You may ask why it is so good for your kiddos to engage in some really gloppy, messy play. Here are a few reasons, developmentally, why messy play is such a great tool to get your kids to learn and have fun:
Cognition: It takes some problem solving “muscle” to figure out things like: Will this goop run off the table and onto the floor, how hard can I squeeze this, what happens when I lift my hands and pour and how can I make it change colors? Building cognitive skills involved with sorting, classifying (soft, mushy, squishy), matching and identifying colors is very easily achieved with some slimy goo. (Think homemade playdoh, or also homemade goo/slime).
Social and Emotional: Through sensory play, children can learn to establish confidence in making choices (how much mud do I need for a mud pie?). When paired with other children, they learn to negotiate problems together (how can we make a fort for the dinosaurs?) and deal with frustration (squeezing, pounding and pulling are ways to appropriately express feelings when monitored by peers and adults). Kids feel proud when they can try and predict how the messiness is going to turn out (will it run off the table or stick to our fingers?).
Fine Motor: All that pinching, pulling, pouring, stirring and shaking is of great benefit to fine intrinsic muscles in the hands. Heavy work is also necessary with more resistive substance such as play-doh. Kids have to use their stabilizing muscles (in shoulders and trunk) to help keep movements accurate and coordinated.
Language: It’ fun to think of new words to describe the materials. We like when kids use sing-songy words to name the media they are working with such as ooshy, bubbly, sticky, stringy, squidgy etc.
Creativity: With messy play, it’s fun because it’s more about the process than the product. It’s all about getting gushy and less about creating a masterpiece. Thus, all kids can participate and have fun without the stress of making something perfectly.
For all you parents who are thinking, “My kid would never touch that stuff,” fear not! There are many different materials to choose from. Everything from dried rice and beans to styrofoam peanuts to homemade goo are fair game. Remember to keep your own fears in check. If you don't like touching certain textures, try not to show that in front of your child. Tactile exploration of icky materials is great for your child in lots of different ways. You may even find that textures you once disliked are not as bad as you once thought.
Check out the book The Ultimate Book of Kid Concoctions by John E. Thomas. There are lots of fun, easy and sometimes even edible creations!
Enjoy the mess!