The importance of getting messy

Can you really understand the texture of glue without digging your hands into it and rubbing it between your fingers? A study performed by researchers at the University of Iowa says you can’t! Well, really, it says that children might learn about new substances best when they interact closely with them…a.k.a. when they get a little messy.

In addition to knowing what things like glue, dirt, or paint look like, toddlers who get messy also get to learn what those things feel like, smell like, and even (whoops!) taste like (don’t forget to make an edible mess sometimes). Messes help children learn what things are, what they do, and how to recognize them when they see them again. You can tell Baby that glue is sticky, but they won&;t really understand what that means until they feel it for themself. There are many benefits to getting a little messy every now and then.

Messes can stimulate creativity

There are only a few ways to stay clean, but there are infinite ways to get messy. When Baby knows they have the freedom to get as messy as they want, it can open up new possibilities and ways of thinking for them. What happens if I fling this dirt across the yard? What happens if I try mixing these two colors? What happens if I knock this bucket of water over? Let’s find out!

Setting clear boundaries about when it’s time to stay clean and when it’s time to get messy will help Baby understand when they can let loose and when they need to try keep the cereal inside the bowl. They might get confused about the difference on occasion, but hey, nobody’s perfect.

It can help foster independence

When you want to keep Baby clean, you have to stay pretty involved in their activities. That’s great, and Baby will need your guidance a lot of the time, whether they&;s eating or painting a picture. Sometimes though, it can be equally beneficial to let them take control of the situation. Letting them use a spoon without your help or blend colors without your artistic direction is sure to make a mess, but it’s also going to help Baby learn to do things on their own.

It’s an awesome feeling to watch your little one do something by themself for the first time, and once they master one thing, they will be more confident in trying other things. “Master” here can have a loose definition, but if 40% of their dinner makes it into their mouth, let’s call that a win!

Baby might be healthier

Parents who are okay with an art supply mess might still be a little anxious about letting a toddler loose in the backyard, which is understandable. The unknown germs or bugs lurking in dirt and mud can be scary, but germs can be good for Baby! The research is still a little muddy itself, but allowing your child to play outside, get a little messy, and interact with different bacteria and allergens can help their body build up immunities and potentially protect against allergies in the future.

This appears to be most true in the first year of life, but playing outside and getting physical activity will have benefits for all of Baby‘s life. There’s no need to use mud as a face mask or forgo hand-washing practices, but a little dirt won’t hurt Baby‘s health and might actually help it!

Messes are fun!

Put aside the developmental and immunity-building benefits for a second. Picture the smile on Baby‘s face as they spread out their toys, or think about the happy squeal they might let out while playing in the mud. Messes make some of the best memories, and you don’t get a lot of opportunities later in life to make huge, epic, day-making messes. If you can set up a newspaper-covered area of your house or take an activity outside, you could help Baby make a mess that will make their day and a memory that will last forever.

  • Lewis, Richard C. “Messy children make better learners.” Iowa Now. The University of Iowa. December 12, 2012.
  • Mitchell, Libby. “The Benefits of Dirty Kids.” HealthFeed. University of Utah. June 19, 2014.
  • “The Dirt on Dirt: How getting dirty outdoors benefits kids.”Children’s Center. University of Hawaii. 2015.
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