Most kids love a bit of messy play and it really should be a regular part of their play experience. There are many benefits to messy play, but my favourite benefit of all is that it can help fussy eaters to be a little less fussy.
“Really!?” I hear you ask. Yes, it’s true, playing with messy stuff can help kids tolerate foods a little more readily.
Exploring different textures through messy play not only helps your child to develop their sense of touch within their hands, but it also helps to develop their willingness to explore different textures with their mouth. Sounds weird huh?! If your child is a picky eater, or has troubles tolerating different food textures, you might want to listen up……
When your child explores textures with their hands, special ‘tactile’ (touch) nerves are stimulated. This information travels from the hands up to the brain to help the child understand exactly how this texture feels. In this way, they are learning that the particular texture is safe and not scary.
These same tactile nerves are also at work in your child’s mouth. These mouth nerves help your child to know whether what they have in their mouth is familiar and safe. If these nerves think that the particular food/ texture is unfamiliar or unsafe then your child will respond by spitting the food out. The more experience your child has with exploring different textures with their hands, then generally, the more willing they will be to explore these same textures with their mouth.
So if your little one is a fussy eater, here are some ideas for messy play activities that might just help:
- Playing with cooked spaghetti or pasta. You can add food colouring to make it fun.
- Collecting a big stack of dried leaves. These can be fun to crumple up or to use in craft activites.
- Playing with set jelly. You can include imaginary play, by having small dolls or plastic animals “take a swim” in the jelly pool. You can include new dimensions to the jelly texture by adding rice, sultanas, sand, leaves etc.
- Driving cars or walking toy animals through chocolate pudding ‘mud’ on a mirror or other flat surface. This can also be done with shaving foam or finger paint.
- Make corn flour gloop by mixing corn flour, water and your favourite food colouring. It’s good to making this in a shallow tray.
- Moulding with Playdoh or Kinetic sand. You can add different things to the PlayDoh or sand to vary the texture (e.g.: sand, rice, lentils etc).
- Collecting clumps of seaweed at the beach. You can draw a big face in the sand and use the seaweed as ‘hair’. You could also draw a house in the sand and make a garden with seaweed.
As you can probably tell, the list of possible messy play activities is only limited by your imagination!
If your child really dislikes getting their hands messy, then it’s important to go slow and respect their sensitivities. You can start by giving them a firm hand massage. This will help to calm down the overly excited touch (tactile) nerves in their little hands. You can also introduce kitchen tools (e.g.: wooden spoons/ spatulas) and toys to the messy play, which enables them to engage in the messy play in a less threatening way. They may incidentally get some mess onto their hands this way, and gradually build up their tolerance.
If your child continues to be very fussy with foods and dislikes getting their hands messy, then it may be worthwhile having a chat with a registered Occupational Therapist or Speech Pathologist.
So now it’s over to you. What was your favorite messy play activity when you were a kid? I was particularly fond on making mud pies in the garden.