Messy play: benefits and ideas - Evidence Based Babie
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Messy play

Messy play: benefits and ideas

What is messy play?

Messy play is a form of sensory play that allows children to freely explore with their senses. They can be creative, make a mess and the best of all, they can do whatever they want. Messy play often consists of different messy ingredients such as Oobleck, rice, pasta and spaghetti, flour, gelatine, slime and even nonedible ingredients such as shaving foam, sand, mud and baby oil.

The benefits of messy play

– Allows children to explore at a developmentally appropriate level

This can easily be appropriate for many different developmental levels. You give the different ingredients and tools, and your child is responsible for how they want to play with it. It meets them where they’re at developmentally while also giving them the opportunity to develop certain aspects such as creativity and independent play.

– Helps build fine motor skills

By giving children the opportunity to play freely with different ingredients and tools, such as picking up small objects with or without tools, shaking ingredients and mixing and pouring things all help develop a child’s fine motor skills.

– Creative development

Allowing children, the freedom to play freely in the way they want to with the different materials you give them, encourages them to use and develop their creativity skills at a pace appropriate for them.

– Cognitive development

Messy play often requires focus, the child will concentrate on what they’re doing and how it feels. It also requires problem solving skills as the child has to decide what they want to do and how they want to do it.

– Encourages communication and language development

Messy play is a social activity in nature, usually with friends and/or family. At a very young age, when children are not yet able to verbally communicate with others, messy play helps them communicate non-verbally by means of gestures and play. No matter where the child is at with their language development, they will socially interact with others during the play and will further develop their communication and language skills.

Types of messy play

Messy play doesn’t requite a lot, messy play opportunities can be found in every day activities at home too.

– Baby led weaning

Once a baby is 6 months of age and showing signs of readiness for solids, parents can introduce baby led weaning as opposed to traditional weaning.

Baby led weaning is cooking and cutting food in an age-appropriate way and allowing the baby to feed themselves, often by hand. This will usually get very messy in the beginning, but it allows children to explore the textures and get messy all while their eating. Studies have shown that when babies start weaning by means of baby led weaning, they have less texture issues later in life.

– Go outside

Nature play, even if it’s in the garden is a perfect messy play opportunity. Whether it’s playing in the dirt with age-appropriate toys, playing in a puddle of water or playing with leaves and just overall using all their senses. Outside play is easily accessible and it’s free.

– Sand pits

A sand pit is really simple. You can build or buy a sandpit or even a paddle pool, fill it with sand and throw in a few toys and voila, messy play galore.

– Kitchen equipment and food

Grab a big bowl or two, a few spoons and spatulas and grab whatever food you’re happy to throw out afterwards and there you go, messy play.

Ingredients that work really well are rice, pasta, spaghetti, flour, gelatine, cornflour and vegtable oil.

– Messy play trays

If you have the budget, you can either go to messy play classes or buy your own messy play tuff tray. Fill the tray with different ingredients and toys each time. You can even do different themes such as dinosaurs, farm animals or the beach and ocean.

You don’t need anything fancy and pretty much anything can work. The best part about messy play in a messy play tuff tray is that most of the mess stays in the tuff tray, which makes cleaning so much easier.

Important notes

It is recommended to only do sensory play with non-edible items such as toys and fabric for babies under the age of 6 months old.

When using edible ingredients such as rice and pasta, it’s really important to stay close to your child at all times to ensure the risk of choking stays minimal. Remember, choking is silent, and it happens incredibly fast.

If you’re using ingredients that are nonedible, such as shaving foam and baby oil, it’s especially important to ensure that your child does not ingest any of it. It’s best to steer clear of any toxic ingredients, accidents happens quickly and it’s just not worth it.

Additional information and resources:

STEM activity book PDF for kids: free download!

Creativity and imagination in messy play among preschool children

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