messy play

At DayOne Baby we are always looking for classes that are meaningful and engaging for families.

One of our most playful and popular classes, Messy Play for Toddlers, taught by our knowledgeable instructor Robin Wilson, always receives a lot of questions about what to expect.

We thought this would be a great opportunity to share more about Messy Play for Toddlers with a question and answer with Robin.

What is Messy Play for Toddlers?

This 45-minute class is very different from most other classes. First of all, it’s messy! We play with a wider range of materials, from oatmeal to colored rice, from paint to play dough, from cooked spaghetti to oobleck. The themes and materials change each week but repeat over time, so your child benefits from new experiences as well as repetition.


Your child’s favorite thing to do in messy play is to show you what they’re exploring, so you’ll find that you get messy too. Everything is always washable, and always nontoxic, so you know that you both may leave messy but can easily be cleaned up.


Secondly, it’s play-based. That means that your child is encouraged to explore the materials at his or her own pace, and chooses how and when to try the activities. We adults can model how to play with the materials, how to hold a paintbrush, how to use chalk, but the children can choose to do so or not. We always have a climbing area and sensory bottles for those who don’t like to get their hands messy, or those who like to observe others before diving in themselves. We begin and end the class with a brief circle time and songs (and bubbles- everyone’s favorite part!), so we balance the toddler-led class time with a small amount of group time and following directions, which are important parts of a future school experience.


Why is messy play important?

Sensory play is how children learn about the world. Young children are especially tactile and sensory learners- they need to touch and feel their world in order to make sense of it. By engaging with a variety of materials and experiences, your child learns about the world around them.


They are also learning and practicing key skills they will need for the future:


  • Fine motor skills: squeezing play dough, scooping rice, using tongs, holding a paintbrush- these are all great ways to build the muscles needed to hold a pencil and control hand movements.
  • Hand-eye coordination: their bodies are developing and growing so rapidly, and they need a lot of practice learning how to coordinate their movements
  • Basic math and science skills: scooping and dumping are key factors in learning the basic concepts of gravity, volume, number, quantity, the concept of “full” and “empty” and more
  • Social skills: how to move around a room with other children, learning the basics of turn-taking and waiting (toddlers are too young to understand the abstract idea of “sharing” so we focus more on turn-taking or finding another toy)
  • Cognitive skills: problem-solving and cause and effect are things you learn through experimentation and exploration
  • Responsibility and self-help skills: we encourage them to try new things and do it by themselves, whether it’s filling a container of rice or climbing the hill.


What should I wear to Messy Play?

Everything is washable and we always have smocks available, but I recommend bringing a change of clothes in case your child gets really messy. We have water play available on occasion, as well as other wet and messy materials, so it’s nice to have something dry to change into after class. Many parents dress children in an old onesie for class, or strip them down to their diaper and let them explore. I also remind parents that the adults may get messy as well, so while you may not need a change of clothes, be prepared for your toddler to show you his painted hands and get some on you as well. Please don’t wear your nicest sweater or top to class, as it will prevent you from fully enjoying the experience with your toddler.


What if my toddler still puts everything in his/her mouth?


Messy Play for Toddlers is just that- built for toddlers, who mouth everything. We always use non-toxic materials, and most of them are edible. Of course, we encourage children not to eat the materials, but we understand that that’s a healthy (and important) part of learning. Rather than telling them not to eat something, we focus on redirection- we show them the proper way to use a paintbrush, that the oatmeal is for scooping, and so on. Occasionally, we may decide to take a break from a particular activity and try something else. It also helps to offer snacks before class to ensure that your child isn’t just hungry.


But I don’t want my child to learn to play with his food, or to paint on the walls!

Of course not! We want to keep the mess at Messy Play class, or in other designated areas and times. Even toddlers can learn these boundaries. Simple phrases such as “we play with the spaghetti in messy play class” and “in messy play we can paint on the glass” help reinforce the idea that in messy play, those actions are allowed and encouraged, but in other spaces they are not. At home, you can say “we eat the food in our high chair” or “spaghetti is for eating” to reinforce those behaviors.



We have a blast in Messy Play for Toddlers each week, and we’d love to see you there! It’s a great break from the playground in the crowded summer times too!


Sign up for Messy Play for Toddlers today! Register here!


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