Messy play: family food fight is all in the name of education...

Nik Brear
Nik Brear
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The attitude towards raising young kids sure has changed in the last hundred years.

Long gone are the days of telling children to sit still, keep themselves presentable and not speak unless spoken to.

Nik Brear column

Nik Brear column

The very idea of them being ‘seen and not heard’ in our modern world is enough to set gaggles of early years workers gasping in horror. I know this all too well; my sister is training to be an early years teacher and, according to her, the modern day thinking is essentially: the messier children are, the more they’re learning. If there is a puddle to jump in or a pile of mud to squelch in, what better way to experiment with textures?

When my 17-month-old starts spooning her dinner off her plate and dolloping it onto the table, I should apparently be applauding her ‘transference’ skills. And when she gets bored with the table and begins throwing it onto the floor, I should be delighted that she is using the opportunity to experiment with gravity - and must be careful not to quash this natural curiousity. Same goes for those times she presses her pasta sauce and chocolate yoghurt covered fingers into our white tablecloth - an impressive display of ‘mark making’ if ever I saw one.

The truth is that simply feeding, clothing and loving your children is soooo last season. It’s now also essential to provide them with ample opportunities for experimentation, independent thinking and expression - whatever the cost to your wordly possesions.

Buying them a new toy to play with is all well and good, but you’re not truly doing your job as a parent unless you’re spending your weekends immersed in various Pinterest art projects - creating edible slime or homemade ‘pat mat’s out of glitter and olive oil. It’s enough to leave any working mummy ravaged with guilt over her lack of imagination.

For the most part though, I try to ‘get down’ with these modern parenting techniques. I took Imogen to Baby Sensory classes when she was three months old and blew bubbles, shook shakers and sang songs with the best of them. I applaud every Lego tower, and wouldn’t dream of correcting a mispronounced word. When Immy thought it would be funny to smear chocolate mousse all over my face the other day, not wanting to stifle a possible future artistic inkling, I took it on the chin. Literally.

I even returned the favour and, before I knew it, dinner had descended into a full-blown food fight which left all three of us giggling, confirming for me that I most definitely prefer my cheeky child both seen AND heard.