Benefits of Messy Play

young toddler finger paintingby Patricia Hughes

For adults, messy play can be a lot of work and feel stressful. However, there are many benefits to messy play. Early childhood education experts say that play is the work of the child. This is true for all kids, but especially for babies and toddlers. Don’t be afraid of the mess. Roll up your sleeves and enjoy some messy play time with your little one.

 Messy play stimulates the senses. The tactile experience gained during messy play helps little ones experience a variety of textures. During messy play, babies and toddlers are developing eye hand coordination and fine motor skills. What looks like a mess on the surface is truly a learning experience for your child.  
 
Fun and Messy Activities
 
A sand and water table is a great messy activity. In warm weather, this activity is perfect outside. When the weather is chilly, kids can still enjoy water play indoors. A small water table can be put on top of towels and filled with a small amount of water. The table can be filled with just water for younger infants and toddlers, if you are concerned about sand in the eyes.
 
The bathtub is another place for your little one to enjoy playing with water without the mess. Provide some small plastic cups for your child to fill and dump. Babies and toddlers love pouring the water out and then filling the cup again. Fill the cup and hand it to the baby. Soon she will be filling and dumping the water on her own.
 
Finger paint is a great messy activity for older babies and toddlers. This can be done in the high chair to make clean up easier. Cover the tray with paper and put a small amount of finger paint in the middle. Let the baby have fun smooshing and spreading the paint around. Some parents do this activity when the baby is in a diaper just before bath time.
 
You can make painting more fun by providing tools for your little one to use to spread the paint. Craft sticks, large pieces of sponge and big chunky paint brushes are easy for babies to manipulate. They get to experience a variety of different textures when they are using tools in painting.
 
If you are concerned about your baby eating the paint and don’t want to use commercial finger paints, you can make edible paint at home with a few simple ingredients. You won’t have to worry about your little one sampling the paint when it is made from food items. Saving the artwork is a bit trickier, but you can take pictures with your digital camera to preserve the moment.
 
Paint can be made with instant vanilla pudding and food color. Make the pudding according to the directions on the package and add a bit of food coloring. Another easy edible paint recipe uses instant Jell-O and water. Let it cool for a few minutes and then give it to your baby. These recipes can be used on finger paint paper or directly on the tray.
 
Play dough is another fun activity that has benefits for small motor skills and eye hand coordination. You can make edible play dough at home, just as with finger paints. You can find a ton of recipes online by searching for “edible play dough recipes”. One very simple recipe uses two parts oatmeal to one part each of water and flour. Mix the ingredients together to form the dough. Let your baby have fun squeezing and squishing the play dough in his high chair.

Parents are often hesitant to engage in messy play with their little ones. The mess and time needed to clean up are a big part of the reason. By making time for messy play before bath time, you can allow your child time to enjoy the mess without making additional work for mommy. Keeping messy activities in the high chair is another way to help reduce clean up time.

Biography
Patricia Hughes is a freelance writer and mother of four. Patricia has a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Florida Atlantic University. She has written extensively on pregnancy, childbirth, parenting and breastfeeding. In addition, she has written about home décor and travel.

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