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How does Messy Play Benefit Children’s Fine Motor Skills?

Messy play can refer to a multitude of activities as long as they’re…well, messy! Messy play benefits children in many ways, including their fine motor skills.

The term “fine motor skills” refers to the ability to use the small muscles in fingers, hands and wrists in order to control hand movements. Fine motor skills build on gross motor skills, which involve larger muscles like those used to move the entire arm. Developing their fine motor skills at a young age helps children build the foundations for more advanced tasks as they grow, such as using scissors, writing and brushing their teeth.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Fine motor skills begin developing when children are in infancy, so it’s important to work on these skills from as early as possible. These skills are the basis for most tasks and therefore are a gateway to further development; fine motor skills help with pencil grasp which, if not developed, may cause issues with a child’s concentration and cause difficulty in class when they find it difficult to write answers. Fine motor skills also help with everyday tasks such as brushing hair, feeding themselves and tying shoelaces, which help a child feel independent and able to take care of themselves.

The most important fine motor skills children should be developing include:

  • The palmar arches, which allow the pal to curl inwards. Strengthening this helps support and coordinate finger movement.
  • Skilled side of the hand, which involves precision grasping, mainly using the thumb and index finger as well as other fingers.
  • Bilateral hand skills, which allow for coordination of the movement of both hands, simultaneously.
Photo by Yan Krukov from Pexels

Messy play offers a wealth of different sensory experiences to get children working their fine motor skills. Activities involving water encourage scooping it up, trying to control little hands to stop the water pouring out between fingers, while playing with dough entices children to squeeze and shape it, working on power and precision to move the dough exactly where they want to. Similarly, playing with sand enables children to work on mark-making, practicing precise movements while moving the sand around. The attraction of messy play, namely the fun of playing with new, different mediums and being able to get dirty, is what keeps children focused and honing their skills.

For messy play activity ideas, why not take a look at some of TNL’s activity plans?