Additional Needs · Benefits of Messy Play · Benefits of Sensory Play

The Benefits of Sensory/Messy Play for Early Years Children.

Once a month I offer a Sensory/Messy Play experience in addition to the music and movement session I lead at a Local Early Years Setting.

Sensory/Messy play experiences offer so many benefits to Early Years children, it allows children to explore with all of their senses, edible media and materials benefit babies from 6-months to toddlers, as this age group are a huge fans of exploring with taste! 

Sensory/Messy Play experiences allow for many areas of the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage,) to be covered even in just one activity.

Personal, Social and Emotional Development (PSED)

Opportunities to build curiosity and to experience new materials and resources to explore with. 

– Helps to build self-esteem and self-confidence, to select resources independently.

– To work cooperatively alongside others, to share materials and resources, e.g spoons when exploring ‘Gloop.’ 

Communication and Language (CL) 

 Opportunities to talk about the materials they explore, to develop new language, e.g ‘Slimy,’ ‘Goey,’ ‘Slippy,’ etc.

– Encourages talk through the process of what they are doing, for example, “I’m going to put it inside and squeeze.” When exploring with medicine syringes and ‘Gelli Baff.’

– Helps to develop fine motor skills and hand-eye-coordination, using utensils, picking up smaller materials using their index finger and thumb.


– Allows for story-telling opportunities, e.g whilst exploring hay and farm animals within a ‘Builder’s Tray,’ could allow children to re-enact stories such as ‘The Little Red Hen.’ 


Allows opportunities for counting out materials, e.g if making ‘Sensory Play-dough,’ children could count the amount of cups of flour needed.

– Allows children to arrange shapes and sort objects into groups. 

Understanding the World (UW)

– Encourages curiosity of the different materials of the world. 

– Can observe and manipulate objects, e.g by shaping mouldable ‘Soapy foam,’ to observe changes – especially when using ‘Gloop‘ as it runs from a solid into a liquid off their hands.

Physical Development (PD) 

– To help develop fine motor skills and coordination.

– Also helps to develop gross motor skills, e.g when squashing ‘Foamy Sand‘ on the ground.

Expressive Arts and Design (EAD)  

Opportunities to explore a wide range of media – with all of their senses. Exploring coloured Rice and Spaghetti, textured play dough, shapes created from ‘Cloud Dough,’ in 2 and 3 dimensions.
I have always enjoyed creating sensory environments for Early Years children, and this was re-ignited when planning for a ‘Sensory Diet’  for my 4-year-old daughter, who has ‘Sensory Processing Disorder’ (SPD) She is a huge ‘Sensory Seeker’ and will actively seek out messy play experiences, often tipping resources out of trays in order to feel the texture with her feet! 

Sensory Diet Post 
Sensory/Messy play has huge benefits for children with additional needs.

“For children with Special Educational Needs and/or Specific Learning Difficulties, Occupational Therapists often refer to sensory processing or sensory integration activities as a necessary part of their development, whether they have Sensory Processing Disorder or not, to help foster appropriate responses to sensation and to achieve normal sensory development.” 


Sensory/Messy play: 

– Provides a calming stimulus – engaging various senses.

– Encourages cooperation – especially if children find this difficult, e.g those with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD.) 

– Children with additional needs are more open to tactile learning.

– Mark-making can be developed e.g by using wide paintbrushes which encourage the whole arm movement in preparation for writing at a later stage.

– Some children with additional needs may not be keen on getting their hands or clothes messy – if they are introduced to various media in a gradual process, such as using dry ingredients first, this can encourage them to gradually explore the media and materials more.

I am very careful to take into account any allergies that children may have, especially as my own children have allergies to dairy and egg. 

It is beneficial to wear old clothes that are ok to get messy for these sessions!  

Here are some examples of the experiences that I’ve tried already and I’m always sourcing new ideas and materials:

It is important to check if any children attending Messy play sessions have allergies. Some products used contain dairy, wheat, etc. As both of my children have dairy and egg allergies, I’m keen to find alternative products. 


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