24 January 2024

Messy play proves popular with Illawarra kids and parents (and someone else cleans up after!)

| Keeli Royle
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Young girl at Messy Mates Illawarra.

Messy Mates Illawarra helps kids experience the benefits of messy play without parents needing to clean up. Photos: Keeli Royle.

Mess might be something we often like to avoid but local parents are loving letting their kids get dirty as they dive into a new sensory and sensational experience in the Illawarra.

Ingrid Gray worked in daycare for a decade and saw firsthand the enjoyment and benefits that young children found through hands-on activities driven by the desire to make a mess.

“It’s all about texture and exploring and it’s not always the stuff parents want to do at home either because they have to clean up,” she said.

“But it’s really good for kids because it’s all sensory and I think that’s really important for children’s development.”

After leaving work to be around more when her daughter started school, Ingrid realised there was a gap in the market and that many kids in the region were missing out on these experiences.

READ ALSO Bush school encourages kids to get back to nature-based childhoods

So at the end of last year she created Messy Mates Illawarra, where families can come to sessions at outdoor public spaces where there are specially designed stations perfect for splashing, squishing, mixing and creating.

“I missed working with kids and there’s nothing like this around, so I wanted to bring it here,” Ingrid said. “I just love it, because this is what I always did at work.”

Using materials such as Froot Loops, Play-Doh and pasta, Ingrid creates unique scenarios to target the different interests of the kids, and while it’s aimed at those between six months and four years old, the popularity has proven to extend well beyond that age bracket.

“Every child’s different; they all develop at a different pace, so there might be a four-month-old who’s grabbing everything – and I have a six-year-old who loves it,” Ingrid said.

“I am even going to do sessions in the school holidays for the older ones, from Kindy to Year Two, because it’s every age; there’s really no set limit.”

Parents are loving it too.

“It’s just nice that you can come to a designated place that is messy and it’s not your own home,” one mum said. “Kids love to make a mess so it’s great when someone else has to clean up!

“It’s also so good not to have to say ‘Don’t touch that’, ‘No’, ‘Let me wipe your hands’ and just be able to come here and splash around.”

And with sensory play said to improve things such as gross motor skills, hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness, body control and balance, creativity and cognitive development, many are eager to try it out.

“I’m just interested in my child getting a well-rounded development,” another parent said. “And particularly sensory activities are something that at home I can sometimes be a bit lazy to do, so it’s great basically being able to come here and not have to deal with mess.”

READ ALSO Kids have a wild time learning to be zookeepers at Symbio Wildlife Park

Ingrid has been shocked by the spike in popularity, with the small business continuing to grow as word gets around.

“It just helps, you know, that you’re contributing something to the community and it’s wonderful the fact that we’re local supporting each other; I love that.”

And she is determined to continue to develop the program towards what the kids enjoy most, to make sure they get the most out of each session.

“I’m going to do themes this year to make it a bit more exciting; we’re going to do a Peter Rabbit theme, an Alice in Wonderland theme – so I’m really excited.”

To find out more visit the Messy Mates Illawarra Facebook Page.

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