“I can’t believe you guys are letting the kids play with sand inside the library!”
“I would never bring snow inside my house to paint with spray bottles!”
“I can’t believe my child played with shaving cream! I would have never thought about letting her try that!”
We hear comments like this a lot. What can we say? We love messes! Not only do we see some great social skills develop in our programs where we provide messy sensory play, but it is a great way to help your kiddo learn. Yes, learn. There is meaning to our madness, and it isn’t just so we can play with water beads (though we do enjoy them)!
There is a lot of research to support the power of play, especially sensory play. The definition of sensory play is a play experience that encourages children to use one or more of the senses – sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, balance, and movement. These sensory experiences help create neural pathways in the brain to assist in future learning so the next time they play, they know what to expect and even find new ways to explore.
As adults we don’t always realize all the things happening in a child’s brain while he happily dumps a bucket of water into dirt and then slaps his hands into the puddle of mud he created. To us, it’s messy and more work! We look at the situation and see an extra bath and more laundry. However…
Your child is experimenting with cause and effect. If he adds water, he creates squishy, wonderful mud! He feels the difference between the dry dirt and the wet mud. He can smell the wet earth versus the dry. He can hear the slurps and suction sounds as he pushes and pulls toys in and out of the mud. He will problem solve to find a solution to get the mud off his hands when he is done, whether it is wiping them on his clothes, the grass, or even asking an adult for help. By playing with others, he also learns about sharing and conflict resolution.
All of this input makes our kids smarter about the world around them and how it works. This enhances their memory, provides new experiences that allows them to better predict outcomes of future experiences, and even builds their vocabulary as they learn new words to describe their experiences. The benefits are endless!
For more information on the power of play, check out this blog post by the American Academy of Pediatrics.