Preschoolers are obsessed with mixing just about anything together. Sand, water, liquid soap, beads — you name it. Oh, and the messier, the better, of course. But why do kids love mixing things together so much? Colleen Beck, an occupational therapist who runs The OT Toolbox, a resource guide for OT professionals, wrote on her website, "Pouring and dumping is discovery and exploration of gravity, weight, muscle control, cause and effect, and self-awareness. Not only are toddlers and preschoolers discovering what they can do by pouring, they are learning about their environment while working on so many skills."
Fine motor skills, to be exact. According to Verywell Family, fine motor skill activities help a child learn manual dexterity and often require coordinating movements of the hands and fingers with the eyes, i.e., hand-eye coordination. Fine motor skills include being able to grip and manipulate an object, using both hands to complete a task, and using just the thumb and one finger to pick something up, instead of the entire hand. So, when your toddler or preschooler is making that giant glob as they mix, pour, stir and cover your carpet with a gigantic mess, well, just remember that they are learning about cause and effect and perfecting those fine motor skills at the same time. That might make the clean-up a little bit easier, perhaps?
I do believe that we are all natural "tinkerers," and it is part of our human nature to explore and create. So I suppose it does not come as a huge surprise that this desire to create begins with toddler and preschool-age children. I can remember giving my kids items to mix around at bath time, but I will admit, that was mostly to avoid a big mess! Note to everyone worried about potential stains and general mayhem (aren't we all?), educators suggest if it doesn't happen during bath time, you can eliminate mess by letting your toddler mix to their heart's content in a large plastic bin (I'm thinking something akin to under bed storage). File that one away, mamas. And if you're looking for ideas, check out the stirring, pouring, and color mixing station that Simple Fun for Kids made for her children (2 and 5 years old).
In an interview with Romper, Dr. Julie Spielberger, a Research Fellow at the University of Chicago, writes, "Children are innately curious and natural scientists. If given the opportunity, they love to explore, learn how things work, and find out what happens when, for example, they mix two colors of paint or clay or marker, or mix water with other liquids, sand, etc. These are usually pleasurable, sensory experiences as well. Experiences like these help to develop their fine motor and gross motor skills, but also spatial reasoning, thinking, and attention skills."
OK, so now that it has been established that your child's mixing habit has wide-ranging benefits, perhaps there is a way that you can get in on the fun, too (and let's be real, monitor the mess). Cooking with a toddler might sound off all your internal alarms, but it can actually be an entertaining activity to do together. And while there are a million kid-friendly recipes out there, I do love Danya Banya's two-ingredient bread dough when you are just starting out. Let's face it, when the ingredients are Greek yogurt and self-rising flour, you know your child is going to have a blast mixing and discovering what just two ingredients can create. Just wash those little hands first, please. "All life is an experiment. The more you make the better." —Ralph Waldo Emerson