Letting our kids participate in messy play outdoors is SO good for them- it lets them have an enhanced sensory experience and paves the way for their creativity. But as easy as it is for kids to get dirty, it’s hard for moms to cope with the mess. Being totally okay with kids getting messy outside means that most likely, some of that mess will get into the house, and the cleanup will be a huge hassle. Recently, a reader asked me what to do with this muddy mess that kids joyfully create. Hose them off when the weather is warm? Carry them straight to the bathtub? I told her about something that we’ve been trying recently with huge success: a hand washing station.
Outdoor Hand Washing Station for Messy Outdoor Play
I learned about this idea through Tinkergarten, and I thought it was such a wonderful way to clean up when we’re out and about, so I decided to use it at home. This hand washing station can be set up in your backyard or on the go. And as an added bonus, the process of washing hands outside, where the wind might blow on sun-kissed skin, and they might hear the cheerio call of robins singing, offers another sensory integration experiences, which is crucial for healthy sensory development.
Since we’ve started doing this, cleaning up from muddy or messy play has been so much easier. No more muddy handprints lining the walls all the way to the bathroom. And, my sweet kiddos love it. They like to help me set up the station by filling the bucket, and it’s the sweetest thing when they help each other rinse off. I like to think that this approach preserves some water in our drought-stricken state.
Related: Making the Most of Outdoor Play During the Early Years
Station Set Up
(I’ve used affiliate links to share what I use for my washing station.)
For a washing station, you’ll need-
- A bucket. If you plan to take your washing station with you on a hike or to the park, a collapsible bucket is perfect. If you’re just planning to set up in your backyard, a big utility bucket will work, too.
- Eco-friendly soap. We use Dr. Bronner’s castile soap because it’s safe for plants and little ones.
- Water. (Just to point out the obvious here!) If you’re in your backyard, you can use the hose. If not, get a expandable water carrier like this.
- Towels to dry off little hands and feet before coming inside
Hands– When your children are worn out from all of their fun, sensory rich messy play, get the collapsible bucket or utility bucket ready for them. Fill it about halfway with water. Let your kids splash in the bucket to get all of the dirt and mud off of their hands. Then, give them a bit of Castile soap and ask them to scrub with it for 30 seconds. After they’ve worked up a good lather, rinse their hands with water from the hose or expandable canteen. They can dry off before heading inside. Castile soap does a great job of getting grime off of hands and surfaces, but it is not a great anti-bacterial agent. If that matters to you, you might want your kids to wash up again when they come in. The bright side here is that there won’t be mud in your sink or on your walls! From a hygiene perspective, if you’re wanting to make sure they are clean of any nasty bacteria, it may be worthwhile getting your kids to use some Hand Sanitizer when they are all done. No nasty bacteria being allowed to stay on their hands and then transferred to their face and mouth can mean they won’t get sick as much through the year!
Feet– After hands are all clean, you can dump the bucket water over feet to start working some of that mud off. Then, use the Castile soap and rinse. Towels are especially important for foot washing!
Related: Schemas of Play in the Great Outdoors
Other Messy Play Clean-up Ideas
Hose ’em off– In warm weather, this is a good option. But our messy play is not seasonal 🙂
Baby pool– Those old plastic baby pools that everyone seems to have would be great for messy play clean up. Add a little bit of water, and let kids splash themselves off. You could even take it a step further and just do bath time outside. Bring out the towels, nature-friendly soap, and then you’ve consolidated a couple of steps!
Clothes by the door– No matter how your kids choose to clean up, they will probably still have muddy clothes. You can keep towels and a change of clothes for them by the door, or even an over-sized tee shirt to contain the mess until you can get them changed. Keep a laundry basket by the door, too, for messy clothes and shoes.
Carry them in– This is a little tricky with more than one child, because having the other child (or children) stay outside while you’re carrying a messy one in can be tough. But I’ve definitely attempted this before! I just had to be strategic about who waits and who goes in first 🙂
Get mud clothes– Charlotte Mason recommended pinafores for messy outdoor play, but in case Victorian fashions aren’t your thing, consider having a designated set of mud clothes, or invest in a rain suit for really muddy days.
For me, these messy, beautiful moments that make up childhood are more important than having a spotless house. And with a little thinking ahead, the mess that comes with hours of outdoor play can be contained.