There is a risk analysis most teachers complete during curriculum planning where you consider an activity and the amount of teacher involvement and potential for catastrophic mess making. Sometimes even the most diligent risk assessment may miss the mark.

Imagine a classroom of 18 students and a sensory table full of slippery, ooey, gooey, electric green slime. The risk analysis goes like this: 

Some risks are difficult to predict. Like the adorable little girl who takes the electric green slime and rubs it in her curly hair.


Based on firsthand experience, I can tell you:

  • Slime in the hair is not easily removed.
  • The green food coloring in the slime will leave a child’s blond hair a faded hue of green for quite some time.
  • Explaining to the child’s mother about the slime in the hair and the remaining sticky residue and green hue will be an interesting conversation.
  • Slime is somewhat easy to get out of carpet, unlike hair.
  • The sensory table will be in hot demand on slime day and there will be tears.
  • The kids will love slime day and request slime every day until the end of the school year.

Parents do a similar risk analysis. I banned playdough from my house when my kids were young because digging dried up playdough out of my carpet with a knife was not my idea of a good time. When my youngest, unbeknownst to me, fell asleep with silly putty in his hair, I spent the next morning googling “how to get silly putty out of hair”, and I deemed that alluring temptress OFF LIMITS FOR ETERNITY.

And yet, mess making is important.

It’s horribly inconvenient, time consuming, and exhausting, but mess making matters. It matters because:


  1. Children learn best through hands on experiences. Ben Mardell, PhD a researcher with Project Zero at Harvard University explains, “Kids learn through all their senses and they like to touch and manipulate things.”
  2. Sensory play is critical for a child’s development. Sensory play builds nerve connections in the brain’s pathways, which lead to the child’s ability to complete more difficult learning tasks (AZ Early Childhood Network, Benefits of Sensory Play, September 2017). A simple tub of slime has the potential for many learning outcomes: language development, math and science exploration, fine motor skills, problem solving, and social interaction.
  3. Some kids need sensory stimulation. Sensory stimulation can calm an anxious child, and, according to this article, “soothe an “overloaded system” and help kids feel more organized in their own bodies and in space.”

So as a grown-up, how can you make the best of a messy situation?

Preparation is key. Provide smocks and review the expectations. Encourage kids to clean up after themselves. Make sure that the materials that are provided are kid friendly (washable and non-toxic). Have carpet cleaner on hand. Remember that kids themselves are washable. No long-term damage comes from slime in the hair, but the learning benefits? Those ARE long term.

Click here for a slime recipe!


Jen Lindbeck has a M.Ed., Early Childhood Education, Curriculum and Instruction from Arizona State University and is the Early Learning Resource Coordinator for United Way of Skagit County.

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