4 Benefits of Messy Play

Image via Katie Hurley
Image via Katie Hurley

Some might say that messy play is a theme in my house. Others might say that cleaning isn't my strength. I recently saw an image on Facebook that really spoke to me; it was captioned, “My house is clean, it’s just your eyes that are dirty.” 

Life can be fairly scripted, even for young children. While learning to follow multi-step directions is important, and directed artwork can also be a lot of fun, kids need to have the freedom to express themselves.

All joking aside, I do encourage messy play as much as possible. While I know that the cleanup will be a process, there is so much to be gained from getting messy.

Messy play offers many opportunities for learning, and learning while doing (and, more importantly, playing) is always fun for kids. So go ahead and look the other way when your house starts to look like mine, and focus on your smiling kids instead.

4 Benefits of messy play:

Image via Flickr/suzettesuzette
Image via Flickr/suzettesuzette

Improves physical development:

While messy play certainly is a lot of fun, it also helps build some important skills. When kids engage in messy play, they work on fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. 

Cutting Play Doh, writing with shaving cream, moving pom-poms from one bowl of water to another using salad tongs…the possibilities are endless (and provide endless fun).

Image via Flickr/FreeLearningLife
Image via Flickr/FreeLearningLife

Increases emotional development:

Messy play helps kids communicate their feelings. Children are more likely to verbalize their feelings when they are relaxed, and working with materials like mud, clay, and Play Doh can be very relaxing. 

Messy play also provides an opportunity for children to demonstrate their feelings through play. Throwing mud against a concrete patio can be a very powerful expression of anger, while using food dye to color glasses of water can lead to discussions about the different colors of feelings.  

Image via Flickr/woodlywonderworks
Image via Flickr/woodlywonderworks

Increases problem-solving skills:

Sometimes, young children get stuck in what they think they need to do—they want things to be correct. Projects and games with specific instructions offer children the opportunity to work on following directions and completing specific tasks.

But life isn't black and white. Sometimes we need to problem-solve if we want to get through those grey areas. Giving kids a table full of messy-play items and asking them to create something forces them to think outside the box. If they want to build, they have to consider which items will stand tall. They need to use critical thinking skills while engaging in a fun, open-ended project. Now that’s fun.

Image via Flickr/Miss Messie
Image via Flickr/Miss Messie

Increases independence:

Kids are more likely to tackle independent tasks when they feel confident. Kids feel confident when they are given plenty of opportunities to showcase their own ideas, thoughts, and creations. Although parents might cringe when messy-play materials end up on the floors, messy play is a time where parents can sit back and let the kids take the driver’s seat.

These small acts of independence add up over time and increase a child’s self-esteem and sense of responsibility. That’s a win/win. 

What are your kid's favorite ‘messy play' activities? 


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4 Benefits of Messy Play

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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  1. Jennifer says:

    We do lots of messy things at home. We finger-paint, paint with water colors on an old area rug in my daughter’s play room, play with the water table in the living room when it’s too hot/cold outside, or my daughter will play with just about anything in the kitchen sink while I make dinner and keep an eye on her :). I just put blankets down for the water and a trash bag underneath to prevent too much water getting through. I’m pretty laid back about messes on the carpet because I know I’m replacing them all in a few years anyway. Our motto is “if life isn’t messy… you’re not doing it right”! 🙂

  2. Nat says:

    I love doing messy play with my kids but unfortunately we rent and I am always scared of that big oops that’s gong to cost us money so i really dial it back, I am hoping someday soon to buy and then i hope I will feel less stress about making a mess!

  3. Destiny says:

    I completely agree with this. with that being said, messy play is limited in my house and usually just outside when its warm. As a child growing up I was never aloud to have to have play doh but I spent a lot of time in the mud.


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