Most kids, especially the young, absolutely love messy play. Whether face-painting, hand printing, playing creatively with food or making masterpieces with clay, preschoolers are usually in their element when they’re making a mess with media of one form or another. Look at a photo of any such activity involving a child and you’re likely to see the pure joy and sense of wonder right there on their faces. They’re likely to be grinning from ear to ear and perhaps even raising their messy hands proudly towards the camera!
Not only is messy play extraordinarily good fun for very young children, but it also has a surprisingly number of long-term benefits for them. We’ll explore some of those in this article. Hopefully, it may help some of the more sceptical parents to understand why it is such an essential element of early years education, despite the occasional splatter of paint going astray.
The benefits of messy play
The fun aspect of messy play should firstly be considered as important in itself. After all, if children cannot have fun with messy play when they’re youngsters, when can they? Messy play is a great opportunity to get really ‘hands-on’ and totally creative. Learning through this type of play, when having real fun, is the most natural of ways to learn. Messy play is a perfect way for children to discover and to express themselves.
Developing the senses
Messy play is a feast for the senses and it gives children the opportunity to really explore these. They can explore textures, touch, smell, liquids, solids, hardness, softness, colour and even taste when appropriate. Children up to the age of two are particularly responsive to messy and sensory play. It will teach them about the world around them, and about their own senses, in so many different ways.
Stimulating the imagination, boosting creativity & quietly educating
As they get older, they can build on these new sensory ‘building blocks’ and develop them further, in ever-more creative ways. They will have picked up new skills and knowledge around things like combining colour pigments, mark-making, use of textures, the properties of materials and building/affixing know-how through messy play. Allowing them to explore what’s possible with objects, colour, texture, size, shape and form will stimulate their imagination and make them naturally more creative.
What’s interesting is that children may start off simply enjoying being messy but they’ll very soon progress to making some sort of creative plan in their minds, perhaps building a fantasy world, game or situation of some kind with their peers.
Independent working & team-working skills
Messy play allows children to let their imagination be totally free, whether working and playing independently or with a group of friends. Indeed, teamwork and independent working will be very important skills to possess as they grow through the years into adulthood and ultimately begin their careers.
Taking this a step further, you can see how messy play can help to begin the process of improving communication skills, both with educators and other children. Messy play can be a sociable activity, promoting conversations, social interactions and even negotiation, all in a very natural way. Children like to share their discoveries and will get great pleasure from showing their playmates their creative achievements and discoveries. That’s a great way to bond.
Messy play also promotes questions and answers for parents, children and nursery staff to explore together. This, in turn, can improve skills like articulation, vocabulary, problem-solving and the analysis of cause and effect.
Improving motor skills & building muscle strength
Messy play also helps children, particularly the very young, to develop their fine motor skills. Activities like squeezing, scooping, swiping and sieving all require muscle control in fingers, wrists, arms and shoulders. It also develops their movement skills by combining the use of different groups of muscles used for things like balancing, picking up, applying media, fashioning things like clay and so on. Such activity can also build muscle and muscle control in children’s fingers and hands. This can prepare them for holding pencils, for example, once they start learning to write.
Similarly, gross motor skills can be improved via messy play. These skills involve large movements along with greater balance and strength. This can all be developed in the larger muscles, for example in arms, legs and feet through messy play activities like jumping in puddles, playing in sand outdoors, constructing larger-scale creations and suchlike.
Body control and balance skills are also needed – and gradually improved – when children undertake messy play activities like pouring paint, using a paint brush at an easel or carefully building some kind of creation.
Enhancing hand-eye coordination
It naturally follows that many of these activities will improve children’s hand-eye coordination as they get ever-better at activities like cutting out materials, being precise with glue or paint and on the levels of concentration that’s needed for some messy play activities.
Honing Spatial Awareness
Improving spatial awareness is very important for under-fives as it’s a skill that can keep them safer and literally out of harm’s way when they get it right. Messy play can help with this as the children learn about the space around them and begin to recall where items and other people are within that area. Good spatial awareness will also, of course, keep other children out of their way and begin to foster a feeling of respect for others and their personal spaces.
Messy play at Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery
At Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery in Edgbaston, we really embrace the learning opportunities available to children through messy play. Of course, that’s all done with a curriculum-led structure, under close supervision. It’s also scheduled for appropriate times and with the appropriate protections in place (for example using protective aprons or changes of clothing arranged previously with parents).
Well-equipped areas in the nursery allow children of all ages access to messy play, whether on a small or larger scale. Children can play with sand, water, coloured paints, paper and card, natural resources and areas set up for small and large scale marking, construction and other types of messy play.
Messy play is, of course, also closely related to expressive art and design, which is a core part of our EYFS curriculum. Here, children explore a wide variety of materials and creative media and learn to express their ideas, improve artistic abilities and enhance their communication and motor skills. In turn, all of this helps to improve self-confidence, self-esteem, the importance of which cannot be over-emphasised.
There is no wrong or right way for messy play and we appreciate that not all children enjoy getting their hands dirty or perhaps wet. However, at Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery they can explore messy play at their own pace and do whatever makes them feel comfortable.
Looking for childcare nurseries in the Birmingham area?
If you are looking for a nursery place in or around Birmingham for your baby or child under five, we currently have places available at Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, although they’re being filled up fast. We’re based in Edgbaston, so are conveniently located for those looking for childcare in the Birmingham area including Edgbaston, Harborne, Ladywood, Bearwood and Smethwick. Call us on 0121 246 4922, email us here or arrange a visit to the nursery here. We’ll be delighted to speak with you.