More Than a Mess

IMG_1645“We have fabric, hula hoops, flagging tape, little drink umbrellas, string, some scissors, chalk, and cardboard tubes. What else do we need? What’s missing?”

“There are more cardboard tubes upstairs. Let’s bring out some duct tape. I think we might need more fabric…Oh this material has a cool texture! And look at these mirrors!”

This is a typical conversation I have every Monday morning here at Boston Children’s Museum. My Mondays are dedicated to making a mess. Each Messy Monday a team of Museum staff from the Art Studio and the Messy Sensory area in Playspace team up to support hands-on activities for children and adults of all ages. This could mean anything from painting with spaghetti to mixing shaving cream and sand to create moldable dough. This past Monday our invitation to our visitors was, “Come in and do whatever you want with the materials we have here.” It is increasingly rare for children today to be given this kind of open invitation and it is always interesting to see what happens next.

IMG_1643One of our visitors used giant blocks and cardboard tubes to build a very intricate city. “B-city”, as he named it, was complete with a complex subway system connecting it to a neighboring city built by the architect’s younger brother. As I was exploring whether or not I could stick mini umbrellas into those same giant blocks, a child sitting next to me was focused on fitting a giant feather through a hole in a plastic table cloth. Both of these actions were seemingly for no other purpose other than we wanted to do them. The most important piece of this process is that together we were choosing exactly what to do with the variety of materials we had.

IMG_1644For those passing our boardwalk on their lunch break, this may have looked like a bunch of random stuff under a tent. It may be hard to see the thought behind the materials we use for programs like this, but it is there. A day that started with a conversation about fabric and mirrors, ended with feelings of accomplishment, pride, and joy.

Unlike Rome, B-City was built in a day, growing right out of the mess of open-ended materials and a healthy dose of self-directed innovation.


We’re celebrating kids’ innovation, creativity, and messiness every Monday morning this summer in the tent outside of the Museum. These Messy Mondays lead up to our Maker Faire on July 23 and our Power of Play Festival on August 20. Please join us!

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