Messy Play! The Benefits & Ideas for Parents

To mess about is to play with something, it is through play – which is part of the creative process (Duffy, 1998) – that children learn and develop. Children are being creative when they use materials in new ways, combine previously unconnected materials and make discoveries that are new to them, and messy play enables children to do all these things.

This sort of play is important because its lack of a focus on making or producing something that leaves the child free to explore all sorts of possibilities. It taps into children’s curiosity about the world around them and their strong desire to explore and find out more.

Benefits of Messy Play

Cognitive Development: The creative process is characterised by risk taking, trying things out and experimenting. It offers all children a way to become involved and get to know other children. As this sort of play does not rely on words, children can join in and use the materials with their peers. There is no ‘right’ way to play with cornflour dough and children are able to use these open-ended materials in their own way as part of the group.

Children will gain so much more from the experience if we engage in the process with them. We need to learn from and with the children as they engage in messy play.

Messy Play supports all areas of development…

Children can develop concentration, problem-solving, planning and seeing things through to completion. Messy play develops the fine motor skills needed for writing, for example, hand-eye coordination. Children can observe, select and manipulate objects and materials and identify simple features, similarities and differences, using all of the senses as appropriate.

Messy Play Ideas

Cornflour Clay

1 Cup of Cornflour, 2 Cups of Salt, 3 Cups of Cold Water

Put salt and 2 cups of water in a saucepan and bring it to the boil. Mix the rest of the cornflour and remaining water in a separate bowl and stir well. Blend the two mixtures and knead into clay. Mould the clay into shapes and once hard, these can be painted.

Moon Sand

2 Cups of Sand, 1 Cup of Cornflour, 1 Cup of Water

Put all of the above into a pan and heat on the stove. Stir until it thickens. Once cool you can mould it into shapes.

Washable Finger Paints

1 Cup of Flour, 4 Cups of Cold Water, Food Colouring

In a large saucepan mix flour and 1 Cup of Cold Water. Stir until smooth. Add 3 Cups of Water and cook over a medium heat until it thickens and bubbles. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add food colour, cover and cool.

Puffy Paint

Self Raising Flour, Salt, Water, Food Colouring, Thick Paper or Card

Mix one tablespoon of flour with 1 tablespoon of salt. Add the food colouring and some water to make a gloop. Paint onto card and microwave for 10-30 seconds. The mix will rise then harden when cooled down.

Rainbow Foam Dough

Cornflour, Food Colourings, Shaving Roam, 5/6 Pots

Fill the pots 3/4 full and add a little food colouring to each pot and gently mix. Add cornflour a little at a time to the pots and mix. The more cornflour you add, the drier the dough becomes. You can make the mix as fluffy or dough-like as you want.

Frozen Dinosaur Eggs

Balloons, Water, Dinosaur Figures, Glitter, Food Colouring

Simply pop one dinosaur inside each balloon then carefully fill the balloon with water and tie. Pop them in the freezer drawer, taking care not to squash them out of shape against anything so that they retain their egg shapes. Waiting until they’re completely solid, then remove from the freezer and the balloon will peel away easily.

Edible Mud Play

3 Cups of Cornflour, Water, 1 Cup of Cocoa Powder 1 Cup of Sugar

Mix ingredients together to make the mud. Add cooked spaghetti or noodles for worms. Add bugs and insects. You could add diggers and large pebbles/stones/shells.

Jelly Playdough

1 Cup of Plain Flour, 1 Tbsp Oil, 1 Cup Warm Water, 1/2 Cup Salt, 2 tsp Cream of Tartar, 85g Packet Jelly Crystals

Pour all dry ingredients, flour, salt and cream of tartar in a saucepan. Add 85g packet to warm water and stir until mostly dissolved. Add jelly water and oil to dry ingredients. I use a whisk before heating as I find this helps remove lumps and blends the ingredients well. Cook over medium heat constantly stirring until it becomes a thick blob. The turn out onto a clean surface and knead into a smooth ball. Be careful, the playdough will be very hot! Use a little bit of flour if the playdough is sticky.

Bubble Wrap Painting

Large Wooden Blocks, Bubble Wrap, Paint, Large Pieces of Paper/Wallpaper

Attach bubble wrap to blocks to use as large stampers on the paper. You could wrap bubble wrap around the children’s hands or feet to paint.

Other Ideas

Jelly Play (made up and not in cubes), Shaving Foam and Glitter, Water Play, Wet Sand Play, Coloured Sand, Cooked Coloured Pasta, Sand and Shaving Foam, Porridge Oats, Clay, Mod Roc, Paper Mache, Wet Compost, Custard, Glue Made with Flour & Water, Welly Boot Printing, Balloons Filled with Sand for Printing.

Things to Add to Mixtures

Herbs, Food Colourings and Essences, Glitter, Sand, Powder Paint, Jelly Crystals, Cocoa, Custard Powder, PVA Glue, Bubble Mix, Ice, Tea.

Other Websites for Great Messy Play Ideas

Beki Moor

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