For some parents anxiety quickly rises when paint, play clay and sand are part of a child’s play. Sadly, messy play is something a lot of parents don’t allow. What we play therapists know is that getting messy is an essential part of children’s healthy development. Splashing in rain puddles, playing in the mud or getting covered in sand at the beach are likely some of the best times in a child’s life if allowed to have them. As a play therapist, some of my most rewarding experiences have been seeing children engage in messy play in my play room. 

Here are 5 reasons you should try to just breathe and allow for messy play:

  1. Messy play allows children to learn about the world by actually experiencing. Think about it. Playing in the snow is going to give your child the experience of knowing what it’s like to make a snow ball, build a snow man, create snow angels far better than seeing a show or reading a book about snow. Tactile, kinesthetic experiences can be the most effective way for children to explore the world they live in.
  2. Messy play stimulates sensory development. Messy play engages all of the senses. Your child will have the chance to feel the sensation of  their little hands sliding through the finger paint, the stickiness of the glue on their finger tips, the smell of the play clay, the scratchy sounds of sand moving in the bottom of the bin or box. When children are able to engage all of their senses it helps healthy brain development to take place.
  3. Messy play lends to creative expression. When children are permitted (and encouraged!) to engage in messy play they have the freedom to express their feelings, ideas, and thoughts through building and creating imaginary worlds through a variety of materials such as paint, glue, play clay, water and sand. Creative expression is such an important part of childhood development enhancing their sense of intrinsic worth by experiencing first hand what it is to be able to freely create something using materials.
  4. Messy play allows for healthy motor movement. It’s healthy for children to freely move their bodies  when they are playing whether it’s picking up tiny sea shells or jumping up and down in a big rain puddle. When children are able to move in big and small ways while expressing and exploring they are developing connections between their playful activity and new concepts about the world around them.
  5. Messy play gives children an experience of freedom. In today’s society where children tend to have highly structured school schedules and often loads of extra-curricular activities, children NEED free play. They NEED to have some experience of freedom to move, freedom to chose, freedom to express. Messy play allows for that.

If all of this still does not convince you to loosen up and allow for free messy play, you may find compromise by laying down a plastic tarp or creating an outdoor area for messy play that you can easily hose down afterward. You can always clothe your child in an over-sized old T-shirt and old pants and rubber rain boots or water shoes. And remember, children are washable! If it’s a hot day, getting hosed off after messy play can be added fun and there’s always the shower inside!