Enjoying the Benefits of Messy and Risky Play in Early Years

Donha Muscat, Owner & Director, St.Paul’s Childcare & Pre-Learning Centre, Malta
19th September

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The function of play is critical in Early Years Education, where the foundation of a child’s learning journey is established. Messy and risky play stand out as transforming events that contribute significantly to a child’s development. While these sorts of play may appear unusual, they provide numerous rewards that go above and beyond. In this reading blog we are going to highlight the benefits of messy and risky play, clarify common misconceptions, emphasize the critical role of adults, and present illustrative examples of their inclusion into the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum.

Disclosing the Benefits:

A rich treasure of developmental benefits can be found at the centre of messy and risky play. These dynamic modes of engagement are more than just unpredictable activities; they are pathways to holistic development. Messy play promotes creativity, fine motor skill development, and sensory exploration. Children improve their senses and modify their hand-eye coordination via activities like finger painting and tactile games, all while having a completely immersive learning experience. Risky play, by contrast, nurtures valour, malleability, and crucial judgments under pressure. Climbing structures, balancing on uneven surfaces, and testing personal limits in a safe atmosphere teach children to be a confident risk assessor later in life.

Dealing with Misunderstandings:

The variation between adult and child perceptions of “mess” highlights an important contrast. While adults typically see clutter as disorder, children see it as a blank canvas for exploration and discovery. The myth that mess affects learning is being replaced by the awareness that it stimulates sensory engagement, language development, and cognitive progress. By understanding the importance of messy play in the Early Years, educators may dispel these myths and adopt a viewpoint that connects with the key principles of child-centred learning.

Risky play involves, climbing up high objects, experiencing speed such as on a log swing, being near risky elements such as water and also disappearing games, such as hide and seek.

Benefits of Risky Play:

  • Emotional Regulation;
  • Children who take safe risks learn how to control fear, and overcome it;
  • They are prompted to go out of their comfort zone and try something new;
  • Self-Confidence;
  • Physical Literacy.

The Integral Role of Adults:

Adults serve as facilitators and advisers in an environment of untidy and risky play. Their presence contributes significantly to the creation of an environment that balances safety and exploration. This precise balance, however, includes a delicate dance between limiting injury and allowing calculated risk. Adult participation should give support and scaffolding, allowing children to make decisions and experience consequences while remaining within acceptable boundaries. Adults develop a sense of independence, self-assurance, and responsibility in young learners by doing so.

Seamless Integration with EYFS Curriculum:

The incorporation of messy and risky play effortlessly corresponds with the Early Years Foundation Stage curricular objectives. Messy play, which includes activities such as moulding clay or engaging in water play, promotes sensory and fine motor development. These activities create the framework for cognitive development by allowing children to experiment with textures, shapes, and colours, boosting their creative and cognitive abilities. Meanwhile, risky play is consistent with the EYFS premise of personal, social, and emotional development. Balancing on stepping stones or navigating obstacle courses helps to develop self-awareness, emotional resilience, and effective communication skills.

Promoting Messy Play in the Early Years Setting

  1. Sensory Adventure: Construct sensory bins with materials like beans, rice, and fabric. Children delve into these tactile landscapes, nurturing their senses, language skills, and creativity.
  2. Nature’s Playground: Embrace the outdoors with activities like tree climbing, building with natural materials, and exploring diverse terrains. These experiences cultivate an adventurous spirit and physical prowess.
  3. Artistic Endeavours: Through engaging their entire physique in ambitious artistic undertakings, one is able to freely convey themselves and discover novel perspectives. Finger painting, body tracings, and collaborative mural creation celebrate creativity while enhancing motor skills.
  4. Scientific Mess: Fuse science and play by creating controlled messy experiments. Exploring concepts like colour mixing, textures, and basic chemical reactions introduces children to the world of science in an engaging and memorable manner.

Messy and risky play appear as threads that delicately weave the fabric of holistic development in the tapestry of early childhood education. Underneath the clutter and risks that are on the surface, these types of play foster imagination, courage, and cognitive development. As experts in this field, it is our duty to comprehend the many advantages, dispel myths, embrace the role of adults, and include these experiences into the EYFS curriculum. Through fostering traits like confidence, a growth mindset, and innate curiosity in children, we help nurture lifelong learners who approach challenges with eagerness and see endless possibilities in an ever-changing world.

Author is Donha Muscat, Owner and Director of St. Paul’s Childcare and Pre-Learning Centre in Malta. Visit the website here.

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