What Is Messy Play
Play enhances every aspect of children’s development and learning. And children love to be messy, whether that’s jumping in muddy puddles or smearing mud across their faces. Years of research has taught us that children learn best through play. Read our article on play: The Importance of Play: Why Play Matters.
Play is a window to the child’s world and the adult who knows the value of play is committed to learning about children while they play. Play tells us much about children’s lives, health and level of development. From observing their play we learn how children think, feel and believe. Play also can tell us of a child’s pain, conflict and insecurity. Those who value the personhood of children should also value the play of children – Krishna M Goel, author of Hutchison’s Atlas of Pediatric Physical Diagnosis
The benefits of playing dough is almost endless, particularly for the development of children in their early years. Playing dough enhances creativity, imagination and communication through role playing and building of ‘scenes’. The act of squishing, kneading and rolling enhances our little ones’ fine motor skills development which will help in pencil grip and writing at later stages – Dr Mei Mei, Founder of Dough Little
What’s Messy Play? Messy Play is a hands-on sensory activity which involves children using all their senses in the process of exploration. Especially the sense of touch. In other words, Messy Play activities offer a wide range of sensory experiences and add a great deal to the cognitive and creative development of children.
Why Is It Important
Messy Play promotes physical developments, fosters curiosity and helps children develop language and communication skills, providing them with an exciting sensory experience. While the idea of making a huge mess often puts parents off, its benefits far outweigh the inconvenience.
Imagine the creativity, resilience, risk negotiations, sharing practice – literally – all sorts of learning skills and development, being applied simultaneously in one activity – that’s nature-based Messy Play. It is simple yet profound in its impact. Most importantly, children are not only able to enjoy the benefits of Messy Play but also learn to be more aware of the bounty gifts surrounding them, to be more loving and empathetic to fellow Earthlings, to be more conscious of their actions and the consequences on others. This opportunity to get close to Mother Nature is the “missing puzzle piece” of a typical Messy Play – Chloe Khor, Founder of Little Urban Forest
There’s much more going on than meets the eye. Citing an excerpt from an article written by Early Years Resources, “Children learn through experimentation and discovery and Messy Play encourages children to explore new textures and manipulate different materials through touch.”
This study, titled Creativity And Imagination In Messy Play Among Preschool Children from the University of Malaya was carried out to examine how Messy Play activities stimulate creativity and imagination among preschool children. The participants in the study consist of two schools principal and a total of eight children aged five and six years from two selected preschools.
The results from the study show that types of Messy Play are practicable to encourage preschool children in the development of creativity and imagination. The study concludes that the three types of Messy Play that include general play, play with soft and wet materials and play with soft materials can help stimulate your child’s imagination and creative thinking.
Here at Little Hijau, we believe in providing an environment where our children make their own choices, which in turn helps them to become confident and happy decision makers. Children also learn cooperative skills when working beside others, plus develop their observation skills too – Kavita Rai, Founder of Little Hijau Playhouse
What Are The Benefits
Fine & Gross Motor Skills: Messy Play activities can help young children develop their early motor skills. Those small movements they make when squeezing and scooping, using the muscles in their fingers, wrists, arms, toes and shoulders help to refine their fine motor skills. Bigger movements like jumping and throwing using the larger muscles in their arms, legs, feet and body help to refine their gross motor skills.
Communication Skills: Messy Play activities can lead to amazing discussions with your child. Because such activities typically require children to express and discuss what they are doing and feeling. They also encourage children to articulate their thoughts so that they can better explain what they’re doing to others – a great tool for exploring emotions and developing new vocabulary words.
Social & Emotional Skills: Messy Play activities can teach children to make their own choices, how to work together, how to understand others’ ideas and views and how to express their own. Messy Play works equally well as a group activity as well as a solo activity. According to Psychology Today, decision making is one of the most important skills your children need to develop to become healthy and mature adults. Not forgetting, children also learn cooperative skills when working beside others.
Messy Play is a particularly important form of play for babies and toddlers. Our kids learn through play, especially unstructured and exploratory play. In other words, they learn best when they get messy! Giving children an environment where there is no right or wrong builds self-esteem and positive experiences. By working in a group, they have opportunities to make new friends and learn respect for others as well as themselves. As children engage in Messy Play activities, they share their feelings and thoughts with each other, which supports their emotional development – Kavita Rai, Founder of Little Hijau Playhouse
What Messy Play Activities I Can Try At Home
Finger-painting: Finger-painting is an activity that can be enjoyed equally by older children as well as toddlers. All you need is a bit of paint and little hands and fingers!
Playdough: Playdough is a fun and easy material to use. There are so many ways to play with play dough, the possibilities are endless!
Bubbles at bath time: Add body wash in the water and let your little ones mess up the tub wall with soap. Add some plastic cups and spoons for scooping the bubbles.
Playing outdoors: Let’s get dirty. Let your children play with mud, stones, water, sticks and leaves. Richard Louv coined the phrase Nature Deficit Disorder in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods. The book seeks to describe the human costs of alienation from nature. “Nature-deficit disorder is not a formal diagnosis,” writes Richard Louv, “but a way to describe the psychological, physical and cognitive costs of human alienation from nature, particularly for children in their vulnerable developing years.”
Our best friend in LUF is definitely soil – sand, mud, dirt – you name it, we love playing with it. The soil has this therapeutic cooling sensation when you dig your hands in it. Combine that with flexibility to turn into absolutely anything (hello, endless possibilities! ) – it’s our popular choice of material for Nature-based Messy Play. Mud, for example, has been discovered to contain Mycobacterium vaccae which is a microbe that helps to increase serotonin level in our brain and in turn, calms our mood, improves our immunity and really, makes us happy! What do they say? Happy child, happy learners! On top of that, we have a big sand pit in our playground, but for the children it’s their bakery (we love good old mud cakes), their pirate island (can’t go wrong with pirate pretend play), their ice cream shop (strawberry flavor please!)… Imagine the creativity, resilience, risk negotiations, sharing practice – literally – all sorts of learning skills and development, being applied simultaneously in one activity – that’s Nature-based Messy Play – Chloe Khor, Founder of Little Urban Forest
We hope you find this article useful. A few things to remember when doing Messy Play activities at home, cover surfaces with a plastic cloth or sheet and always talk with your child about what things feel like and what they are doing. If you don’t like Messy Play inside, take them outside!
Preschools featured in this article are Little Urban Forest and Little Hijau Playhouse. Both preschools are located in the Klang Valley. Established in 2019, Little Urban Forest offers programmes designed to immerse children in nature and to instil them with a positive attitude and the essential skillsets for life. Situated in Petaling Jaya since 2017, Little Hijau is a home-based childcare and playschool that provides early learning opportunities through play in a safe and caring environment.
Beckerleg, T. (2008). Fun with Messy Play: Ideas and activities for children with special needs. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Hewes, J. (2006). Let the children play: Nature’s answer to early learning. Early Childhood Learning Knowledge Centre.
Duffy, B. (2007). All about… messy play. The Early Years Foundation Stage Primary National Strategy.
Jade. (2020, February 12). Messy Play for Physical Development. Retrieved from http://www.earlyyearsresources.co.uk/blog/2018/06/messy-play-physical-benefits/
Yin, L. C., Zakaria, A. R., Hutagalung, F., & Salleh, U. K. M. (2014, February). Creativity and imagination in messy play among preschool children. In Recent Trends in Social and Behaviour Sciences: Proceedings of the International Congress on Interdisciplinary Behaviour and Social Sciences 2013 (p. 345). CRC Press.
Taylor, J. (2009, October 19). Parenting: Decision Making. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-prime/200910/parenting-decision-making
Goel, K. M., & Carachi, R. (2020). Hutchisons atlas of pediatric physical diagnosis. New Delhi: Jaypee Brothers.
Louv, R. (2009, January 28). No More “Nature-Deficit Disorder”. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/people-in-nature/200901/no-more-nature-deficit-disorder