Messy play - the what, why and how
Messy play - the what, why and how

Why learning isn’t always tidy


Early Childhood Education

At Avendale, we often plan activities that some might consider ‘messy’. Often called ‘messy play’, we wanted to share with the what, why and how of these activities: what is ‘messy play’, why do we recommend it, and how can we encourage it?

What is it?

‘Messy play’ is the term used to describe activities that are largely sensory, and might require the child to get their hands a bit ‘dirty’. It usually includes such games as: water play, gloop, playdough, or open-ended paint activities. Some teachers don’t really like the term ‘messy play’, as some invaluable learning opportunities can be had in the process. It can also be considered negative, as ‘messy’ suggests something that needs to be ‘cleaned’, and ‘play’ does not really suggest that learning is happening. That is wrong! Instead, why not call them what they are: Sensory Learning Experiences? Sure, they can sometimes get a bit messy, but they are positive opportunities for children to learn things they cannot learn without experiencing it first-hand.

Shaving cream play Baking cookies Tea bag painting Cornstarch gloop


Why is it important?

Sensory learning experiences like those associated with ‘Messy Play’ are crucial for a child’s development. Amongst a whole range of benefits, they are wonderful open-ended opportunities for children to feel different sensory feelings, practice their creativity and problem-solving skills, and develop their motor-skills. They’re also an opportunity for children to learn more about the world around them, and practice their motor development. For example, by playing with paint, the child can learn more about the feeling of the paint on their fingers, see how their actions can cause different experiences, and develop their fine-motor skills by using their hands and fingers to paint with. Young children are always learning - and these opportunities to use their 5 senses are the easiest ways for them to learn more about the world they live in.

How can we encourage it?

We strongly encourage you to set up some sensory learning experiences at home. Messy play doesn’t have to get out of control - and isn’t always messy. To avoid any big problems, you can manage how the ‘mess’ is made. For example:

  • Ask your child to wear an apron.
  • Use a deep tray for any types of water play.
  • Put plastic sheets down on the floor around any messy activity, or newspaper on the table.
  • Encourage older children to tidy up after themselves when they’ve finished (helps them develop self-care skills).
  • Go outside… save your home from having the mess indoors.

We’d love to see what sort of hands-on experiences you’ve been able to do during this time. Please send us your photos!