Toddle About Blog

More Than Just A Mess

During messy play, babies and pre-schoolers are given creative freedom.

During messy play, babies and pre-schoolers are given creative freedom.

By Jo Powell, (BA Hons, PGCE), founder of Arty Splats

Messy Play might look like just a chance to play and get mucky, but it is actually a huge educational opportunity.

Messy play can often conjure up negative images and can be seen as stressful and hard work for adults, both at home and in childcare settings. Looking beyond the mess, it is well documented by education experts, such as Bernadette Duffy, that messy play makes a huge contribution to babies’ and pre-schoolers cognitive and creative development.  Engaging in high quality messy play experiences also helps children’s development towards their Early Learning Goals as set out by the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).

Messy play involves children using all of their senses in the process of exploration in which they use materials to manipulate and mould.  Messy play is unique as it offers all children a chance to explore rich textural experiences regardless of language, age or ability.  There is no right way to engage with the materials on offer so all children can feel part of a group. This type of play benefits all babies and pre-schoolers but is also recommended by professionals such as dieticians to address ‘fussy eating’ and sensory processing issues.  

During messy play, babies and pre-schoolers are given creative freedom. As they explore materials they develop independence, initiative, problem solving, risk taking and confidence – all essential traits for future learning.  High quality messy play experiences provide hands on learning at its very best and this exploration helps to satisfy children’s innate curiosity about the world.

There is no right way to engage with the materials on offer so all children can feel part of a group.

There is no right way to engage with the materials on offer so all children can feel part of a group.

Messy play offers under 5s an opportunity to work on so many areas of their development, at their own pace and in their own way.  Messy play by its nature is excellent for promoting personal, social and emotional development.  This type of play is led by the child and at Arty Splats we see huge advances in children’s confidence, self-esteem and concentration.  This type of play also provides unique opportunities for communication and language development as they develop vocabulary to describe the materials they are engaging with and babies and pre-schoolers have a wonderful opportunity to develop their mark making in engaging and interesting ways.

Messy play can even promote Mathematical Development! In Arty Splats sessions, we use it to provide hands on experiences of measuring, weighing, counting, sorting objects and looking at patterns and shapes.  Messy play provides an excellent opportunity for under 5s to work on their fine motor skills and pincher grip too which are essential for handwriting.  Big ‘active art’ opportunities also provide children with an opportunity to work on their gross motor skills which are also crucial for the development of handwriting.

During messy play babies and pre-schoolers are offered an opportunity to develop their knowledge and understanding of the world as they explore a range of materials and this can spark their curiosity about the world around them. How is gloop solid and then a liquid? What do we have to do to turn solid gloop into a liquid?

Messy play provides an excellent opportunity for under 5s to work on their fine motor skills.

Messy play provides an excellent opportunity for under 5s to work on their fine motor skills.

You can engage your little one in messy play activities at home or in the garden, and your child will always benefit. Remember to plan ahead, have fun – and don’t worry about the mess for once!


Jo Powell (BA Hons, PGCE) is the founder of Arty Splats who provide high quality messy play experiences for little ones in classes and childcare settings across Warwickshire. Find out more at www.artysplats.co.uk.

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