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Do your children like messy play?

If, like mine, yours aren’t all that keen, try the activity below as a way for them to experience paint in an unconventional, yet controlled way. By limiting the amount of mess, I find the more hesitant children are more likely to get involved. Often, once they have begun to participate, they choose to take it further themselves so end up in a messier situation to the one you planned!

But why should we encourage, even seemingly unwilling children, to participate in messy play activities?

For some children, the idea of ‘making a mess’ equates to negative states such as being untidy, disorganised, even dirty. As adults, we use the phrase ‘look at this mess, let’s tidy it up’ or after a meal, ‘let’s clean your messy face.’ To actively and knowingly get into this state, for some children, is bizarre - which is one of the reasons why they might hesitate to join in. However, by not getting involved, they miss out on so many learning opportunities!

I loved watching my son doing this activity today. He began by being very hesitant and unsure of the whole thing – he didn’t want to drop the ball on the table and make a mess, he didn’t want to get the paint on his hands, and he wasn’t sure about the idea of putting paint on his bouncy ball at all! But when he began to explore, and exploration is one of the fundamental ways that young children learn, he noticed the colours mixing. He talked about patterns, lines and used language such as ‘thick’, ‘gloopy’, ‘diagonal’ and ‘zigzag’. He learnt about momentum, gravity and speed – at first he thought he would have to push the ball to make it move, but then he realised he could lift the tray. He experimented with the angle and speed in which he moved the tray; he became obsessed with trying to roll the ball across the paper in such a way that all the white was covered. When he was immersed and invested in the activity, he didn’t worry that the ball sometimes rolled onto the table, or that he occasionally got paint on his fingers. He loved it and is now proudly displaying his artwork to every visitor we have!

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