‘Messy play? No thanks!’ say 49% of parents in latest study

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Report reveals interesting facts about South African parents who don't like to get messy, and why it's important that this needs to change
Report reveals interesting facts about South African parents who don't like to get messy, and why it's important that this needs to change
  • 49% of parents in South Africa aren't on board with messy play
  • 69% of parents globally prefer playtime that keeps their children clean
  • Between 9 and 10 children revealed that their parents tell them to tidy up while playing

Getting their hands dirty during play isn't just super fun for kids – there's also plenty of research to show that it can actually help them develop all the important skills that every parent hopes to nurture in their children. 

However, while all moms and dads recognise the value of play, many of them – about 49% in South Africa, according to the latest LEGO Play Well report – aren’t quite on board with the muddy, sticky, gooey sort of play that kids tend to love.

That isn't just a hang-up among South African parents, either – 67% of parents globally feel better about playtime that keeps kids (and everything they touch) clean and tidy. Of course, kids aren't too pleased about that with 9 in 10 saying their parents tell them to tidy up while playing.

That being said, most parents (90%) know that kids will be kids, and getting messy is a normal part of childhood. 

So how can parents overcome the fear of mess from getting in the way of quality playtime with their children?

Engaging the five senses

"Children learn about their environment and their bodies through their senses," says occupational therapist Carryn Martin, who specialises in sensory integration and child development. "When engaging their senses, new neural pathways are formed in their brain, and pathways already established are strengthened. This is when learning occurs."

"These developmental skills could include fine motor, bilateral coordination, motor planning, speech and language and gross motor skills," says Martin. 

Did you know – children rely on their senses to explore and understand the world around them between birth and the age of two?

Using their ears, eyes, noses, fingers and toes to play and learn is how they get to grips with their fine motor skills and boost their cognitive learning.

"It's important that we make the messy play activity engaging, playful and as positive as possible, and that it’s done in a non-forceful manner."  

Also read: Children own around 3 digital devices on average, and few can spend a day without them 

New experiences 

A great example is 'ice rescue', an activity that Mommy Blogger, Rebecca Badrodin's kids love that involves freezing objects like blocks, dinosaurs, small toys and more in ice and getting kids to use their creativity to try and set the objects free. 

Even the simple act of being able to run their fingers and toes through squishy slime and drippy, colourful paints opens them up to a world of new sights, sounds and textures.

"If you ask me to picture my childhood, it was running around outside in the dusty Botswana sand, barefoot, making forts under trees. It was happy, it was carefree," says Badrodin. 

"Life has changed a lot in the last 30 years, and a large majority of children don't get to play outside as I did. This is one of the reasons messy play is so important."

She adds "Some children are more sensitive to different sensations, and messy play is a great way to ease them into new experiences without overwhelming them." 

Also read: What exactly are therapeutic stories and how do they work?

Creativity unleashed

While the fear of messy play is still a challenge among parents all over the world, according to the LEGO Play Well Report, 8 in 10 parents actually do believe that messy play makes children feel free and helps develop their creativity.

And they're totally right! With messy play, kids can squish, sort, squelch and smash their way through playtime without any restrictions. 

Letting them create a farm scene using edible 'mud', a mix of cornflour, water and cocoa powder, and add farm animal toys, for example, lets them make the best use of that incredible creativity and imagination that are built-in for kids. 

Alternatively, give them tubs of rainbow rice tinted with food colouring, along with salt, sand, cornflour, water and anything else you can fish out of your pantry that's safe for little ones, to create sensory-based play worlds of their own. 

Also see: WATCH | Talented 11-year-old's football trick shots go viral

Teaching independence 

"Messy play is a great way for children to learn to amuse themselves and play independently without the need for mediums and stimulants like smartphones and tablets," says Kristian Imhoff, Country Manager for LEGO South Africa. 

"With messy play, kids are in the driver's seat for a change. It lets them make decisions for themselves on how playtime should go, which teaches them to plan, explore, and problem-solve, all while building up their self-esteem and confidence that will serve them well through the rest of their personal and professional lives," he adds. 

If you've been trying to teach your little one how to play well with others, rest assured that messy play is a sure-fire way to help the process along, seeing as it makes for a great group play activity. 

Children automatically learn how to socialise with others, which boosts their collaborative and teamwork skills. You may not realise it, but these seemingly small interactions also help children to build important relationships with their peers and parents during their formative years. 

Embracing a little bit of chaos and allowing kids to get messy has benefits for children of all ages, and is certainly worth parents overcoming their fears of mess and dirt. 

After all, what are a few stains compared to giving a child the best start they can have for a brighter future ahead? 

Submitted to Parent24 by LEGO South Africa.

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