Messy play has far-reaching benefits for brain development

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The sensory experience of messy play has far-reaching benefits for brain development, creativity and risk-taking, says Anne O’Connor…

Tristan is in the park with his mother. He steps into a muddy puddle and squats down to investigate it further. He uses a finger to gently poke at the mud. After a while, he scoops some on his finger, steps out of the puddle and carefully makes marks on the ground with it. He checks with his mother before he goes back into the mud and does it again.

1 How many of us remember the joys of playing in the mud? Getting mucky and building mud pies often features prominently when adults are asked about their memories of play.

It is an activity loaded with sensory experiences. Sticking his finger into the unknown is a risky business for Tristan and he proceeds cautiously, but with intent. It is the sense of touch that is most prominent as he begins his explorations – and for babies and young children, touching things will lead to powerful brain-building.

Sensory experiences help build connections in a young child’s brain, by sending electro-chemical messages across the synapses between the neurons in the brain. These messages strengthen the synapses and the connections in the brain pathways. This helps the child to make sense of their repeated experiences by enabling the brain to build a powerful ‘image’ of the way the world around them works. Connections are made through repeated sensory experiences which shoot tiny bursts of electricity across the gaps, wiring the neutrons into well connected circuits. Getting messy in the mud isn’t just about fun – it’s hugely important in building our brains!

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Article written by Anne O’Connor and published in Nursery World ©

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