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The Importance of Sensory Messy Play in Early Years

Posted: 24th March 2021 | Category: EYFS

The Importance of Sensory Messy Play in Early Years

Everything to do with Touch, Taste, Sound, Sight and Smell 

5 key reasons why ‘Messy Play’ is important and benefits children.

  1. It promotes physical development (especially fine motor skills) 
  2. It encourages language and communication development 
  3. Everything to do with Touch, Taste, Sound, Sight and Smell
  4. It allows children to begin enhancing their concentration skills
  5. It supports the ability to play independently and with others   
  6. It fosters Curiosity, Exploration and Imagination 


When we hear the word ‘messy’ we naturally associate it with being mucky, sticky, and grubby, probably because of the common phrase we are so used to hearing from adults as children: “please don’t make a mess”. It naturally brings many negative connotations and a heart sinking feeling for some people, which can then lead to it being undervalued in play, especially within early years, despite its proven importance for young children’s learning and development.  

Through messy play children are given the opportunity to fully explore materials, both familiar and unfamiliar, whilst also achieving the Characteristics of Effective Learning (COEL), which you will be familiar with through our observations of your child on Tapestry. 

The COELs remind us that play doesn’t have to result in an ‘end product’, instead how it is all about the process and the learning that occurs while the children are exploring the different materials.This allows your child to explore lots of different possibilities and taps into their innate curiosity about the world around them and their desire to explore and find out more. When children experience new things their world is challenged and they take on new information and find they may have more than one view on the same thing, causing cognitive disequilibrium. For example when a child explores cornflower for the first time they see what appears to be a solid surface and reach to take a handful. Initially the cornflower remains solid but it then turns to powder and falls through their fingers, causing them to rethink their understanding of materials. This can be explored again and again in different forms in order for children to have the opportunities to explore different elements of their learning and cognition. 


When your child is engaging in messy play it is a great idea to take a photo or a video of them exploring and playing, so that you can spend time after the activity talking about what they were doing. I find this extremely useful in Kindergarten, as the children are often too engrossed in the activity to talk about what they are doing right at that specific moment. Afterwards, you can add these photos and videos to their Tapestry profile for their teacher’s to add to their learning journal and see what they have been getting up to at home, which can enhance their planning for school as well as build a strong relationship with yourselves and your child. 


Ideas for Home

Remember: you can add anything to them - small world animals to rescue and clean, letters and sounds to find and say, containers to practice pouring and filling, the world is your oyster! 


Top Tips: 

Modelling - you can support your child’s learning through modelling a possible way to explore the materials and equipment. 

Open-ended Questioning and Sustained Shared Thinking - draws children’s attention to the possibilities for exploration without putting them under lots of pressure to answer the question immediately. For example “I wonder why that just happened?” or “What does it sound like?”. Allow there to be silences, your child is processing a lot, give them time to think about the question and their reply (This  is much harder than you think!). 

Time - sometimes children are engrossed in an activity for a prolonged period of time and other days they may not be interested at all. Do not be put off if children don’t engage the first time.

Libby Hyder

Click here to see examples of KG enjoying Messy Play

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