Messy play is important for young children because it provides endless ways to develop and learn.
- All types of play are essential for children’s development and early learning. Messy play is one of the most open-ended types of play.
- Play helps children develop and improve their gross and fine motor skills, co-ordination and concentration.
- It provides an opportunity to learn how to work co-operatively and collaboratively.
- It additionally supports the child to use all their senses discovering and exploring their environment and developing their imagination.
- Playing with items that are unpredictable and continually changing requires creative thinking and the ability to problem solve and experiment with solutions.
This is a great science and sensory activity, giving the children the opportunity to feel several textures and to change those textures as well. Billowy foam becomes denser and more creamy. Rough, cold ice becomes more smooth as they rub it, then changes to water and mixes with the foam. The children will experiment with the concepts of cause and effect and changing states of matter, as well as with mixing colours. Language skills will be enhanced as they verbalize their experience, talking about the sensations and transformations.
- Messy play helps children to become more independent.
Children take part in an activity they create. They are able to decide how they want to play and can use the materials in the way they choose. This builds confidence because the child is in control.
- It helps develop movement, co-ordination and control.
Messy play gives children the opportunity to explore materials using all their body, especially hands, arms and feet.
- It helps develop language and communication.
Children will learn new words to describe the things they see, feel, hear, smell and taste.
- It helps children to be creative and use their imagination.
Regular opportunities for free play allows children to create their own activities in their own way.
- It helps children use their senses.
Children experience different sensations and have the opportunity to respond in a variety of ways to the things they see, hear, smell, taste and touch.
- It encourages children to make choices.
When exploring and investigating a range of materials, children have more opportunities to show preferences and make choices.
- It helps children develop concentration and problem solving skills.
Children become absorbed in their activities. Messy play gives children the opportunity to work things out themselves and experiment safely. Young children learn best through practical experiences.
Kaitlyn enjoyed her day playing in very large muddy puddles. The higher she jumped the higher the mud went. She experimented with this for quite a while!
- Mud inspires creativity. The wonderful thing about mud is that it can be anything you want from a mud pie to a mud house. It can be a bath or a soup; you can make it into faces or use it to paint with. It is a brilliant opportunity to allow your children to let their imagination run free and see where their creativity takes them. Mud provides benefits for physical development too. Walking in mud is a tricky prospect and a great way for any youngster to build on their gross motor skills. They learn how to balance and the best way to place their feet to ensure they stay upright and don’t sink.
- Mud is a great format for social play. Playing in mud can create opportunities for real co-operation in play from cooking and sharing a mud feast to playing tag in the mud. It provides so many different creative opportunities to play together.
“A child’s early experiences at touching and being touched, through their infancy, toddler and pre school years are incredibly important for not only developing tactile sensitivity, motor skills and understanding the physical world but also for their overall health and emotional well being.” Elliot (1999, p 123)
Children develop and strengthen new motor skills through shaping, moulding, scooping, dumping and splashing — these actions all support the development of small and large muscles. For instance, holding a scoop to fill and dump sensory material works many muscles used in other parts of the children’s day, like when they hold a cup or spoon at mealtimes. Jelly is a fantastic material to use in sensory play. It is visually appealing and can be made up in a range of bright colours. It smells and tastes interesting. It is neither quite solid nor quite liquid and can be made up to different consistencies of stiffness.
We use large quantities of jelly set in a large tray or bowls. When children have had plenty of opportunity to explore with fingers and hands you can add tools such as spoons and sieves.
Make up trays of different coloured jelly to set plastic animals and figures into. Use green jelly for sea creatures, yellow (amber!) for plastic dinosaurs or purple for plastic insects like spiders.
Making jelly moulds will give a different type of appearance and you can set items in the jellies for discovery. This can be extended to include dinosaurs caught in lava, insects in goo or even fairies…
If you make the jelly really runny it can make a thicker alternative to water play and children can make it roll down funnels, through water wheels and splash and pour. It’s fascinating to see the children realise it moves slower down ramps but falls faster when dropped from a height to a big splat! The splat stays there as well so for those children with an impact schema this is a great activity.
Just squishing it through your fingers feels satisfying, and watching the jelly ooze out between their fingers will have all children (and adults) watching the effect.
There are commercial alternatives such as Gellie Baff that washes away but can be expensive and at least with jelly—if they eat it, that’s snack sorted!