Messy play is two words that invoke utter fear in parents across the world and we can totally understand why.
The glitter, the glue and the mud pies that go hand in hand with messy play can sometimes be a bit too much but if there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's to embrace it.
Particularly important for babies and toddlers, messy play sparks a sense of curiosity, imagination and exploration in an unrestricted setting all while stimulating the five senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell). Most of all, it lets kids just be kids.
You see, children learn primarily through play, which is extremely important for their overall development. It offers children of all ages the opportunity to explore the world around them and provides an exciting tactile and sensory experience.
What exactly is messy play?
Where do we even start? There is a whole range of activities that fall into the messy play category, from playing with bubbles and playdough to finger painting and slime.
Many parents including myself once are quite hesitant when it comes to engaging in messy play but the benefits outweigh the negatives - that being the cleanup and laundry.
What are the benefits?
To start with, it supports language development, motor skills, problem-solving and cognitive growth just to name a few.
Other benefits include:
It assists in the development of fine motor skills. When they scoop up sand, squeeze playdough and catch water with their hands, they are building up all the tiny little muscles in their hands which will benefit them hugely particularly when it comes to handwriting in school.
When jumping in muddy puddles, for example, they are making bigger movements, strengthening gross motor skills which support balance, coordination and strength.
Engaging in messy play enhances hand-eye coordination as certain tasks require more concentration than others. For example, cutting shapes with playdough, holding a paintbrush and filling a bucket with sand.
Messy play also encourages communication and speech development as children use everyday adjectives to describe the task they are currently undertaking. Early literacy skills are a huge bonus for young children, especially when they head off to school.
With messy play there is no right or wrong, in fact, there is no focus on producing something specific, meaning it supports the ability to play independently and freely, to be more creative which in turn helps build self-confidence and self-esteem.
Messy play helps children learn sensory attributes such as hot, cold, wet and dry using a variation of textures such as sand, slime, water and chalk.
How can I encourage messy play?
Incorporating messy play into your life is simple, really. When outdoors, let them make mud pies, let them splish-splash in the puddles and give them a bucket to collect conkers, leaves, sticks and stones.
Offer finger paints, add water to cornstarch in a large bowl, squeeze some colourful water-based paint into their bath and just let them be little and do their thing. There is no right or wrong way to messy play.
So what are you waiting for? Get online and order yourself a sanity-saving tuff tray and start getting messy.
I promise you once you see their little faces it will be totally worth it.