“Messy play- empowering young learners”

It is the end of January and l am reminded that it is my turn to write a blog. I wonder what might be most impactful for learning and sharing. I ponder over a few ideas. Perhaps a blog about the current unit, but exactly what about the unit? A suggestion was made “How about messy play?” Well, I thought, that’s an idea! What if the blog was to focus on why young children need messy, unstructured play now more than ever? Hence this blog, ‘Messy play-empowering young children’.

Before l delve into the why of messy play, let me quote a definition of messy play from the Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center.

“Messy play is the open-ended exploration of materials and their properties. Activities like squishing clay, pouring sand, and sorting stones allow children to repeat and experiment as they like. Children are naturally curious, and messy play engages their senses at a developmental level that is appropriate for them. They learn foundational cognitive principles as they exercise motor, language, and social skills. Messy play offers one of the best integrated learning experiences young children can have.”

Why do children need messy play and why should we encourage it?

Messy play could be an outlet for our young learners to express themselves and their emotions. The soothing nature of sand and water is worth experiencing for their free-flowing properties and the opportunity to learn to just let go. Imagine yourself at the beach, walking barefoot. How does it feel? A bag of sand and a tub of water can create the same magic for young children. Especially in the situation we are in now, with restricted movements and limited access to outdoor and nature spaces, messy play can play a crucial role in developing emotional well-being.

Young children learn using their senses and their whole bodies. Messy play allows children to experience materials and spaces, engage in play and express themselves freely without inhibitions. Engaging with open-ended materials such as water, sand, mud, clay, paint or any loose parts can support many areas of development. Being aware of their own self, physically and emotionally, and learning to regulate self are important skills to develop.

Messy play increases confidence and allows our learners to trust themselves to use their own judgement and take calculated risks as there are no right ways to play and explore materials. They feel empowered as they manipulate, control and transform materials and their play through experiences that are learner centric.

How can parents encourage and create opportunities for messy play at home?

  • Encouraging children to participate in play ideas shared by peers and teachers.
  • I like the idea of letting children play in the bath. Add toys and watch your child engage in magic making. Often the best stories and play ideas emerge when your child is relaxed and calm.
  • There was another idea l saw earlier: letting your child use bathroom walls as a canvas. A pot or two of paints is all you need! Walls can be washed clean while your child takes a shower.
  • Creating a space for messy play- how about designating an area in your garden for digging or allocating space for exploring art materials on your balcony!
  • Washing toys in a bucket/tub of soapy water can provide an endless fun and sensory experience for your child.

Messy play can be truly magical and empowering! Let your child indulge in messy play!

“Designing Messy Play For Infants And Toddlers | ECLKC”. ECLKC, 2020, https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/publication/designing-messy-play-infants-toddlers.

“Messy Play Is Lots Of Fun, But Its Impact On Young Children’S Wellbeing Should Be Taken Very Seriously”. Teachwire, 2021, https://www.teachwire.net/news/messy-play-is-lots-of-fun-but-its-impact-on-young-childrens-wellbeing-shoul. Accessed 5 June 2017.

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