from it. It’s ok to see what was played with and created. It’s ok to leave the work in progress for a child to come back to. There is beauty in the mess. And by leaving the mess behind, we are teaching our children that it’s ok to not go back to normal. It’s ok to question the order and to make a new normal. By leaving the mess, there is evidence of play. As educators and care givers, we can learn from the mess.

Early childhood education studies have proven the importance of play-based learning approaches. According to the guiding principles of the Reggio Emilia approach, it is important that children are capable to construct their own learning. “They are inspired by their own interest to know and learn, and such they are endowed with a uniquely individualistic understanding of how to construct learning on their own. In other words, children should be treated as active collaborators in their education, as opposed to passive observers.” Having play residue gives the opportunity to the teacher to observe and learn from the child’s individual play process. Another guiding principle requires the classroom environment as the third teacher. “It is important that the classroom acts as a living organism, a place of shared relationships among the children, the teachers, the parents, and feeling a belonging in a world that is alive, welcoming, and authentic.” A world where mess is ok.

When I started Kids at Play, I knew that I would be reaching for new levels of learning. Deconstructing the rules and regulations of early childhood education and testing the boundaries of play-based learning. I initiated Praise the Outdoors to encourage our school family to take the classroom outdoors. Little by little, our outdoor learning environment was coming to life.

We created a Mud Kitchen, and watched as our students mixed and scooped and created. We observed what they left behind in the process. We learned from the evidence and created more.

By learning from play residue, we’ve been learning better ways to teach and grow. We’ve torn down the walls of the classroom and given our students a whole world of opportunities. Embracing play has given us limitless possibilities. Observing play residue encourages us to never stop learning. It’s easy to get stuck in the normal, the order, the comfortable, but it is when we leave our comfort zone that we really begin to grow. So I am telling you, it’s ok. Leave the mess. There’s so much we can learn from it.