Updated: Mar 10, 2022
When most parents think about messy play, they think urgh, another mess to clean up. Little do they know these sensory experiences hold their weight in gold. Researchers in Play therapy found that children that had experienced emotional and behavioural problems had an affinity towards clay modeling and painting to vent anger.
Another researcher also noted that the greater the child’s emotional difficulties, the wetter the child’s messy play.
It appears that sensory play is a tool that children can use to express, understand and manage their emotions. As a parent, you may wonder how can play-doh, slime, and paint make a difference in your child's healing? Research has found that children receive important sensory feedback, in fact, early childhood research has found that it is how children learn about the world and themselves. Studies have shown that even as adults we learn and retain more information when one or more senses are engaged. Sensory play helps your child's brain development by building important nerve connections in their brain.
Why should parents incorporate messy play into their child's life?
As a Play Therapist, sensory play is a big part of my toolkit. By giving children a big range of different mediums I gain an understanding of their inner world. But how exactly can parents add sensory play at home?
Well, a great opportunity for sensory play often starts with food! Now If you have a child that is a fussy eater and may not like certain foods, sensory play can be a great way to help your child build positive connections with those particular foods. Giving your child the opportunity to touch, smell, and "play" with those foods with no expectation allows your child to develop trust and understanding of the texture that the food has.
When this happens, your child's brain begins forming a positive connection in their brain and eventually shapes the choices your child makes when served this food again. They may become more open to the idea of tasting those foods, thus impacting their behaviour.
Messy or sensory play benefits children by:
being a restoring and calming activity
supporting communication and your child's self-expression
building nerve connections in the brain’s pathways, which leads to your child’s ability to complete more complex learning tasks.
developing containment, attachment, and enhancing memory
increasing confidence, control, mastery, and transformation
offering enrichment and enjoyment
When your child is finished with sensory play, getting them to help clean up is a great learning and bonding opportunity for both parent and child.