I’m sure you will have seen ‘messy play’ sessions advertised by local toddler groups. Apart from ruining lovely outfits what is it that your child will get from messy/sensory play? What do they learn?

I have spent the past 10 years working as a Nursery Teacher and then as a Family Worker in-between having my own brood. I have studied and observed childhood development and it continues to fascinate me. There is something quite amazing about watching something click or a light bulb moment. You can almost see the cogs working.

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As soon as a baby is born they begin to learn about the world using their senses. In terms of early development think about which senses are being used right in the very beginning. Experts advise skin to skin contact as soon as baby is born (touch). They recommend to breastfeed your baby as soon as you are able (taste and smell). Babies start to be able to hear sound in the 18th week of pregnancy so by the time they’re born they will recognise your voice or a familiar song. A baby’s eye sight is programmed for eye contact with them only being able to initially focus from boob to eye distance. The evidence that they use their senses early on is all there.

Without getting too technical, the more senses a child has engaged the more they learn and the more concrete the information they are processing becomes. Research shows that this helps a child to be able to complete more complex learning tasks.

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As soon as a baby develops the coordination to bring their hand to their mouth they constantly have either their fingers or objects in their mouth. This is a very simple example of how they will naturally engage their senses. Taste is initially one of the strongest senses.

As children grow, sensory play provides the opportunity for so much more learning than just exploring. Think about the amount of language that they could be exposed to when talking about how something feels, tastes, looks etc. We know that the more we talk to our children the better and quicker their language develops.The benefits of messy play 3

A child’s ability to problem solve is supported with sensory play as there is no right or wrong way to do it. The best way of explaining this is to use a shape sorter as an example. There is one purpose to this toy, to fit the correct shapes in the correct holes. This itself is problem solving and I believe there is still a place for these types of toy however it doesn’t support a child’s natural curiosity to explore. When children are given objects to play with that don’t have a ‘purpose’ their exploratory nature really comes into play. What happens if I put this in there? Does this fit in here? What sound does this make? You can watch this process when a baby bangs two objects together then repeats the process when they realise the outcome. I was watching Reggie play with one of the girls’ bracelet the other day. He shook it, pulled it,banged it on the floor, tried to pull one of the beads off using his fingers and he gave it a taste.

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I won’t go too much into fine and gross motor skills but both play a huge part in your child’s ability to write later on. You wouldn’t think learning to do the monkey bars would help their writing but it does. The big movements are just as important as the small ones.

Sensory play can be FANTASTIC for children with additional needs, but can also really help with a child who is anxious. What calms you? Whether it be a hot bath, calming music or a massage; these are all a types of sensory experience.

There are sensory experiences to be had in everything you do. So, roll your sleeves up and get stuck in. Watch that little brain work things out.