Make A Mess!

I really like a clean classroom. It feels calmer. It seems more organized. And in the spirit of self-regulation, I think that a tidier room with reduced visual noise helps students “down regulate” (see Stuart Shanker‘s Calm, Alert, and Learning for more information on this). Today though, we were working on our Mother’s Day gifts, and some students chose to paint. I covered the floor with tablecloths in preparation for the painting, and I even modelled how to pour and carry the paint.

  • I showed how to just pour small amounts.
  • I showed how to put the lid back on each container before taking off another lid.
  • I showed how to put the paint on the tablecloth.
  • I showed how to rinse the brushes, and refill the water.
  • I showed how to tidy up the plates.

Despite my modelling though, when students started mixing colours and sharing paints, the room started looking like an artistic masterpiece of its own. 

  • I tried to ignore the mess.
  • I tried to tell myself that we could just clean up at the end.
  • I tried to not worry about the spilled paint or the containers with no lids of them.
  • I tried to just focus on the student work.

I struggled with this though. I kept reminding students to clean up their mess. I kept reminding them to keep the paint on the tablecloths and watch where they were walking. I kept taking deep breaths and trying to listen to the kids as they told me, “Don’t worry, Miss Dunsiger!” As one Grade 1 student said, “It’s all part of the process.” Wise words! I think she was right. 


In the end, we all worked together, picked up the plates, washed the brushes, threw away the garbage, folded the tablecloths, and even washed the floor. Not only did we do all of this in 15 minutes, but the students helped me put the furniture back before our second nutrition break even began. And that’s the thing about a mess: it can always be tidied up. This seems obvious, and yet, sometimes it’s hard to see the “learning” from the “mess.” It was through my conversations with students, my reflections during and after the process, and some wise words from six-year-olds that helped me see past the puddles of paint. 

I know that a mess may still make me feel anxious, but I’m going to try to take some more deep breaths and just let the students be. They need to be creative. They need to mix colours, make mistakes, think, and try again. I could organize all of the paint for them, but if I do so, I’ll miss out on phrases such as these:

  • “Just add a little white, and you’ll make your colour lighter.”
  • “Black will make that green darker.”
  • “It’s okay if there’s no orange. Just mix the red and yellow.”
  • “Look what happens when I mix all of these colours together!”
  • “I just made my skin colour: a little yellow, but more red. I need it to be a darker orange.”

This is learning! As I remind myself tonight, some spills on the floor may take a few extra minutes to clean up, but the learning that comes from them is priceless! Whether at home or at school, how do you get past the “mess?” What learning have you heard and/or observed when you do? We say that “learning is messy.” I’d love to hear about your messy learning experiences!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *