Messy Play – why it’s so important…..

When your child is at Paint Pots they will have many opportunities to create, build, investigate and discover. Best of all, we take care of the mess!

At Paint Pots Nurseries, we encourage our children to embrace messy play and the learning and development that comes from it.

To be successful, it is all about letting children explore and experiment with different objects and raw materials without any end goals to restrict them. For example, although toys can be fun, such as a toy car, children are restricted in the ways that they can use them. With raw materials such as sand, water, chalk, paint, play dough or paste, children’s imaginations can run wild and they can spend a long time exploring these, making their own discoveries, stimulating their curiosity and developing their knowledge.

With messy play, the sensory experience also helps children to understand their senses. By exploring how things feel, smell and taste, this type of play nurtures an awareness and understanding of the world that surrounds them

Messy play is a particularly important form of play for babies and toddlers.

Cognitive development in children occurs when their senses are stimulated and messy play is awesome because it stimulates so many of their senses at once.  But how does it help your child develop?

Physical development

Through touching and experimenting children develop fine motor skills and hand eye coordination. It is these hands-on activities that give your child the chance to discover and explore different textures. Is it soft, hard, slimy, smooth? As children explore objects and materials such as water, paint, playdough, food and sand in an unrestricted way, it enables them to understand how things feel, smell and taste. Imagination and experimentation during messy play is always encouraged at Paint Pots as well as sharing what they have learned with others. Activities such as pouring, shovelling or drawing in the sand help build strength in the large muscle groups at the top of the arms and it is these muscles that then enable the smaller muscles in the hands and fingers to make precise and controlled movements. 

Communication and Language

Through discussing what they are doing and feeling, children can then start to articulate differences. This also encourages children to think through their actions so they can explain it to others.

Messy play is a sociable activity, whether with family or other children, so naturally, it will enrich relationships through social interaction. As young children can’t explain things verbally, it allows them to share their discoveries in different ways through the use of objects and gestures and in order to do this, they need to think through their actions so they can communicate this explanation which also helps develop their cognition.

Social and emotional development

Giving children an environment where there is no right or wrong builds self-esteem and positive experiences. By working in a group, they have opportunities to make new friends and learn respect for others as well as themselves. As children engage in messy play activities, they share their feelings and thoughts with each other, which supports their emotional development.

How to do this at home

There is no right or wrong when it comes to messy play so any child can participate, whatever their ability. When thinking of an activity, always keep safety in mind and don’t be afraid to get involved. Try and make new things with your child and talk through what you are doing to help them learn. When it comes time to clean up, we have a few tips to help minimise the mess and ensure it doesn’t get out of control.

  • Have a spare set of children’s clothes ready.
  • Only commit to messy play when you have enough time for clean up.
  • Have a set of clothes for messy play or wear a protective apron.
  • Use water-based paints because they are easier to wash off most surfaces.
  • Cover surfaces such as floors and tables with washable sheets or old towels.     Plastic painting tarps can be found at the hardware store, which can be reused.
  • Setup messy play areas in places around your house that is easy to clean, such as outdoors or a tile floor.
  • Invest in a sandpit
  • Have a set of rules about how different materials are used. For example: ‘the paint stays outside’, ‘the sand stays in the sandpit’.
  • Have fun! Kids love messy play. Even if you aren’t participating, you can ask open ended questions such as ‘Why did that happen?’ or ‘How did you create that?’ to encourage critical thinking.

Messy play at Paint Pots

When your child is at Paint Pots they will have many opportunities to create, build, investigate and discover. Best of all, we take care of the mess!


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