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There are many words synonymous with kids – energetic, talkative, boisterous, and so on – but there is perhaps no word better suited to children than ‘messy’. If you find yourself wading through a sea of toys on the floor, bathing a kid covered head to toe in paint, or mopping up pools of spilled water following a rather active tea party, you may start dreaming of a time when all your children want to do is sit down quietly and read a book. But consider this – could messy play actually be good for kids? Could it help children develop and learn?

Messy Play for Child Development

Researchers believe there are many benefits of messy play during childhood, but there is significant evidence for two of these benefits being very closely related to learning and development – the encouragement of creativity and imaginative thinking, and the sensory aspect.

In terms of creativity, this is all about experiential learning. Experiential learning is learning through hands-on experiences, rather than through simply being told about something. For example, while you can explain how to paint to a child, they learn better through being handed a paintbrush. Kids need these interactive experiences to develop, and some learning      experiences can be pretty messy!

Looking at the sensory aspect of messy play, the NHS perhaps puts it best – ‘the sense of touch is important for learning about our own bodies, objects, and our world’. Have you noticed that babies always put things in their mouths? This is because they learn more about objects from feeling them, but as they are unable to use their hands very well at such an early age, the mouth is the next best thing. Kids can learn a great deal through experiencing different textures, which is why messy toys such as Play-doh and putty have gained such popularity.

Fun Messy Play Ideas

If you’re looking for some fun messy play ideas that you and your kids can enjoy together, here are some interesting suggestions:

Use fingers and toes to paint on paper, rather than a paintbrush.

  • Use your hands to dig in the garden and plant seeds.
  • Moisten sand so it’s damp enough to build towering sand castles.
  • Make collages from anything and everything – dried pasta, pieces of cloth etc.
  • Make your own ‘gloop’ by mixing cornflour and water into a thick paste.
  • Don’t buy pizzas – make them!
  • Fill a small bucket with shaving foam and hide a plastic few toys in there.
  • Don’t run down grassy hills, roll down them!

Made a Mess? Don’t Worry!

If you strive to keep a clean, tidy house, and clean, tidy children, then the thought of messy play may be bringing you out in a cold sweat, but don’t panic! No matter how messy your kids get, it’s pretty easy to get them looking clean again. Clothes stains can easily be tackled with a good stain remover and laundry detergent, so whether they’re covered in paint, ink, glue, grass, or tomato sauce, there’s no need to worry.