The Benefits of Messy Play

This article has been written by Holly at Little Learners Southport

Why messy play is brilliant for babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers … and parents!

One of the many brilliant benefits of messy play for both parents and practitioners is that messy play is very much child led. At Little Learners, we might set up the trays for them, but then it is totally up to the children how they play and explore. This takes some pressure off us, but it also allows them to develop their imagination and gives us an insight into their preferences and how their little minds tick as they play. Some babies love to just slide around in the mess, some like to use their toes and some love to use tools to make marks.

messy play tuff tray idea characters

It doesn’t all have to be wet and messy though! A lot of the dry trays are perfect for exploring early writing and maths opportunities – here’s a little girl exploring capacity, weight and measurement as she pours and scoops coloured oats into bowls with different sized spoons. She doesn’t even realise she’s beginning to explore the world of maths! And another little girl playing with some sorting teddies and looking at colours and sizes. In addition to these skills, they are developing all the usual skills that go along with messy play, such as learning perseverance, developing hand eye coordination and building core strength, fine and gross motor skills.

fine gross motor skills messy play

Mark making is a huge part of your child’s learning journey and one of the outcomes of a prime area of learning – Physical Development – in Early Years Foundation Stage Guidance (birth to 60 months).  When your child starts to make scribbles, patterns and shapes, this is ‘mark making’ – it is the first step towards writing! Your child explores, experiments and expresses themselves through the marks they make. They begin to assign meaning to their marks, which leads to creativity and exploration.

messy play mark making

Exploring different textures and materials and grabbing various apparatus will help your child get ready for writing. Encouraging your child to use their hands, fingers, feet and toes to make marks will strengthen their core muscles and develop their gross and fine motor skills. These skills are vital for holding and controlling a pencil and letter and number formation.  All of this can be done during messy play in a fun, exciting and stimulating way! Our Little Learners messy play classes all set up a variety of trays and activities to help children develop all of these skills.

messy play textures

Children can mark-make in many different ways: pen and paper, painting, ‘messy play’ or even drawing in the sand on the beach. All of these provide opportunities to explore a wide range of tools too such as paintbrushes, chalks, pencils and their bodies. The benefits of mark making are clear. Your child’s fine motor skills will develop and strengthen in preparation for writing.

messy play mark making

It is our view at Little Learners that the more that children have fun mark making and developing their motor skills, the more prepared and confident they will be when it comes to writing at school. In our mark making programme, our four Mark Maker characters represent the four main marks that help to make up all letters, numbers, shapes and patterns: a straight line, curve, circle and a zig-zag. They often pop up in our classes, especially in our trays!

monster tuff tray messy play

Repetition is important in mark making and the more the mark is practiced, the more recognisable the mark will become to the child. The mark making opportunities are appropriate for every type of learner. The way we learn best can be auditory, visual, or kinaesthetic. Little Learners classes, like all good messy play classes, provide resources that are colourful, engaging and eye-catching. We provide a good selection of different textures and surfaces, which are interesting for children to touch and feel. For example, to assist the auditory learner we make sure there is music playing – mark making to the beat!

messy play with paint

Messy play develops and appeals to all of the senses. It is inclusive and accessible to all children, even those with disabilities or sensory issues. As it is child led and there is such a wide selection of wet and dry trays children can choose a ‘messy’ level they are comfortable with. Some children leave us needing a head to toe bath and some simply require a quick baby wipe to the hands. It is all a personal choice and can be enjoyed in many ways.

Why not try some messy play at home? Or if you’d rather leave the tidying up to us, check out a Little Learners class in your area.

Love Holly, Little Learners Southport 


Little Learners

Little Learners is a multi award winning messy play and mark making company with over 30 franchises across the country. We are always looking for the best, most exciting products to use in our classes, which look great and are versatile for the children to make marks in. Mark making is at the heart of our mission and what we focus all of our messy play classes and activities on! We are passionate about messy play for many reasons: it is fun, educational, good for physical development and is a fantastic bonding activity for parents and children too!

messy play resources

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