Numerous studies have proven that children’s messy play is one of the most effective ways for them to learn and grow while having a great time. However, the reality of mess everywhere makes parents steer clear of messy play.

Encourage messy sessions to let children engage in age-appropriate practise of fundamental life skills. We believe it is crucial for children to engage in as much messy and sensory play as possible, so we have included some benefits of this type of play as well as activities you can do with your children.

What is Messy Play?

Messy play, also known as sensory play, is any activity that lets children use their hands to make a controlled mess. Its purpose is to encourage the exploration of emotions and the creative process through mess using different materials. Messy elements such as paint, sand, slime, water, clay, or mud help children explore different textures and get used to feeling things with their hands, feet, and toes.

For children who are easily overwhelmed by new stimuli, messy play might be an excellent way to gradually introduce them to the feelings they will encounter. Playing with mess gives children a chance to learn about their senses and how they work. It helps kids learn about the world around them by letting them inspect how things look, feel, smell, and taste.

It is sensory-rich and promotes a wide range of early learning abilities through interactive and creative play. We can have a mess in a safe, controlled setting during sensory activities, there’s no right or wrong way. It will give children numerous opportunities to practise tidying up after themselves too.

Why Messy play is Important

A child’s cognitive development, which includes their ability to analyse, explore, and solve problems, can benefit from all the mess of sensory activities. It gives the child the chance to figure out things on their own. The more problems they can solve, the more confident and capable they will feel.

Messy play is also a fun way for kids to learn about cause and effect through observation and experimentation. Small children also learn about spatial awareness as they have fun with the objects around them.

According to research, those kids who acquire the basics of physical principles by using their senses learn it much faster. This is especially crucial for young children, as they are still laying the groundwork for more sophisticated learning.

Studies have also found a correlation between early development of visual and motor skills and success in arithmetic and language. Fine and gross motor skill development can occur through even the most basic of activities, like playing with dough or shredding paper. This also helps students develop crucial cognitive abilities including the ability to understand numbers and understand the relationships between causes and effects.

Moreover, a child’s natural curiosity is channelled towards learning through messy activities. Through their sessions with messes, children learn to be more independent, have control, concentrate and persevere. Developing skills like these are essential as they are building blocks in acquiring knowledge in the future.

Importance of Imagination and Exploration

Messy play makes young children curious, creative, and willing to explore. Many believe that children learn to express their feelings and thoughts through descriptive words and expressive language for the first time during a sensory activity, as they are encouraged to engage all of their senses.

There is no right or wrong way to do messy sessions. It is all about letting children have fun with their senses and letting them explore and experiment with different objects and raw materials without any end goals to limit them.

Raw materials like sand, water, chalk, paint, play dough, or paste, let children’s imaginations run wild. Your child doesn’t have to focus on a plan or follow a story. Open-ended play can help kids develop new ways of thinking, be resilient, and be independent! They can spend a long time exploring, making their own discoveries, and learning new things.

Fine Motor Skills Development 

A messy play session usually lets kids use their hands and fingers, which helps them develop their fine motor skills. Sessions make the fingers, hands, and shoulders stronger, which are all skills needed for writing in the future. Messy play also helps a child learn to balance and develop spatial awareness, which improves gross motor skills.

There are many interesting things and tools that kids love and are small enough for them to hold. Help their motor development by giving them toys to squeeze, scoop, pour, and pick up. These gestures will help them develop hand-eye coordination, grasp strength, dexterity, and pinching skills.

How Do I Prepare for Messy Play?

It is important to let children have a wide variety of experiences in a proper environment with safe materials. You should have precautionary measures when exposing children to a wide range of colourful, tactile, and olfactory materials and items.

For successful play based learning, you need to guarantee the safety of your play space. Water can be fun, but it’s important to keep it away from devices and to take precautions so that kids don’t hurt themselves if they get a little wet.

Next, make sensory materials taste safe. This means the ingredients or materials used are non-toxic and safe to eat so you won’t have to worry if the kids try to taste them while playing. For example, use all-natural food colouring, whenever a recipe calls for one. Your goal is to make most, if not all, of the sensory items taste safe and/or coloured with non-toxic paints and colours.

Another is to check the size of your materials. Make sure that even the youngest children won’t choke on them. It is important to put sensory items away properly and safely when the session is over.

Finally, messy sessions with babies and young children should be done with the help and supervision of an adult.

Messy Sensory Play

You should let a child become messy as they play because it helps them stay interested in what they are learning. As you navigate through the day, look for opportunities for sensory play that can occur naturally and let a child join you. Some examples may include cleaning the floors or washing dishes, gardening indoors or outdoors, and feeding or playing with pets. If anything spills or splatters during the session, try not to make it a big deal and keep the fun going.

1 – Imagination and exploration games

Children can play with objects in many different ways when they have sensory sessions. This helps them problem solve in more than one way and play make-believe, which not only lets them express their own ideas but also boosts their self-esteem. A child could draw fantastical realms or depict real-life experiences and use different materials to:

  • role play as a superhero
  • make play dough food for a party with stuffed animals
  • open a business and use chalk for writing menu items
  • tell stories using different materials

2 – Creativity

For sensory sessions, a child doesn’t need fancy toys. You can get your child interested by giving them a place to work and some basic supplies. In fact, letting a child learn and think of new ways to use things can help them use their creativity. For instance:

  • make an animal out of recyclables using only glue or tape
  • painting using Jello, Kool-Aid or pudding
  • building instruments with various sized containers, bottles, or blocks

3 – Coordination games

When kids play games that get them moving, they can improve their balance, coordination, strength, and self-confidence. Climbing, crawling, bending, and stretching are all great ways to keep babies active and familiar with their bodies. Activities that can be done indoors or outdoors to improve coordination such as:

  • sensory obstacle course with tyres, ropes, rocks and logs can be a great little landscape for a child
  • balance beams and monkey bars 
  • hopscotch, can also help in developing balance and even rhythm
  • crab walking, a fitness activity disguised as fun

Would you like to learn more about the benefits of messy play and how it can enhance the learning and creativity of children? Contact us and we can recommend facilities to help pursue like-minded activities/care.

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