The Importance of Messy Play

by | May 7, 2015 | Occupational Therapy | 0 comments

The word “messy” makes most parents cringe and all too often. When a child makes a mess, out come the paper towels and baby wipes to clean it up. What many parents do not realize is that what they are interpreting as a mess is actually their child’s learning process. From birth, children rely on their senses (touch, taste, sight, smell and hearing) to develop and learn about the world around them. Messy play is essentially how children stimulate and engage the senses. Each sensation is sent to the brain to be interpreted and organized. The interpretation and organization of the information forms and strengthens neural pathways important for all types of learning.

Messy play promotes:

  • Cognitive development: Math skills such as size, counting, weight, timing, classifying and sorting. Children experience the concepts of more/less, full/empty, fast/slow, heavy/light, big/small, and sink/float.
  • Physical development: developing the sense of touch is important for the skill of being able to identify objects by touch and being able to manipulate various objects which develops and refines fine motor skills.
  • Language and literacy development: The new experience provides children the opportunity to learn vocabulary in action. Parents and children use words to describe what they see, feel, smell, hear and sometimes taste.
  • Creative development: Providing children with the freedom to explore promotes creativity. Creativity promotes self-esteem.
  • Social and emotional development: Providing the child with the ability to control his or her experience builds self-confidence, develops problem solving skills and the ability to concentrate.

Now that you understand the importance of messy play, below are some links with suggested activities and ways you can provide your child with a fun learning experience through messy play. *Please note* It is important to allow children to explore at their own pace. Never force participation! A negative experience is counterproductive. Our reaction to a mess can also impact our child’s ability to tolerate or participate in various experiences throughout life. So remember, the next time your child makes a “mess” don’t be so quick to reach for a paper towel or baby wipe, instead think discovery and participate in your child’s development.

Messy play links:

* If a child is not yet comfortable with or able to choose whether or not to touch the material with their hands or feet, simply place the material in a sealed Ziploc bag and allow the child to explore the material in a less intimidating way. Providing tools to manipulate the material is another less threatening way for children to explore such as spoons, brushes, tongs, scoops, funnels, sponges, whisks, and cups.

– Melissa, Occupational Therapy Team