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Exploring the Joy of Messy Play

Stimulating Senses and Encouraging Learning in Children

Child development

Children are naturally active learners and can learn so much through play. Play allows them to explore, discover, negotiate, take risks, create meaning and solve problems – all important foundations for developing literacy, numeracy and social skills throughout a child’s early years.

Messy and sensory play can be an especially valuable learning experience for babies and children because it stimulates many senses at the same time. They can feel, see, smell and sometimes taste their messy creation, depending on the activity.

Messy play experiences like water play, mud play, jelly, slime, goo, foam and scented or edible play dough can all stimulate your child’s senses while they develop their hand eye coordination and fine motor skills.

As a parent, it can be hard to embrace ‘mess’, but the good news is there are lots of ways you can set up opportunities for messy play at home and in the natural world that won’t take too much effort to set up (or clean up!) To minimise mess, make sure you cover surfaces and have a damp cloth ready to wipe sticky hands and surfaces.


Exploring the Senses: Exciting Messy and Sensory Play Ideas for Toddlers

Bath time – playing with water by using plastic cups or washed up yoghurt pots to pour, splash and empty water

Meal times / food – let your child savour the taste, smell and texture of different foods (pasta, cereals, jelly, mashed potato and even baked beans all provide interesting sensory experiences)

Finger painting – on paper or let your child experiment by painting parts of their own body or other surfaces (hint: you may prefer to use edible paint for this. Trying making a batch of instant vanilla pudding and mix with food colouring)

Play dough – let them squish, squeeze, splat and squelch to their hearts’ content

Bubbles – who doesn’t love bubbles? Use bubble mixture, frothy washing up liquid bubbles in a container, or experiment by mixing shaving foam with paint

Natural world – whether you find some sand to play with, puddles to jump in, leaves to gather, or mud to play in, there are endless outside play ideas

Remember, as with all play there are always safety considerations to keep in mind. This is particularly true with water-based activities or choking hazards.

Parents shouldn’t be afraid to let things get messy. So, roll up your sleeves and have some fun engaging in messy play with your child. What might look like a mess on the surface is giving your child a truly unique learning experience!


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