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But why should children have messy play?

Why children should have messy playChildren fully immerse themselves in whatever they are doing and teach us what it is to live in the moment.

The more they immerse themselves, the more neural pathways in the brain are made. This is researched fact. The more neural pathways, the better the adaptive response. Another researched fact.

So why is mess important in this context?

Mess is essentially new textures. The more textures that a child learns about, the better their fine motor skills, which is the coordination and use of the smaller muscles of the hand and feet. Messy play allows the brain to explore through the skin so that it can move through or integrate the reflexes and make discriminatory or defensive decisions about what the skin is feeling.

I hope parents have the confidence to do this type of play at home.

For the moment, lets just focus on the hand. The hand initially is designed for survival. This is why the hand closes when something touches it. At this moment in time, the brain lacks the information about whether the touch is a friend or foe. It is only through real experiences that the hand starts developing the knowledge of what is good and safe to touch and what is not.

The repeated exploration also allows for more complex neural pathways by pushing the boundaries of touch again to what is still comfortable and what is not.

For the most adaptive fine motor skills, much exploration is needed. And the best time, like with the introduction of solid food, is when the child is young and the brain is craving more information to make adaptive decisions. This is when you can introduce all sorts of textures, temperatures, thicknesses and shapes to a child’s playing.

A good example of pathways is when you can put your hand into your object-filled pocket and determine by feel alone what you are looking for. This does not happen by chance. The hand must have experiences that allow for this touch discriminative knowledge to develop.

The feet too benefit from messy play. Young feet need to explore textures, temperature and surfaces so that they too can make appropriate adaptive responses. Limiting feet messy exposure can lead to difficulties for example with tolerance of socks and shoes or walking on slippery or sandy surfaces.

Children who have difficulty with touching and playing in mess are seen often by myself professionally as their handwriting, and fine motor skills in general, are poor. Therapy then goes back to early play and yes it’s messy play including mediums such as:

  • play dough
  • shaving cream
  • rice
  • sand
  • goo
  • biscuit making
  • cooking in general
  • string
  • noodles (wet and dry)
  • water
  • water with bubbles
  • lycra
  • flour
  • oats
  • natural hand creams
  • jelly
  • coconut oil
  • satin
  • tin foil
  • chalk (wet and dry)

The list is only limited to your imagination.

Give your baby a great start. Please give them mess!

About Yvonne Wink

Yvonne Wink is an occupational therapist (Bachelor of Applied Science in Occupational Therapy) who aims to add another set of skills to the team around a child. This involves working closely with parents and ...

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