Your children loves making a mess. Let them! There are many amazing benefits to sensory play, and we should support it as much as possible to help our child learn and develop.

Do you let your kids get messy? Does it drive you up the wall when they get paint on their clothes or all over their faces? Or do you shrug it off when flour spills all over the countertop and floor? I must admit, I hate it when the kids create a mess. It literally hurts me when I see food smeared all over the table or playdough stuck in the carpet fibers. However, sensory play (or messy play) is how children develop and learn. Therefore, it is important to provide plenty of opportunities for young children to actively use their senses sensory play for their brain development.

What is Sensory Play?

Sensory play is any activity that stimulates children’s senses. This includes the five main senses:

  • Taste – Chemicals from food stimulate the taste buds on your tongue.
  • Touch – Receptor cells in your skin send touch signals to the brain.
  • Smell – Chemicals in the air stimulate the receptors in your nose.
  • Sight – Your eyes translate light into image signals for the brain to interpret.
  • Hearing – Your ears transform sound waves into sound signals.

The two senses that are not often talked about are:

  • Proprioception (Body Awareness) – Specialized nerves in the muscles and joints communicate with your brain about what is happening to the different body parts.
  • Vestibular Processing (Balance) – The vestibular system located in the inner ear is responsible for telling the brain our body movement in space and is crucial for balance, coordination, and motor control.

Every child will respond differently to sensory activities. Therefore, it’s important to encourage your child to try new things and observe how he or she responds to the activity. For example, some children find it perfectly fine to walk on the grass, while others dislike the prickly feeling on their feet.

Trust me, I know how it feels when your blood pressure skyrockets because your child is caked in mud or when he or she is soaked because he or she jumped into a puddle of dirty water. Therefore, let me share some benefits of sensory play that will make you feel good next time things get messy!

Benefits of Sensory Play

1. Sensory Development

Messy play promotes the 5 senses: taste, sight, touch, smell, and sound. We as adults may take our senses for granted, but children are still learning about their own bodies, and they need help to learn how to use their senses. Create activities that stimulate the senses, such as eating food with different tastes (bitter, sour, salty, sweet, and savory), distinct textures (for example, an avocado versus a lemon) and interesting smells. Let your child explore and experiment with his or her senses and discover how they can help him or her make sense of the world.

2. Imagination

You give children a car, and they know to roll it on the floor. You give them a ball, and they throw it or kick it. You give them sand, soapy water, or shaving cream … and what? There are no rules or restrictions to what you can do with messy play. Since messy play is not focused on an end goal, the children can let their imaginations run wild and explore every and any possibility of which they can think.

3. Motor Skills

Depending on the type of sensory play, your child can also work on developing his or her gross motor and/or fine motor skills. Messy play, such as running through and jumping into puddles, requires coordination of large muscle groups in the body, hence enhances gross motor skills. Activities such as pouring sand or water from one cup to another build fine motor skills.

4. Language Development

Sensory play helps your child talk about the world from a whole different perspective. Water is no longer just wet, but also slippery, cold, hot, or bubbly. Flowers are not just different colors, but also soft when you touch the petals, prickly when you touch the thorns, and fragrant when you smell. Help your children describe sensations and textures to build their vocabularies and encourage speech by asking them questions about what they are doing. Sure, your child can learn these vocabularies by reading a book, but it is not only until he or she really experiences it himself or herself that he or she truly understands their meaning.

5. Independence

If your children are like mine, they need mommy’s attention all the time, which means mommy gets nothing done during the day. The only time they would play by themselves is when I bring out sensory activities. Since there is no right or wrong when it comes to messy play, they can play however they want to. They are in total control of what they would like to do with the materials they are given, which also help boost their self-confidence and self-esteem.

Let’s Get Messy!

Children naturally love sensory play, so all we have to do is encourage them and support them with an environment that stimulate their senses. Look for things around the house that make interesting sounds, have different textures, or even smells funny. Go outside with your children and let them learn about their own physical capabilities as well as the natural world around them. Sensory play doesn’t have to be just for children – you can also join in on the fun!

What’s your favorite sensory activity for your child? Let me know in the comment below!