Dec 15, 2021

Learning Can Be Messy: A Parent’s Guide to Messy Play

A day at nursery is never the same, and there is always something new and exciting for your child to explore or learn. With so many sensory based activities, from painting to mud pies, sometimes the children can leave nursery at the end of the day, reflecting their journey of discovery through general messiness, whether it’s some food down their top, or slightly damp hair.

At our nurseries, we like to refer to this as Messy Play: where the messy can tell a story or demonstrate something that your child has learned that day. In this form of learning, our nursery team allow your child to explore new textures and materials, in a very hands-on approach.

This concept of messy play may seem a bit daunting at first for many parents. However, many studies have shown that messy play is one of the best ways for a child to learn and develop new skills and find out more about the world around them. Here at The Old Station Nursery Group, we thrive to helping the nursery children reach their full potential, and explore everything they need, even if that does mean getting a little messy!

So, what exactly is messy play? The main feature (besides the messy part) is allowing your child to have freedom when investigating materials. For example, exploring maths and science skills can be conducted through playing with a water tray, and learning to pour, fill and empty (volume and capacity), or mixing cornflour and water to make a ‘gloopy’ texture (properties of solids and liquids). Although the children may wear an apron, they may get a little messy; to let them really explore to their full potential, and to gain a full sensory understanding.

Some of the benefits of messy play include new skills like social skills, concentration, and motor skills, but also encouraging natural abilities like curiosity and imagination.

  • Exploring with playdough, and other messy play resources like foam, or even food can aid in developing fine motor skills, building up muscle and improving hand-eye coordination
  • Using paints and pens can help stimulate creative and imagination skills, and the ability to explore and experiment with different textures of materials
  • Stimulating the senses, such as squidging foam, or digging nails into mud can be great for enhancing natural curiosity
  • Enhancing skills like predictions- pouring water and working out when the water cup is full

These are all examples of activities your child might participate in, and how they can benefit their cognitive, social, and physical development. It’s also beneficial for a child’s natural questioning of the world, and helps them to learn skills, concepts, or ideas in a way in which they are responsible for, and not being taught by someone else, or told what to do.

So, what can you do as a parent? Firstly, remember mess means they’ve spent the day exploring curiosity, determination, persistence, imagination, and confidence. It’s always a good idea to dress your child in outfits you won’t mind if they get messy, and even consider a spare change of clothes!

Secondly, there are lots of different ways in which you yourself can stimulate this kind of learning at home! Ask your child’s nursery what they enjoy doing and let your child roam free with their discovery. Give them the freedom to explore, whilst asking open ended questions, such as “What do you think this will do?” so that they can facilitate their own learning and figure out different solutions for themselves.

Below are some fun ideas for some sensory, messy play- with a festive twist, ready for Christmas!

  1. Christmas Cloud Cookie Dough: to explore textures
  2. Cinnamon Sensory Rice Play: to explore tactile and sensory play

More sensory play ideas with a Christmas twist can be found here

You can find some examples of messy play via these links below, and remember that your child is constantly learning, and being shaped every day, and sometimes, that requires a little bit of messiness!

BBC Food- How to make slime at home

10 ideas to encourage messy learning at home

Some more messy play ideas for home

The Little Book of Messy Play by Sally Featherstone is packed with great ideas for sensory and exploratory play.


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