Let’s talk about messy play! Maybe messy play sounds like a nightmare to you, I mean it literally has the word mess in it. But did you know there are many benefits of messy play? If you didn’t, you are in the right place because this post is going to be all about the benefits of messy play!
But, before we dive into the benefits, let me first talk about exactly what messy play is!
Messy play is the open-ended exploration of materials. More specifically, materials that are typically considered “messy”. Some great examples of messy play would be a sand table, slime, water play, or a sensory bin full of rice. With messy play, a child typically learns by exploring with their hands, although sometimes the exploration can extend to a full-body experience! Children can openly explore by squeezing, squishing, pouring, splashing, scooping, and more.
So, what possible benefits can come from this type of play? And do the benefits outweigh the giant mess that may end up all over your floor or all over your child? Well, in my opinion, YES! But, that will ultimately be up to you.
So, let’s see if I can sway you and make you a fan of messy play! Here are some of the benefits:
Creativity, Exploration, & Imagination
Messy play is a great way to foster creativity and imagination. There is no right way to do messy play! Messy play is all about exploration and experimenting with different materials and objects. Messy play allows the child to be in control of the play. It is completely open-ended, giving the child the freedom to explore and play however they would like. This can boost their self-confidence and also encourage them to find new ways to do things by using their imagination and creativity.
Because messy play is so open-ended, it can support flexible thinking, resilience, and independence. Messy play materials such as sand, water, play dough, oobleck, etc., allow children’s imaginations to run free and they can spend a long time exploring the materials, making discoveries, and stimulating their curiosity.
Related Post: How to Make Oobleck: An Easy 2 Ingredient Recipe
Language & Communication Development
Messy play is actually a great way to support a child’s language development. Messy play is a great way to open up discussions about the materials and the play. How does it feel? Is it hot? Is it cold? Is it big or small? Sticky? Smooth?
As the child plays, you can talk about their actions or narrate the different things they are doing. “Look! You are splashing in the water!” “Wow! look how you are separating the red beans from the black beans!”. By verbalizing what your child is doing, you are introducing them to new vocabulary and different ways to describe their actions. Some things to focus on are colour, temperate, shapes, size, patterns, sounds, or textures.
Independent Play & Focus
When we think of messy play, we often think of chaos, but the reality is that messy play actually requires a high degree of concentration and focus. The child is exploring and engaging their senses and discovering new and exciting ways to interact with their environment. This actually helps the child to develop the skills to focus and concentrate.
With this type of play, children are essentially creating their own entertainment and deciding how to interact with the materials. This allows the child to play how they want, and this type of open-ended play really encourages independent play! They are using their imagination to plan, explore, and problem-solve. They are also building their self-confidence which will assist them in growing into independent little people.
Related Post: 5 Steps to Get Your Child to Play More Independently
Motor Skills & Physical Development
Messy play is very hands-on which offers many physical benefits. The child is using their hands and fingers to pour, scoop, grab, and pinch. These little movements are developing the fine motor skills in the child and these fine motor skills lay the foundation for pencil grip and writing skills in the future.
Messy play also assists with the development of hand-eye coordination, grasp strength, dexterity, and pinching!
Messy play is a great way to support a child’s cognitive development. It promotes thinking and exploring and encourages little ones to figure things out or try different approaches to solve problems. With messy play, children use hands-on play and exploration to learn about different environments and different items they are exposed to. Messy play is also great for exposure to early math skills. For example, messy play can allow a child to explore sizing, categorizing, matching, classifying and sorting.
Social Development and Building Relationships
Messy play can make for a great solo activity, but it works really well as a group activity, too. Messy play can provide a great opportunity to play alongside or together with other children and is a great activity for a play date or for siblings of varying ages. Children learn to cooperate with others by playing together in this type of setting. Relationships are formed through conversation and exploring together. Children learn to trust others, work together, and are also exposed to other children.
So there you have it! A few reasons why messy play is worth the mess! Now, if you really just cannot get behind messy play, and the thought of the mess is overwhelming to you, don’t worry. Not doing messy play will not take anything away from your child, and there are many other types of play that will give you child these same benefits. Sensory play for example will give you all of the same benefits, but it is much easier to tone down the messy.
I actually have a post dedicated to a giant list of Sensory Bin fillers, including a whole section of mess-free options!