1st Edition

Messy Play in the Early Years Supporting Learning through Material Engagements

By Sue Gascoyne Copyright 2019
    222 Pages
    by Routledge

    222 Pages
    by Routledge

    Combining a rich theoretical foundation with practical tips, advice and case studies, Messy Play in the Early Years provides an informative and practical exploration of the unique qualities, characteristics and learning possibilities of messy play.

    Packed with valuable insights from research and theory, along with practitioner’s experiences, this accessible book will bolster readers’ understanding and appreciation of messy play and demonstrate how a range of material engagements can enhance young children’s development and learning. Exploring an array of resources and a broad spectrum of approaches, including adult-and child-led inquiry, chapters consider how the specific sensory qualities of materials encourage problem-solving, scientific thinking, creativity, self-regulation and self-expression as children discover and make sense of new phenomena. With examples of international practice and reflective questions throughout, the book highlights a variety of approaches to meeting differing time, space and budgetary needs, simplifies preparation and planning, and empowers practitioners and children to understand and use messy play effectively.

    An essential guidebook to supporting an engaging and rewarding journey into messy play, Messy Play in the Early Years will be an invaluable resource for early years students, practitioners and parents looking to understand and enhance children’s learning possibilities.

    Chapter 1: Introducing Messy Play and Material Engagements

    Chapter 2: Messy Play and its Theoretical Roots

    Chapter 3: Investigating and Quantifying Messy Play

    Chapter 4: Patterns in Messy Play Use

    Chapter 5: Planning Enabling Messy Play Environments

    Chapter 6: Creating Enabling Environments for Messy Play

    Chapter 7: Materials Encounters and Inquiry-based Learning

    Chapter 8: Agency and Messy Play

    Chapter 9: Conclusion


    Sue Gascoyne is an early years consultant, trainer and founder of Play to Z Ltd, an award-winning sensory resources and equipment company. Sue is also a Creative Arts and Play Therapist working in primary schools to support children with emotional and behavioural problems.

    I loved reading this well-considered and thoroughly researched book. Sue Gascoyne gifts us with an accessible guidebook for travelling a really interesting journey through ‘the landscape of messy play’. Pulling together many ways of thinking to broaden how we look at messy play, it makes sense of this deeply significant sensory engagement - and transforms our ideas about what ‘messy’ really means.

    Through a lively combination of theoretical ideas with careful observations indoors and outdoors, we can see so much more of what children are really doing, feeling and thinking in their engagements with materials. We also come to realise that ‘materials’ are a great deal more than passive, non-active ‘stuff’, making the case for just how much materials matter in the lives of young children.

    Jan White, Professor of Practice, University of Wales Trinity St David, UK

    This is an important book on an area of play which is often neglected within the literature on play. It is highly informative, supported with wonderful photographs of children engaging in the reality of messy play. It dispels many commonly held myths regarding this type of play whilst providing a theoretical underpinning which enables practitioners and students to justify their messy play provision. It offers a wealth of ideas for creating and evaluating messy play environments and materials and provides guidance for the adult role when engaging in this type of play. It is a valuable resource for both students, starting out on their early years’ journey, as well as practitioners wishing to develop their play practice.

    Dr Karen McInnes, Head of Learning, Teaching and Research, Norland, UK

    Drawing on her considerable expertise as a play therapist Sue Gascoyne shares a new understanding of the role of messy play as a protagonist in children’s play. Guaranteed to make the reader question their own understanding and interpretations of children’s material engagements, this book encourages them to reflect on their practice and challenges practitioners to make changes in their work practices. Sue offers readers a new lens which will help them recognise the significance for children of the world around them as place where joy, wonder and curiosity combine to inspire young children. This accessible, thought provoking and stimulating book was a joy to read.

    Menna Godfrey, Lead practitioner in a private kindergarten, UK

    As a life-long believer in messy play for creativity, curiosity, growth and development, I am delighted to recommend this book for parents, teachers, clinicians and nursery workers.  Too often children are told ‘don’t make a mess’, ‘be sure to clear up’, ‘don’t spill’, ‘that was a clean dress!’, which immediately stunts their expression, and makes them wary of crossing borders! This remarkable book gives us the why’s and wherefore’s of messy play, and ways of putting it into practice.  It describes a myriad of techniques in an accessible way. It has my heart-felt support and recommendation.

    Sue Jennings, Professor of Play, European Federation of Dramatherapy, UK

    Messy Play is a fundamental part of early learning and it offers so many opportunities for learning and development that it really does need a central place in the classroom - and that's what this book encourages... I particularly like the layout of this book which makes it really easy to find the information you want, through the excellent use made of coloured feature boxes as well as plenty of bullet points and lots of photos - these really show the fun aspect of messy play! With its wealth of personal experience, this is a book which will encourage practitioners and parents to make good use of this superb teaching opportunity.

    Sarah Brew, Parents in Touch

    This is a comprehensive book on ‘Messy Play’ – its theoretical roots, how to plan engagements, what to provide and clearing up. The book is beautifully illustrated with lots of tips about reluctant adults and children and how to encourage engagement. A feature I really liked was the use of ‘ARC’ (Autonomy, Relatedness and Competence) as an analytical framework throughout. Sue draws on play therapy to articulate some of the advantages to all children of engaging with messy play

    Cath Arnold, Associate of Pen Green Centre

    The book, Messy Play in the Early Years by Sue Gascoyne is a real treat for anyone wanting to delve and embark on a journey into messy play within the Early Years.

    It provides an in-depth and unique approach in exploring messy play. The journey begins with defining and challenging historical and contemporary conceptualisations of play. The model, Autonomy, Relatedness and Competence (ARC) is then discussed as a way of investigating and understanding messy play. Examples are used throughout as illustrative examples. As a play therapist and working in education, the author has the ability to articulate the sophisticated techniques that could be employed, going beyond the superficial of messy play, whilst retaining a voice, educators will resonate with. Specifically, chapter six, creating enabling environments for messy play suggests a messy play framework, proposing a sliding scale of provision rather than a ‘one size fits all approach’ often advocated when engaging in messy play. The author examines children’s understanding of intentions behind choices, and how autonomy could be enhanced. Additionally, messy play opportunities can be positioned at a macro level and the author uses vignettes to illustrate the essentials of Autonomy, Relatedness and Competence (ARC) and how they are relayed. This is further explored in the following chapter of inquiry-based learning, exploring how the child is faced and immersed in multi- layered possibilities during messy play.

    I would recommend this book to colleagues and would certainly be including it on UG and PG Childhood/ Early Childhood programme modules. An essential guide in the journey of messy play.

    Dr Amanda Norman, Senior Lecturer Interprofessional Studies, The University of Winchester, UK