Messy play can be something that we avoid doing at home with our children for fear of the mess, however, messy play is extremely beneficial for children. Preparation is the key to minimise the clean-up but let out your inner child, have fun, and give messy play a go.
Messy play fosters curiosity, imagination and exploration.
There is no right way to carry out messy play, it is all about letting children explore and experiment with different objects and raw materials without any end goals to restrict them. Although toys are fun, children are restricted in the ways that they can use them. With raw materials such as sand, water, chalk, paint, play dough or paste, children’s imaginations can run wild and they can spend a long time exploring these, making their own discoveries, stimulating their curiosity and developing their knowledge.
The sensory experience of messy play helps children to understand their senses. By exploring how things feel, smell and taste; this type of play nurtures an awareness and understanding of the world that surrounds them.
Messy play encourages communication and language development.
Messy play is a sociable activity, whether with family or other children, it will enrich relationships through social interaction. You can use messy play to develop language skills and encourage speech. For example, by describing sensations and textures to your children you can help them build their vocabulary, and by talking through what you’re doing and asking open-ended questions such as “I wonder what happens when I do this?” you are providing speaking and listening opportunities and encouraging thinking skills.
Some messy play activities provide the opportunity to incorporate letters which helps develop an understanding of written language, the formation of letters and their shape. Making mark-making and writing a sensory experience extends its appeal to a wider range of learning styles.
Personal social and emotional development.
Messy play can be a very social interactive activity. It encourages negotiating, turn-taking and sharing as well as learning about personal boundaries and respecting other children’s ideas. Messy play can also support the ability to play independently. In a society where so much of children’s time is organised for them children are losing the ability to be able to amuse themselves. With messy play, we can teach them that you can make your own entertainment. In an unrestricted play environment where there is no right or wrong way to do things, this is the perfect situation to allow your child to play how they want to. Using their own mind to plan, explore and problem-solve, they are building self-confidence and self-esteem that will help them to grow as independent people.
Messy play supports the development of good concentration and it nurtures critical thinking skills for the future.
High levels of concentration are needed while engaging in messy play, from exploring objects and engaging all of their senses to problem solving, and thinking through discoveries and trying to communicate them. This helps children to develop essential learning skills which then enables them to focus and concentrate when learning and acquiring new skills in the future.
Messy play promotes physical development.
Hands-on messy play offers many physical benefits, allowing your children to develop an awareness of their body and personal space whilst strengthening their muscle control. Activities such as pouring, shovelling or drawing in the sand help build strength in the large muscle groups at the top of the arms and it is these muscles that then enable the smaller muscles in the hands and fingers to make precise and controlled movements. In messy play, children can play with tools to develop and practice their fine motor skills as well as their hand-eye co-ordination, which all lead to holding a pen, using scissors and eating with cutlery.
Ideas for messy play:
With younger children especially – make the most of mealtimes – allow them to feel, smell and taste their food to engage all of their senses, then when they are slightly older you can teach them about table manners.
Play in the bath – water is one of the best natural materials to play with so why not add some sponges or empty plastic bottles and give your children an opportunity to play and explore.
Get outside – the natural world is a playground of textures, smells and sensations, so find some puddles or autumn leaves to jump in too.
A sandpit – let your child dig, pour and make sandcastles until their hearts are content.
Explore your food cupboards – dry pasta, and cereal; baked beans; jelly; mashed potato; cornflour and water.
Make your own play dough –
• 1 cup of plain flour
• 1 cup of water
• 1 tablespoon cooking oil
• 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
• half a cup of salt
• food colouring (optional)
Place all the ingredients in a saucepan at a low heat. Stir continuously until the mixture thickens to a firm dough texture.
Enjoy getting messy