Why children love ‘Messy Play’ and how to make it fun for you

You probably have a child that loves to put their hand into anything messy, gooey, slimy or sticky, and you are loosing it because that mess is going all over your couch or cushions and the rest of the house. Yes, that is good reason to loose it, I’m with you there. So what can you do about kids who love messy play?

Think about this, I’ve heard a lot of people say ‘Cooking is therapeutic’, ‘I love art or DIY’, ‘Beaches are my favourite holiday spot’ do you know why this is? All these statements reflect a pull towards tactile / tangible sensory experiences aka messy play. Working with food, herbs, spices make your senses feel alive, all that mixing, feeling the food come together under your hands is not just relaxing it soothes and heals, as does sand in your feet and the feel of paint brushes or glue on your fingers.

For these same reasons, children love playing with messy things. Their own sanitised environments don’t offer them the challenge and soothing experiences of different textures so they seek them out. Most often in the kitchen, bathroom or outdoors in the mud. Mine also get on the table and find oils and ghee which obviously are wonderful sensory items to feel on your hands and body.

So how do we provide them this beautiful experience that they crave so much and that is so healthy for them without causing ourselves excessive trauma? Messy, sensory play has many many benefits including what we call therapeutic after a stressful day, it’s the same for kids it helps in the physical and emotional development.

Here are a few ways I’ve discovered that helps keep my sanity while letting my kids explore messy play to their hearts content. Keeps them occupied for longer and in some cases speeds up my own work as they help me without realising they do and in others we end up working as a team to get our chores done faster.

Water to the rescue – we use water as our messy play base many times, this water gets used to water plants later. We fish for our toys, we paint with our water, use the water to paint on the dusty chalkboard, in the process clean up the chalk board too. Just plain water with some measuring cups and spoon will do the trick as well – scooping, pouring, transferring, measuring (for older kids) and splashing these will be great activities that your littles will discover themselves once you give them the right tools.

Messy Play_Oobleck.jpg

Cooking prep and help – We often think the kitchen is off limits for kids but when they show an active interest in messy play, the kitchen is where you need them to be. Before you soak dals, rice or any dry ingredient like sabudana they can be played with, older kids can even help with the washing process so their curiosity and need for messy play is met. The 5 minute clean up afterward is well worth how happy and content they are after it. Slowly you can include them in baking prep – have them mixing and beating the ingredients, sifting flour etc.

Designated messy play area – My kids will pick up their choice of messy play for the day (we have a shelf of them or I bring out an item a week) and head to the balcony. That is their designated messy play area, my second who started at 10 months was clear about going to the balcony for this by the time he turned 18 months (I do wish he’d gotten potty trained that well but no such luck).

This will help your clean up later and make sure your couches and house is relatively safe from the mess.

Simple messy play ideas with stuff around your home – chappathi atta is the indian playdoh, it makes for great play, can be made less sticky and is around most of the time. Oobleck – just mix cornflour with water, you can add food colour or cocoa to give it the texture of mud and there you have it oobleck. Oobleck is gooey enough for some great messy play and then it completely dries out so you can wipe it off or falls off so you can broom it up. Flour play – I have used, rice flour, and besan effectively for some cool messy play activities. Add your rajma, black urad, and other dals and your home is the source of all cool and messy stuff for your kids.

Art supplies – give your child any innocuous looking art supply and they will still find a way to make it messy. Chalk has gone into water, crayons have gotten into oil, paints are everywhere. Art is basically the mother of all messy play combined and we love it!

Messy Play_water

The outdoors – This is my absolute favourite part of messy play. Once you take them outdoors your children will find their own nature treasures, from feathers to mud everything is a source of texture, tangible and tactile. Grass in your feet, flowers, leaves, bark, the wind in your hair everything is a beautiful, messy experience. Take your children out and see how it calms them.

What we see as mess has the potential to heal, to calm and soothe your child. When we expect our children to constantly rise up to our expectations, its only fair that we meet them half way. So create space for messy play in your house, get down and play with them for a bit, let them into the kitchen and you’ll see how calming it is for them and how much they learn from this.

This is also the one time you can actually talk to them and they will tell you so many stories because a calm, reflective mind has the greatest imagination.

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