Young children love to get muddy and covered in playdough, bubbles or paint during playtime – all the stuff that house-proud mums up and down the country dread happening at home. However, messy play is a crucial part of your children’s development and should be encouraged wherever possible.
As they explore textures and materials through baking biscuits, sponge painting or building sandcastles, it helps them develop their imagination and independence, hones motor skills, coordination and focus and much more besides.
I spoke to Red Box Teacher Recruitment, who know a thing or two about early education, to find out more about messy play and how it provides literally endless opportunities for learning and development.
- Physical Development
Toddlers and young children hugely enjoy playtimes that incorporate activities such as pouring water, spooning jelly, stacking bricks, scissor cutting, finger painting and hundreds of similar actions. Fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination are developed while sensory exploration takes place through the handling of different materials and textures – rough and smooth, hard and soft. What’s more, by working with other children and respecting each other’s personal space, they will obtain a good first understanding of their own body space.
Cook the spaghetti as per manufacturer’s instructions in boiling water and add edible food colourings of your choice. Put the spaghetti in a big bowl and let your child play with bare hand (without worrying too much about any being eaten).
- Communication Development
Messy play is an active period of communication and interaction where children play together cooperatively and collaboratively. This requires enhanced thinking, listening and speaking skills as well as the ability and willingness to share resources, explain actions, negotiate plans and take turns.
To create a potato stamp, cut a potato in half and draw a shape of your choice (circle, triangle, heart) into the cut sides and cut them out. Have poster paint and large sheets of paper ready and make some art!
- Personal and Social Development
Through messy play, children’s natural curiosity is awakened. With no right or wrong outcomes, positive engagement with new experiences is encouraged which leads to greater self-confidence and self-esteem. What’s more, young children gain valuable independence as they are given the chance to choose the shapes, materials and tools they wish to play with. Sensory play can have a strong impact on developing concentration and problem solving skills as well as providing an outlet for personal thoughts and feelings. Team working presents opportunities for building respectful relationships.
Spend an afternoon with friends in the sandpit (or at the beach), using buckets, spades, watering cans and sand moulds to make sandcastles, bake sand cakes or just have messy fun.
- Intellectual Development
Messy play also forms the basis of young children’s scientific education. Through the free exploration and investigation of the environment around them, they will learn to observe what happens and evaluate information that’s being presented, able to arrange things in logical order and comprehend cause and effect. Children are encouraged to devise problem solving skills and experiment with solutions. Pouring, measuring and counting acts as an introduction to mathematical principles, as objects are sorted, containers filled and patterns created.
Cream 100g of margarine with 50g of caster sugar, then mix in 175g of plain flour and knead to a dough. Roll out to ½ cm and cut out using shaped biscuit cutters. Place on a floured baking tray and bake for 25 mins at 190C until golden brown. Leave to cool and enjoy!
- Creative Development
Imagination and creativity are stimulated through a vast choice of messy materials to play with, including water and paint, sand, dough, building blocks and much more. Through free play, children are given the opportunity to experience and respond to what they feel and see, hear, smell and even taste in a range of colours, textures and two and three dimensional shapes.
Mix ½ cup of washing up liquid, ¾ cup of cold water and 5 drops of glycerine. Add paint to the bubble mixture, then blow through a straw until a bubble is formed. Cover with thin paper for a bubble painting. Magic!