Early Learning

Mayhem and Messy Play: Messy Play Contributes to Children’s Learning and Development

Although it sounds terrible to parents and caregivers, messy play contributes to children’s learning and development. It’s a sensory delight for kids and one of the joys of childhood. If play is the brain’s favorite way to learn, messy play is kids favorite way to explore both themselves and the world around them. For this month, blog posts will explore Mayhem and Messy Play.messy play development learning

What is Messy Play?

We certainly know what it looks like, but what is messy play? Messy play is an interaction between a child and materials that stimulates one or more senses. It is a hands-on, and sometimes other parts of the body too, immersion into an activity. Kids are making new discoveries about themselves and the world and the result is often a mess. Hence the name: messy play.

Why is Messy Play So Fun?

To begin with, messy play is not something kids have to do right. There is no right or wrong. Kids are free to interact in an endless number of ways.

Kids are not constrained by having to create a product or get a particular result. What they do get is an opportunity to enjoy and discover.

Messy play contributes to children’s learning and development by engaging the senses and the body. Kids might be feeling the texture of dirt or soapy foam, from head to toe. They could be smelling a magic potion made with spices or watching a baking-soda and vinegar volcano. Finding out what kinds of sound they can make banging on pots, pans, cans, and containers, kids are using the sense of hearing. As for taste, cooking is certainly messy, but the play does have to follow directions.

Kids are directing the play and are much more in control of the timetable. They can start and stop as they choose or, perhaps, respond by taking a break and returning later.

An activity may be repeated several times, but messy play isn’t always the same. That’s part of the appeal, what happens could be quite different each time.

Why is Messy Play So Important?

Messy play contributes to children’s learning and development in a variety of ways. Besides the sensory aspect, kids are problem-solving, organizing, linking cause and effect, exercising muscles, developing coordination and motor skills, observing, predicting, and more. They are gathering information about themselves and the world around them. Curiosity asks questions and messy play can reveal answers.

Messy Play and Memories

Why does messy play have such a negative reputation? Yes, after making a mess we have to clean up but, in the meantime, we’ve had all the fun of making it. Memories of great messy play activities as kids often stay with us for a lifetime.

Can You Come Play?

Come back to play every day this month for messy play ideas. Is there an opportunity for some messy play for your child today?


Parent Wishes #17: Young Children Need Daily Living Skills

Young children need daily living skills; no wonder it’s one parent’s wish for supporting toddlers and preschoolers at home and in early care programs. Coping with daily living isn’t part of IQ (intelligence) but it is part of EQ, emotional intelligence. Feeling capable and confident beats anything else for feeling happy. For kids and adults. Is there any doubt about this child’s joy at making a loaf of bread?


Besides the word No, kids have two other favorities which they say as soon and as often as they can, “I do!” Kids want and need to be able to do things for themselves. How much they do depends on their age and their own personalities, but they like to try.

Cooking with kids is an activity we can do to help kids learn some basic food preparation skills. Using a plastic picnic knife, kids can practice slicing something soft like a banana. Stirring, pouring, and mixing are other kid-friendly actions. Kids can also help wash dishes, unload the dishwasher, set the table, and put away the groceries.

There are some chores kids can do in the rest of the house, like returning clean laundry to the appropriate rooms, wipe off fingerprints with a damp rag, straighten the shoes, and even vacuum. Picking up toys doesn’t seem to have the same appeal because it’s not part of the grown-up world. Sometimes it helps to call it by a different name, like tidying a room. Young children need daily living skills like cleaning and we hope they remember when they are teenagers. communication activities for kids

Outside, little hands like to dig in the dirt, pull weeds, sweep the driveway, and when fall comes, rake the leaves. Water and soap turn washing anything, like cars, decks, tools, and deck furniture into play.

While getting groceries with kids takes more time than just doing it ourselves, and we’re not likely to have a temper tantrum when we bypass the treats aisle, when we have kids along, they have sharp eyes and memories for noticing usual items. They will remind us to take the bottles and cans to the recyclers and help sort out the kinds.

Self-care includes a range of essential skills. While most kids soon learn how to brush teeth, wash hands, get dressed, and take care of  bathroom needs, they require some coaching for choosing healthy foods, and getting enough sleep. Being without parents and caregivers for stretches of time is a challenge for some children. Kids also need to know how to ask adults for help when they need it, and what to do in scary and uncomfortable situations. In many parts of the world, we also include knowing what to do in emergencies, like dial 911 or 999, how to get out of the house in case of fire, and duck and cover during emergencies.

young children need daily living skills

There are so many things for kids to learn. Young children need daily living skills along with social and emotional ones, thinking strategies, physical coordination, language and communication and more. Thankfully, Mother Nature must have looked at this whole package and realized it was quite a burden for our most vulnerable. To make up for it, the brain’s favorite way to learn is to PLAY. The bottom line for helping kids is to make sure they have opportunities and space to play. Could some daily living skills, along with the rest, be part of your child’s day?


Parent Wishes #16: Supporting Social-Emotional Development in Young Children

More support for learning challenges is one parent’s wish and that includes supporting social-emotional development in young children at home and school. School could mean daycare, play groups, preschool, and kindergarten.

rough and tumble play

It’s hard to separate social—dealing with others, and emotional—coping with feelings, because they are so linked. More and more, research is showing us that social and emotional skills and strategies affect how well children cope in school. One of the best resources for kids as they learn basic social skills is play. As children interact with others they practice sharing, taking turns, waiting, and solving differences and playing without hurting. Kids build relationships and figure out how to care for other people.

When figuring out emotions, it is really helpful for adults to name emotions for kids. When we see a child is happy, we can say, “I see you are happy. Your face is smiling.” Doing the same thing for feeling sad, scared, anxious, angry, and frustrated, links the word and the emotion. That way kids can tell us what they are feeling. Having the words for emotions is key to understanding them and to expressing them. As children play, they will explore these emotions. During imaginative play, they may pretend they are frightened or brave, angry or upset, excited and silly.

super-hero play

Besides play, explaining our behavior gives clues about social interactions and feelings. Children will learn by watching and imitating the adults around them.

Two playful activities for supporting social-emotional development in young children are to make faces. Kids enjoy making different expressions in a mirror and showing them to us. What does your happiest face look like? How about your saddest? This helps for learning to read faces. Sing “If You’re Happy and You Know It” and add verses  for other feelings. What action would you do for “If you’re sad and you know it?” or “if you’re scared and you know it?”soecial-emotional-development

Are there some play activities your child might do today for social and emotional development?


Parent Wishes #15: Supporting Cognitive or Thinking Skills for Young Children

When asking parents if they had one wish for kids at school or daycare, one mom wished for more ways of supporting cognitive or thinking skills. Parents want what’s best for their children, phsically and mentally. An earlier post talked about some ideas to promote physical development. This post looks at how to encourage mental … Continue reading Parent Wishes #15: Supporting Cognitive or Thinking Skills for Young Children

Parent Wishes #14: Communication Skills Support and Sign Language for Young Children

What are some ways to give communication skills support? One parent wanted more support for kids with learning and developmental concerns in programs like preschool and kindergarten and daycares. She suggested sign language. Following are other ideas too shared from an earlier post.  Read and share books. This is one of the easiest to do. … Continue reading Parent Wishes #14: Communication Skills Support and Sign Language for Young Children

Parent Wishes #12: More support for kids experiencing learning or developmental delays

More support for kids experiencing learning or developmental delays was one parent’s wish for early childhood programs, especially before school entry. Waiting until kids arrive in grade one misses such a critical time of development. We know that children are all unique and learn and develop at their own rate, in their own ways, and … Continue reading Parent Wishes #12: More support for kids experiencing learning or developmental delays

On the March: Kids’ Goal-setting Skills and Ways to Support Learning Them

March seems appropriate for a post on kids’ goal-setting skills because marching is steady and purposeful. Developing these skills is child’s play. Babies, toddlers, and young kids are strongly motivated—for some things that is. A baby will struggle to find a way out of a crib, and a toddler or older child will stack blocks, … Continue reading On the March: Kids’ Goal-setting Skills and Ways to Support Learning Them

Being Silly for Children’s Fun and Learning – Mad as a March Hare

Being silly for children’s fun and learning is written in the calendar. The expression to be “mad as a March hare” means to be crazy, and it is March. Children laugh far more times a day than adults do. Being serious is important, but laughter can help all of us cope with life’s stresses. Silly … Continue reading Being Silly for Children’s Fun and Learning – Mad as a March Hare

How to Steal a March #15: Helping Kids Ask Questions

Helping kids ask questions will give them an advantage. Thomas Berger said, “The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.” Despite the astonishing number of questions kids ask a day–some estimates are more than 300–asking questions is really quite complicated. Brains have to organize the correct order of words, change … Continue reading How to Steal a March #15: Helping Kids Ask Questions