Why Messy Play is Important

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Why Messy play is important

From high chairs to dirt castles, childhood is a messy business. And we, the ever so diligent parents, are right there with the towelettes and spill-proof cups. We are constantly coming up with ways to prevent messes and sanitize our kids. Here’s a secret many parents may not know, though: Messy play is actually an important part of a child’s development.

We’ve talked about organization and the importance of toy shelves, but now let’s talk about getting messy!

Messy eating can boost a child’s brain power

Let’s start at the high chair, shall we? Letting your child get messy while they eat is important for several reasons.

Baby gettin messy while eating.
Messy baby.

First off, a child who’s allowed to feed himself and make a mess without reprimand is engaging in some their very first sensory play. At the age a baby is learning how to feed themselves, they are also prone to putting everything else in their mouths, as well. This makes messy mealtimes some of the only sensory play babies get at this age.

As we know, sensory play is vital for a child’s developing brain. When a child is running their fingers through the yogurt that has spilled on their tray or smashing a ripe slice of a strawberry, neural pathways in the brain are being built and strengthened.

Along with boosting your baby’s brain power, being allowed to get messy at meal time fosters positive attitudes about food and can even prevent tactile defensiveness; that is, your child may be less likely to meltdown in toddlerhood when their hands get a little messy or when they are offered saucy foods.

So, don’t go wiping their hands and faces while they are still enjoying their meal!

18 month old transferring beans by hand. Messy, sensory play.
Bean transferring.

Let them have fun, fill their bellies, and boost their intelligence!

Loose parts are an important mess

Let’s address the next awesome mess! Loose parts!

So, what is a “loose part”? Dr. Scott (From Dinosaur Train) referenced a Wired article in one of his books, wherein the 5 best toys are listed as:

  1. A stick
  2. A box
  3. String
  4. Cardboard tube
  5. Dirt

These are just some examples of loose parts. Amazing examples, and I say that because I love the idea that kids can learn for free. Our modern society was built on the shoulders of men and women who only had rocks, sticks, and dirt to play with.

Kids have been building and crafting since the beginning of mankind, without iPads and Leapfrogs.

Now, our craft bin isn’t as organized as some people’s (and this is just the organized part of it), but it’s got a ton of random stuff in it. And I make sure to add more to it to keep my kids using their natural creativity.

In fact, when I’m cleaning the house, I make sure to throw toilet paper rolls, string, cardboard, and any other random item I can find in there.

Crafting bin.

Why? Because I have found that my 4.5 year old enjoys figuring out what can be put/tied/taped together to make something else. It can be a bit messy at times, but over the years I’ve come to enjoy her “doorknob decorations”, “presents”, and all the other wonderful things she comes up with these loose parts.

Playing in the dirt is the best kind of messy play

Now for the third, and final, type of messy play I want to talk about. (Which includes plenty of loose parts and a little bit of eating!)

Dirty play. (Clean your minds!) I’m talking about letting your kid play in the dirt, letting them loose in your yard to make their own discoveries and get dirty in the process.

Playing in the dirt, barefoot, and even giving the dirt a little taste, has been proven to be beneficial to your child. It not only helps their development, but it can actually benefit their health, as well!

In fact, soil, unless contaminated with chemicals or feces, is a pretty dang healthy snack!

According to Joshua A. Krisch, at Fatherly.com:

“…a healthy serving of untreated dirt can contain more than one billion bacterial cells per gram—just the sort of microbial boost that every healthy child needs to train their immune systems to respond to real threats.”

Young toddler engaging in messy play in the garden.
Young toddler, getting messy in a plater garden.

Letting your children go barefoot and get messy outside can boost their immune systems. But consider how much less stress a child goes through when mommy or daddy just open the door to the back yard and say, “Have fun!”, instead of, “Watch out for that puddle over there, and here are some sani-wipes for when your hands get dirty! Don’t touch that, it’s dirty!”

Most of us have been there: There is a little kids playing at the playground, dirty hands and face. We think to ourselves, “Maybe his mom needs some wet-wipes, I’ll offer her some.” But what if that mom is onto something? What if she knows something we don’t?

The takeaway from this article is to relax and let your kids have fun, even if it’s messy fun. And back away…let them make their own discoveries in the yogurt, beads, and dirt; whatever the situation may be. They are learning, trust me.

Trust your children and trust the experts!

Cheers and don’t forget to subscribe!

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