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say "yes!" to the mess

by Vicky Hiller, St. Anne’s School of Annapolis Educator

Messy play is critical for young children’s sensory development. But as busy parents know, it can be a pain to set up, and an even bigger pain to clean up, which makes saying “Yes!” to the mess challenging. However, research shows there are boundless benefits to messy play. When participating in messy play, early learners see, touch, hear, and smell the materials, gaining a stronger understanding of the world around them and deepening their connection to it. Additionally, messy play is often open-ended, allowing for experimentation, exploration, critical thinking, creativity, and decision making. And when it comes to motor development, messy play helps to develop both dexterity and coordination. 

Local educator, Krista Spradlin, who holds a Masters degree in Child Development, studied in the Reggio Emilia region in Italy, and teaches in the Reggio-inspired Program for Young Children at St. Anne’s School, incorporates messy play into her classroom daily. She shares, “I love messy play! In addition to providing outstanding developmental benefits, it allows children to joyfully dive into and truly experience their world. I love seeing dirty hands and gleeful smiles because I know that’s when my two year-olds are developing a genuine love of learning!”

Spradlin’s colleague and Reggio-trained educator, Shannon Casteel, who directs Primary Programs at St. Anne’s School, has made it her mission to incorporate areas for messy play both inside and outside the classroom. From water tables, to mud kitchens, to a FREE festival that celebrates all things messy, there are limitless opportunities to make a mess each day. Casteel notes,“Our program embraces the belief that the child is the protagonist in their own learning. We support each child’s interests by offering the opportunity for them to explore everything their environment has to offer them. Messy play supports these ideals by allowing children to think outside the box and really embrace each discovery they make along the way.”

Educators like Spradlin and Casteel, who pull from the Reggio-Emilia pedagogy, believe children should have agency over their own learning and be encouraged to express themselves and their interests through the “100 Languages of Children,” which refers to the many faceted ways children use to discover, communicate, and learn.  Each one of these “languages” is to be valued and nurtured within their learning environment through experiences like listening, moving, touching, and observing. What makes messy play so wonderful is that it nurtures many of those languages–movement, drawing, painting, sculpture, and pretend play to name a few. When children embrace the mess, they can express themselves and explore creatively and freely. They are also able to enjoy the process, or journey of their work, rather than focusing solely on the outcome–instilling a love for learning and genuine curiosity from a very early age. Moreover, including children in the clean-up process is also a great way to promote independence and responsibility (and gives busy parents a much needed break). Just remember: the mess and chaos are temporary, but the benefits last a lifetime.

Interested in learning more about a school that joyfully embraces mess? Join St. Anne’s School for their annual MESStival for preschool-aged children on Saturday, September 30 from 8:30-10:00am. Read below for full details and registration information.

About St. Anne’s School of Annapolis: At St. Anne’s School, we know that children learn best through play. In our research-based, Reggio-inspired Program for Young Children, students take an active role in their own learning. Rather than instruction being solely predetermined by teachers, the interests of the children steer the studies. In this way, our educators view themselves as learning facilitators whose primary role is to provide explorations of students’ interests through project-based learning and through many different modalities, one of which is messy play. At the MESStival, a FREE event devoted entirely to all things messy, you can see our Program for Young Children in action and chat with our early childhood educators while your child enjoys a morning of slimy, bubbly, gooey, artsy, and FUN hands-on activities. Say “Yes!” to the mess and join us. We’ll even take care of the clean up!

Register for the MESStival Here >>