Getting messy in order to grow; by Marisa Downs

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”  Cynthia Occelli

I heard this quote while driving a few weeks ago, and it stayed with me. What a profound concept it was…growth, or learning, looking like destruction.

I immediately thought of the work I do with my students. I love my job as a preschool teacher. My students are full of energy, love to have fun, and are excited about learning and interacting with the world. To an outside observer though, their learning can appear, well a little messy.

Let’s take an area of the room that is a learning mecca, the sensory table. Every week there is some type of new, sense stimulating material or product for small humans to play with. Sometimes its playdough, water, sand, shaving cream, slime, seeds, beans, pasta, or even mud. We think hard, get creative, and plan for opportunities to encourage a variety of learning. Some examples of this learning are talking, listening, sharing, measuring, cutting, ripping, scooping, pouring, smelling, hearing, touching, but never tasting. We have to be careful of that last one. While there’s an immense amount of learning and growing, imagine the mess!

Another favorite area is snack. Now thankfully, at our beloved New Morning School, preschool friends get to prepare their own snack. There are recipe cards depicting the steps in the process, plates, utensils, and a small pitcher of water and cups for them to use. Allowing three and four year olds this responsibility instills pride, confidence, independence, happiness, learning and growth. On the flip side, it takes longer and there are many, many, so many spills.

There are numerous other examples of preschool activities that look like complete ruination. We preschool teachers, and parents must persevere. Learning is messy. Growing is messy. Remember that for a seed to grow it must go through a process that mirrors destruction. Our small humans are growing and learning, just like a seed. Let us not be afraid of their messes as a consequence of enlightenment. Let’s just have them help clean up the destruction they leave behind.

Marisa Downs is a preschool teacher at New Morning School. She can be reached at