Why is messy play so important?

by Anna Lassman

Top 10 Reasons!

  1. Opportunity to practice and refine fine motor – hand/finger skills
  • Opportunity to use hands, fingers in a different way. Practice various grasp patterns, pinching, poking use of both hands to push or pull, etc.
  1. The great experiment: Learning concepts and characteristics of substances and how we can impact it. Grading motor control: how do I control the way I touch and handle substances?
  • Learning about different textures, consistencies, density of materials while at play. Is it thick/thin, heavy/light, lumpy/smooth, cool/warm?
  • Exploring different ways to handle materials: What happens if I squeeze it hard/ medium/lightly? What happens if I stroke my finger very lightly over the surface? Can I poke a hole into it? What happens if I push a car through it? What happens if I blow on it? How can I find something hidden it?
  1. Desensitization for tactile defensive kids.
  • Various strategies to decrease sensitivities to messy materials: Start with dry/smooth textures and gradually add texture; can use tools to touch wet messy materials, gradually encouraging child to use their hands, etc.
  1. Learning to follow steps or sequences
  • Have child be involved with creating the sensory material; following a recipe or multi-step directions
  1. Practice use of tools and what they can do.
  • Learn to pour, stir, scoop and use other tools (ie- scissors, rolling pins, tongs)
  1. Task orientation.
  • Work behaviors involve preparation, starting, completion and clean up. All aspects of the task are just as important as the actual play- helps with task focus, persistence, transitions. Also provides opportunity for grooming practice (washing hands).
  1. Provides opportunity for cooperative play
  • Working alongside peers while engaged in messy play fosters social skills.
  1. Opportunity to explore creativity with a non-structured activity.
  • It fosters imaginary play.
  1. Opportunity to explore ways to add structure for pre-academics
  • Writing letters in shaving cream, drawing faces and/or geometric shapes or forming them with play dough
  1. IT’S FUN!!!

Anna Lassman has been an OT for 35 years, working in a variety of pediatric settings in New York, California and, for the past 18 yrs, in Pennsylvania. She has been with Easter Seals in the Philadelphia Division as the OT department head for 7 years. She has special interests working with infants and young children with feeding difficulties as well as working with children with neurological impairment. Her favorite aspect of her current job is the ability to mentor new practicing OT’s as they begin their career in the field. Anna loves the ocean and misses easy beach access, but loves the Philadelphia area.

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