The Evolution and Importance of Messy Play

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Given the range of chores that exist, it is natural that parents feel apprehensive about embarking on extra messy activities with their kids. Jumping in muddy puddles is all very well for Peppa Pig, but who is doing the laundry? Some days, it feels like all you did was get out of bed, grab a mop and start cleaning up mess. But these experiences are so valuable for children and really worth the extra effort. 

Why Messy Play Works

Messy play is an integral part of the learning experience for young children. Many of the things we experience in life create mess, following the simple principles of cause and effect. Food preparation, building and construction, art, gardening, and interacting with the natural world all lead to a pile of mess. Dirt, sand, cake batter, water, and the very nature of exploring the way the world works means things are often upended before they are put back together. 

Understanding Process

Messy play means exposing children to the processes at work behind the finished product. The experience of making a cake, for example, is a multifaceted learning opportunity. Understanding where different foods come from, the chemistry of ingredients when they are put together, the focus and effort involved in baking, the mathematics involved with measures and cake cutting and the decision making necessary along the way are all valuable experiences.

Understanding process creates strong foundations for children’s future learning and encourages agency. This leads to a greater awareness and appreciation of the world around them as they mature. 

Developing Skills

  • Messy play develops fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination, as it often involves the actions of pouring, mixing, digging, and constructing.
  • Textures can be explored such as smooth, rough, soft, hard, as well as dry and wet.
  • The physical nature of many messy play activities means fewer boundaries. This allows for the development of spatial and body awareness. For example, rather than needing to put pegs in the right hole in the right sequence, messy play will involve more free form actions. When a child is given permission to use messy play, they might use their hands, feet or whole body in the process.
  • Planning and problem-solving are essential to messy play.
  • Freedom, decision making and creative control are all encouraged.
  • Exploration of dimensions – two and three is explored.
  • Sensory learning, through touch, smell and taste all occur.
  • Experimentation and cause and effect are central to messy play.

Cleaning Up

While it is unrealistic to expect small children to restore the space to its former state, children can be given small cleaning tasks that help them to understand the impact of mess. At the end of the day, the experience is designed to be freeing and a little extra laundry is well worth it.

The good news is that messy play is a recognised part of the learning programs of many child care centres. This means you can share the messy load! To talk to an educator at To Be Me about our messy play philosophy, or for information about enrolment in one of our Early Learning Centres, contact us today.


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