Messy play is a great way for children and toddlers to express themselves emotionally and creatively. Messy play activities stimulate a child’s senses while teaching them about concepts like gravity and the behaviours of liquid and solid objects.

It can help develop children’s cognitive development, social skills and their communication. And it’s great fun too! In this guide, we look at the benefits of messy play on a child’s learning and development.

What is Messy Play?

Messy play is hands-on activities that help children explore different textures in a fun way. There are many activities that encompass messy play and each involves using different materials (of varying messiness). For example, play dough, finger painting and blowing bubbles are all considered messy play. Children are naturally curious and enjoy being involved in creative activities. Although parents can be hesitant to encourage messy play, when it’s organised (and cleaning materials are to hand) it can help develop a child’s confidence and self-esteem.

Encourages Cognitive Development

Photo of a child painting

Cognitive development is concerned with a child’s thought processes, memory, problem solving ability and decision-making processes. Messy play can help develop all these areas by using fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

Because messy play activities often involve fairly intricate movements, children can develop an awareness of their own physical abilities and learn how to control their movements to manipulate objects. Activities like stacking cups, moulding play dough, drawing with crayons, and pouring liquids enable children to compare textures.

They’ll become aware of concepts like hard, soft, rough and smooth. They’ll also learn how to apply these ideas to their own physical movements and learn when to be gentle and when to apply pressure (for drawing etc.)

Messy play can also help develop non-verbal reasoning and problem-solving skills as they learn to navigate different tasks like stacking, pouring and cutting. Their spatial awareness can also be enhanced as they learn about the concept of distance and personal space.

Enhances Creativity

There’s no right or wrong way to do messy play, in fact, it provides children with the opportunity to explore their creativity without judgement. Messy activities encourage children to use materials in an imaginative way, contrasting colours, textures, shapes and materials.

Because messy play stimulates the senses, what they see, touch, hear, taste and smell will evoke different emotions. This can help children make the link between creativity and feeling. It enables them to express themselves without language.

Personal, Emotional and Social Development

Photo of a child drawing

One of the great things about messy play is that it can be enjoyed as a solo pursuit, or in a group setting. On a personal level, it helps children develop an awareness of their own physical abilities and can help them understand their emotions better.

Even children who have a good vocabulary sometimes find it difficult to express how they feel. Messy activities can help children regulate their emotions and express feelings that can be hard to articulate - like frustration and excitement.

Messy play also teaches children how to play well with others. It can help teach them the concepts of patience and sharing and encourage empathy towards other people. When done as a group activity, messy play is a great way for children to socialise with others of a similar age. By watching how their peers approach the activities, they can learn alternative ways of being creative and expressive. Likewise, it gives them the opportunity to share their thought processes aloud and to hear the thought processes of others.

Improves Communication and Language Skills

Children don’t necessarily need to be able to speak to benefit from messy play. Creative activities encourage non-verbal communication too. Being involved in a shared activity can help children pick up on non-verbal cues like facial expressions, gestures and eye movements. It can help them understand how to negotiate, compromise and take turns without using words.

And of course, messy play can help children learn vocabulary too as they listen to how each texture or movement is being described by the adult, or by other children. Through active questioning, children can learn how to articulate contrasts in textures. For example, asking questions like ‘how does this feel?’ and ‘what colour is this one?’ can encourage children to be mindful of what they’re doing.

For more information on how to get started with messy play, take a look at this short video by Early Years Specialist Claire Russell from Play Hooray:

At Edu Prints Plus, we make inspirational posters for children that are ideal for adding a splash of colour to bedroom walls and classrooms. All of our prints are made using high-quality 350 gsm art card and they have a lovely velvet finish. They also have added surface protection just in case those messy play activities get a little out of hand.

Here are two of our favourite prints from our ‘inspirational’ collection:


And remember, for every four prints you buy, you’ll get the fifth one free - all with free worldwide shipping.

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