A whopping 49% of parents in South Africa, according to the latest LEGO Play Well report – aren’t quite on board with the muddy, sticky play that most children love. Most parents shudder at the thought of cleaning up all the mess, but I want to give you a few reasons WHY you need to start embracing messy play, in all its glory, and why it is so essential for our children. If you ask me to picture my childhood, it was running around outside in the dusty Botswana sand, barefoot, making forts under trees. It was happy, it was carefree. Life has changed a lot in the last 30 years, and in today’s world, a large majority of children don’t get to play outside like I did. This is one of the reasons messy play is so important.
Messy play incorporates all of the senses and allows children to explore, the benefits of messy play are huge and totally worth the minimal inconvenience.
By using different materials to explore various textures, children get used to different sensations using their hands and fingers or even toes and feet! Some children are more sensitive to different sensations, and messy play is a great way to ease them into new experiences without overwhelming them.
Messy play fosters creativity and imagination, encourages language and communication skills, practices concentration, and promotes physical development. Ive watched my 15 month old daughter play on her own for hours, exploring the concepts of pouring sand out of a container and filling another with water. Watching them mix and create mud, its early science and it is so exciting for them! These are all brilliant occupational therapy skills and are crucial for physical development.
Here are a few ideas for messy play:
1) “Jelly Cubes” – Make these up either with real Jelly or with a Gelatine and food colouring mixture, as I did here (that way there is no added sugar). Cut up the Jelly into ice cube sizes and let your children go wild! Some will mix, some will squish, others may choose to “bake”, whatever they do let them have fun and go wild. It washes out easily 🙂
2) Rainbow Spaghetti – One of the best “first play” ingredients to give to baby – Rainbow spaghetti is colourful, sticky, and tons of fun to play with. The more that ends up in the hair the better 🙂
3) Edible “Beach Sand” – If you don’t live by the coast – bring the coast to you! Place some flour on a baking tray and bake in the oven on low. Mix in a little oil when it’s done and crumble up to resemble beach sand. Place into a large tray with a few utensils like a fork, cup and watch baby feel the sand sensation and play.
4) Edible “mud” – the next best thing if you don’t have access to the real deal – you can do this two ways; either mix up a little chocolate pudding with some water and flour, or you could mix cornflour, water and cocoa powder together. Incorporate some learning into it by setting up a farmyard scene or throwing in some diggers and delight in the squishy sensation!
5) Baby safe slime/ Oobleck – My ultimate “go to” activity if the kids are whiny around dinner time. With just two ingredients, cornflour and water – this is the basis of a lot of our messy play. Let the kids mix and bake away and watch in amazement how this “magical” fluid can turn from a solid into a liquid in seconds!
6) Chickpea foam / Aquafaba – One of the best discoveries I have ever made. Using an electric beater, blend up the brine left over from chickpeas. Add in some colour if you like, but blend up until it forms a meringue like consistency. The kids will love playing with this. If you don’t have any chickpeas on hand you can do the same with a little dishwashing liquid and water, it just won’t be as stiff.
7) Rescuing objects from the Ice – You can do this with anything including toy cars, animal figurines, but we have chosen lego, of course. Place your selected objects into a large container, or choose to freeze them individually into ice cubes. Once frozen place them on a tray and let your children try to “release” them. I give the kids plastic syringes, spray bottles and containers to pour water over the ice to see if they can melt it.
8) Painting with lego – using your lego or duplo blocks, let the kids dip them into some paint and create paintings with the different shapes. Remember with messy play, there is no end goal in mind, so whatever they choose to paint or create, that is up to them! Some children are more structured, and others are completely abstract, let them have fun, explore the different shapes and get messy.
9) Lego and shaving foam – Shaving foam is another essential in our messy play cupboard. With just a few sprays you can turn anything to an adventure. I literally chucked in some Duplo blocks for my 1 year old, adding in some shaving cream and let her explore. I keep a bucket of clean water by her side, so she can cover the blocks and then rinse them again, but it was fun to watch her explore.
10) Create Sensory Worlds – This is fun for slightly older kids. I choose a theme and then we create a world around it with messy play items. Rainbow coloured rice, salt sand or cornflour and water. We then chuck in figurines like fish, or space themed objects and create a world to explore and play in. It incorporates structured learning with messy fun and they love it. Their top 3 worlds have been a crocodile swamp, the lifecycle of a frog with squishy water beads and a space themed tray with black rice and different substances for the planets.
This article was written in partnership with Lego South Africa, for the full article and more detail click here.