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A parent’s guide to messy play

Messy play (also known as sensory play) is a term you might have heard thrown around at nursery but why do nurseries seem to love it so much? Doesn’t it just leave your little one looking like a Persil advert?!

In this guide, we’ll explore what messy play is, the benefits it has (even if it results in a mess as the name suggests), ideas for activities and more!

So first, what is messy play?

Messy play is all about unstructured activities that encourage children to use all their senses to explore different things.

These activities primarily focus on the sense of touch, sometimes adding in an aspect of the others such as smell or taste.

They give your little one a chance to manipulate materials freely, without an end goal. For instance, allowing them to play with a tray of mud or sand.

The idea really is to stimulate your child natural curiosity and so make the learning process more enjoyable.

What are the benefits of messy play?

These sense-based activities are key in your little one’s healthy development! This is done by:

· Helping children associate learning with fun.

· Encouraging their creativity.

· Introducing children to subjects like math. For instance shape, size, counting and timing pouring.

· Developing their language and communications skills naturally by asking and chatting about the activity.

· Developing their problem solving and concentration skills.

· Promoting fine motor skills like hand-eye coordination – essential later on when learning to hold pencils properly to gain the fine control they need to form letters.

· Encouraging children to be independent – by giving them the freedom to explore and play in their own way. As well as helping them make their own decisions and take responsibility.

Is my little one too old for messy play?

We encourage you to introduce messy play as soon as possible! Early Years experts suggest that more messy play can result in increased concentration, confidence and more.

It is suggested that messy play is particularly important when children are between 2 – 5 years old. This is because at this stage they are developing a sense of autonomy and initiative.

But really, your little one should take part in messy play as long as they enjoy it and it helps them make progress.

What kind of activities can we do at home?

Messy play can be just about anything! Let’s take a look at a few ideas:

· Playing with water – this can be mixed with other natural materials like leaves and flowers or things you have lying around at home like food dye, containers or rice.

· Bath time play – bath time can be super fun with the addition of sponges, containers or toys.

· Make your own playdough – this is one of our favourites, cheap, eco-friendly and fun for days! Mix flour, water, salt and oil (you can also add food colouring or essential oils to make it fancy) and it's ready!

· Get outdoors – the natural world is a playground for the senses. Your little one can jump in some puddles, collect leaves or play with the grass. The possibilities are endless.

· Dig in your food cupboards – rice, pasta, mashed potatoes, jelly, baked beans all provide an amazing sensory experience (please be careful of allergies and choking hazards).

Last week we even put together a sensory experience activity guide for some additional inspiration – click here to check it out.

Any tips to keep things clean?

You may dread the aftermath of messy play but it’s important to remember mess makes memories that you and your little one will cherish forever.

Still, there are some things you can do to ensure the mess is contained:

- Cover floors with old bed sheets or towels,

- Have your little one wear spare clothes or an apron,

- Move furniture away or head outdoors,

- Keep play sessions contained within a small area.

You can find more messy and sensory play by following the links below.

10 messy play ideas for hands-on learning - click here to check it out.

Sensory activity guides - click here to check it out.

A guide to sensory play for babies - click here to check it out.



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