I love messy play. You might think I’m crazy — but simply put, messy play is how small children learn.
Though children learn something from any form of play, messy play is particularly suited for teaching creativity, encouraging scientific thinking, developing motor skills, building language, and providing sensory stimuli.
There are many reasons why I love messy play, but my main reason is that it encourages the development of scientific thinking. While engaged in messy play, young children act as scientists — posing questions, gathering data, and answering their own questions about the world. A toddler who dumps rice over and over is usually not making a mess for the sake of it. He is wondering — what happens when I dump this rice? Does the same thing happen each time I do it? While smearing paint across a canvas, a child is investigating texture, movement, color mixing, and pattern making. As a former science teacher, I feel it is important to give children these experiences so they can develop this scientific way of thinking while they are still young and it comes so naturally.
Experts in early childhood development are also fans of messy play. The big and small motions children make while engaged in messy play fine tune their gross and fine motor skills. All the interesting textures and engaging nature of messy play make it a great way to playfully build language. And since messy play often involves several senses, it is great a great way for little ones to gain experience integrating sensory information.
Allowing your child to engage in messy play doesn’t mean your whole house has to be involved, nor does it mean you will spend hours cleaning up after. You can choose a space that is easily cleaned — such as a bathtub or driveway — or you can set some boundaries and ground rules to contain the mess in your home. For further tips and tricks, you can check out my post on managing messy play on my blog.
Asia Citro has her Master's in Education and is a former classroom teacher who now stays home full-time with her son (a toddler) and her daughter (a preschooler). She shares fun and easy activities on her blog Fun at Home with Kids and has released three books; 150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids, The Curious Kid's Science Book, and A Little Bit of Dirt.