Fine Motor Skills and Messy Play

Fine Motor Skills and Messy Play

As Occupational Therapists we are often asked about the link between fine motor skills and “messy play”. If you have been to one of our GAP Groups, or another baby stimulation group, you would have had loads of fun exploring messy play. As a caregiver you know it’s important to give your little one opportunities to get messy, but do you know why?

Why messy play is so important:

There are many touch receptors jammed into the small area of your baby’s hands. These receptors give information on what textures are being touched as well as what temperature the object or surface is. Your little one’s touch system will also interpret whether it’s a pleasant touch sensation or not. Most baby’s will love messy play and you will be wiping yoghurt, jelly and marmite off their hands and faces often!

Offering them a variety of consistency, texture and temperature to explore with their hands will allow their touch receptors to distinguish between mooshy, firm, warm, cold, rough and smooth textures. This will allow them to gauge how to adjust their grip when holding different objects.

As the feedback from their touch receptors improves, they will be able to isolate each finger better. The first finger they learn to isolate is usually their index finger. This will allow them to point. Following pointing, your clever baby will then learn to isolate his thumb together with his index finger. This will enable him to use a pincer grasp to pick up small objects (e.g. peas, buttons, raisins).

You may find that when he is still refining this skill, he will press his fingers together very tightly and may squeeze the object right out of his grasp or squash it!  This ability to distinguish between touch sensations and accurately gauge the force required for the grip will help him later as he needs to hold a crayon, scissors or paintbrush. There are many tasks that require finger dexterity, for example threading beads, peg games, picking up puzzle pieces, pegboard games, peeling and placing stickers. All these skills start with touch exploration. 

Tips for including messy play in your day:

1.) Join a GAP group – these weekly groups will give your little the opportunity to engage in some messy play, meet other families and avoid having to clean up in your home!

2.) Use a Nurture One Fuss Free Bib – this will help to make clean up easier. This bib washes and dries quickly and easily and protects your little one’s clothes.

3.) Get messy in the bathtub, shower or outside – this also makes clean up easier and contains the mess.

4.) Messy mealtimes – chop up finger foods to give your baby some extra practice, but make sure the pieces are not too small otherwise he will get frustrated and give up. Yoghurt, custard, apple sauce  and cottage cheese can also be fun messy touch experiences. Allow your baby to play and mess, refrain from cleaning and wiping during the activity – do this at the end.

5.) “Clean” mess – bath time is a great way to include cleaner textures. You can put coloured ice blocks into the tub, squirt shaving foam on the surface of the bath or the water, have fun with bath paints or crayons.

6.) Texture box – find a box/basket and fill it with different textures (e.g. scraps of material, sponges, spikes hair curlers, string of beads, pine cones, metal spoon/cup, feathers, make up brushes, paint rollers etc.). Allow your baby to take out the objects and explore them and you can wipe them on their hands and feet. Make sure you don’t leave your little one unattended with these objects.

To find out more about these and loads of other messy play activities, take a look at our book Groovy Adventures: How to encourage your baby to move from one developmental milestone to the next while having a blast!

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