The Importance of Messy and Sensory Play

messy playDo you embrace messy play or is it your least favourite activity to do with your child? There’s plenty of research into how important messy and sensory play is for a child’s development; right from their early months when babies are just beginning to become aware of the world around them.

If you’re not keen on mess, let me share some of the benefits and also ideas you can do at home. Of course if your baby or child is at nursery, they’ll get plenty of opportunities for messy and sensory play: and we clear up all the mess!

Benefits Of Messy Play

Babies and children learn and develop through play, but especially through unstructured, exploratory play. Although playing a game or playing with toys can be educational and fun; messy play focuses on exploring and experimenting with different materials without any end goal such as to build or make something. This allows young children to make their own discoveries using their senses, curiosity and knowledge.

Because messy and sensory play is all about exploring, there’s not right or wrong. This means that any child can participate, whatever their ability, and benefit from it. It’s also a very sociable activity, but one that doesn’t rely on words. Children can play together and share their discoveries without needing to explain things verbally. However, it can also be a way of encouraging speech, for example by describing sensations, textures etc., and helping your child build their vocabulary.

So what kinds of activities should you be doing with your child? Well, with messy play anything goes within reason. Of course, there are safety considerations: playing with water obviously carries risks, so close supervision is important. Using foodstuffs such as lentils might present a choking hazard, so it’s important that you always plan messy play activities in such a way that you minimise risks.

Also, don’t just present your child with a messy activity and then step back and watch them play; get involved too! They will get so much more out of the experience if you interact with them, talk about what you’re doing, ask them open ended questions such as, “I wonder why that happened?” and explore too; who knows you might enjoy it!

Here are some ideas messy play ideas for your little ones:

Bath time: Baths are not just about getting clean they’re also an opportunity to play with water! So leave enough time for your baby or child to play as well as wash. You don’t need bath toys, plastic cups or washed up yoghurt pots are just as good.

Mealtimes: “Don’t play with your food!” How many times have you heard that? Although we want our children to grow up with good table manners, for babies and young children eating is not just about taste and smell: it’s about all their senses.

Sandpits: Digging in sand, feeling it run through your fingers, making sandcastles is all about exploring. Provide a few utensils such as plastic trowels, buckets etc.

Sand and water: A great activity to do on a warm day. To stop your sandpit turning into a wet beach, put sand in trays or on some plastic sheeting so play with. Provide water in tray or buckets, and some ways to explore such as plastic guttering to pour the water in.

Paint: Paint isn’t just for pictures it’s also a tactical substance to explore. Finger painting and handprints are about feeling the paint between their fingers as much as it is about making impressions on paper. You could even let your child experiment with body painting!

Bubbles: We love bubbles, whether it’s bubble mixture blown from a wand, frothy washing up liquid bubbles in a tray of water, or shaving foam to mix up with paints.

Play dough and slime: You don’t have to make anything in particular with play dough. It’s just as important to explore: squeeze it, roll it, splat it, stretch it, squelch it! Slime (usually cornflour and water), is a wonderfully tactile substance both for touching and watching as it slides off little fingers.

Foodstuffs: Pasta, cooked and chilled or dry, is great for exploring textures. Other dried foods such as cereals can be scrunched. Jelly, mashed potato and even baked beans all provide interesting sensory experiences.

Natural world: Puddles are there to be splashed in, autumn leaves to be jumped in, and mud to be dug around in! There are loads of messy play activities in the natural world.

I hope this has given you some good ideas and reasons to let your baby or child get messy. As you can see not all activities will make a big mess in your house, although some could… In our experience at our nurseries, preparation is key: cover surfaces, make sure you have a flannel or towel ready to wipe hands before they touch you walls or furniture, and allow plenty of time for the activity and the clean up afterwards.

Enjoy getting messy!

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