If there’s one thing babies and toddlers love, it’s making a mess; but the clearing up can be a chore. So, when we heard about Messy Play Amsterdam, where the lovely, squishy mess takes place away from the home and on a huge scale, we knew that Mamas of pre-schoolers would want to know more. Deborah Nicholls-Lee visited a Messy Play session to check it out.
Just How Messy is Messy Play?
Surprisingly, the location of this mess-friendly playgroup could hardly be cleaner. The school building in Amsterdam West, in which the ‘mess’ is housed, is immaculate. The paintwork is spotless, the loos are pristine and there are neat little cupboards for all your possessions. It’s only once you open the door to the Messy Play room, that the havoc is unleashed.
The ‘clients’, aged between 6 months and 4 years, are mostly in their nappies or underwear, with an apron over the top. While the smallest are initially tentative, my three-year-old heads straight for a squeezy tube of green gunk and begins emptying it enthusiastically into a water station set up on the far side of the room. She then starts chucking in flower petals and leaves, and stirs the concoction, elbow-deep in the liquid. “This idea was inspired by my daughter,” explains Australian expat Leanne, who founded Messy Play this August. Her four-year-old had asked her for things to make a magic potion and started mixing them together. In fact, Messy Play is really just an extension of the games she and her kids were already playing: “We were doing this stuff at home anyway, so I thought, why not build a business around it?”
There are two other activities on the day I visit: Chia seeds swimming in slimy food colouring and strawberry-scented play dough – both with exciting accessories for the kids to scoop, scrape, pour and mix and all taste-safe should your baby or toddler decide to sample some. Previous experiences have included sludge (cornflour combined with food colouring), Kinetic Sand (sand and oil) and noodles and dinosaurs. Who knew there were so many ways to get messy?
Learning Through Play
This is a very cleverly-devised mess, though, which is both tactile and thought-provoking. “It’s about a sensory experience,” Leanne tells me. As well as being lots of fun, she explains, the sessions are educational. The textures and colours encourage language development as the child and the parent discuss what they are discovering. They can also develop their fine motor skills as they explore the materials or do a bit of maths as they measure, count and sort. Activities sometimes even have a science aspect. Leanne tells me about when they made Rainbow Ice, where the children sprinkled salt on the ice and watched how it made it crack, before adding drops of food colouring to create beautiful coloured layers.
It's about a sensory experience. –Leanne, Messy Play Amsterdam founder
Halfway through the session, my daughter decides to experiment with a bit of cross-fertilisation, plopping lumps of pink play dough into the water bowl in a different play station. Leanne quickly reassures me: “They’re allowed to. This is Messy Play”. Seems like anything goes – what a release from the restrictions we sometimes place on our kids at home.
Child and Parent-Friendly
Leanne really knows how to keep the parents happy. She brings tea and coffee over to us during play, provides a changing mat, wipes, tissues and snacks for the kids and – best of all – refuses to accept any help at the end: “You don’t have to clean up: that’s my job.”
Also worth noting, is the therapeutic value of sensory play for the grown-ups. I arrive a bundle of stress, windswept and tired; but after a few minutes of squeezing the silky home-made play dough through my fingers and swishing my hands through the chai seeds, I have forgotten my worries. That my daughter is also happily engrossed in all the activities is an added bonus.
Once the session is over and the children have changed, they are seated at a mini picnic table with a spotty tablecloth, where a healthy snack is waiting for them. There is a roll of zip-lock bags on a shelf for anyone who wants to keep some of the play dough, and the recipes for each play station are written on laminated cards so, if you’re brave enough, you can try them out at home.
But if you can’t face the chaos, you can always come back to Messy Play. With seven sessions per week, including two at the weekend, you have your wet-weather days sorted. And your house will be cleaner too.
Disclaimer: Messy Play Amsterdam has paid to be featured on Amsterdam Mamas because they believe that their services would be of interest and benefit to our readers, and we think so too. For more information on sponsored posts and advertising on Amsterdam Mamas, please see our Advertising and Disclosure policy.
Deborah Nicholls-Lee is a British national who moved to the Netherlands in 2009. A former French and English teacher, she now works as a freelance writer and editor while raising her two children. See her website to find out more about her work.
All images used by permission.