Kate Middleton + Messy Play = Keeping up with the Windsor’s

My sister is a Kate-Middleton-aholic. She doesn’t drink. Or smoke. Or gamble. She simply obsesses over the Duchess of Cambridge. It’s her thing. She reads about Kate on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. Watches out for every event she attends. Red carpet she walks down. Public appearance she makes. Buying my big sister a Christmas gift? Very easy. So last week, when she read Kate was speaking at a children’s hospice about introducing George to ‘messy play’ she wanted to know right away, if I had introduced messy play to my own daughter.


I am not a royal watcher. But admittedly, Kate appears to be a genuine woman. So I can appreciate my sister wanting to make sure her own niece is keeping up with the Windsor’s (minus the money, fame, palace, etc.).

As for the term ‘messy play,’ it is self explanatory, but the phrase isn’t as popular in Canadian education circles, as is ‘sensory play.’ Dr. Jane Hewes, Chair of the Early Childhood Education Program at Grant MacEwan College, focused her graduate work on the fascinating study of children’s play. In her paper, “Let the Children Play: Nature’s Answer to Early Learning,” she explains that from birth to two and a half, there are three types of play:

Exploratory Play, Object Play and Sensory Play

Very young children exploring objects and environments (ie: touching, mouthing, tossing, banging, squeezing). Sensory play appears in children’s early attemps to feed themselves. As they get older, materials like playdough, clay and paint add to sensory play experiences.

So I’m not sure where Prince George is at, but here’s what my daughters’ got covered:


Touching: Try finding something she DOESN’T touch.
Mouthing: Let’s just say if her job was as a taste tester, then she would be employee of the month on a regular basis.
Tossing: Why do I even bother putting things away. Maybe she will be good in discus or javelin. Olympics here we come!
Banging: Who needs to sleep at six am? And on top of that we’ve stopped buying toys. Pots and pans are much better. Santa just bring us a bundt pan. Merry Christmas me.
Squeezing: Food apparently tastes better, the more it’s crushed between her little chubby hands. And the dog doesn’t care what it looks like either. She still eats it when flung off the high chair. Win-win!

So back to Kate. Where does messy play fit into the picture?

Tina Franchuk, education coach for Bright Path has worked in the field of early childhood education for the past ten years. She says sensory play is more general while messy play is more specific (and as it sounds messier). Messy play includes things like blowing bubbles, sandtables, mud tables, shaving cream, finger painting. Franchuk says both are a major part of a child’s development.

“At this age (six months to age two), they are becoming aware of their environment with first hand experiences. When they can feel something cold, sticky, slimy, they begin to understand and that’s when brain development improves. Instead of telling them it’s cold – as they don’t have the mental capacity yet – let them experience it. That’s when they truly develop their cognitive skills and brain development.”

So what can you do to foster more messy and sensory play at home? Here are some of Franchuk’s suggestions:


Finger painting – using non toxic, washable paint, be prepared to get dirty. Yes, this includes finger and toe painting. We haven’t tried this yet. Apparently not only does their body become a canvas for art, so does yours. So both of you should be ‘dressed’ appropriately. This also helps contribute to creative development.
Bubbles – helps with all learning domains – physical, fine motor skills (pop with fingers), spacial awareness. This was a big hit with my daughter. She wasn’t quite fast enough to catch the bubbles before they burst in her face, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the magical bubbles.
Touch & Feel books – Flaps with pages, soft fur, sounds, squeakers, etc. These are the books that are always a hit with my baby. As she gets older, the ‘flip-ups’ are starting to become ‘rip-ups’ but that’s what tape is for.
Anything with buttons – pushing toys, pushing buttons, flaps open, keys moving up and down.
A cloth bag with a variety of objects inside to pull out, touch, feel – choose a variety of items like a soft ball, bumpy ball, a feather, a bell, Christmas garland. This is a great chance for kids to explore.


Franchuk says try to invent something new every week. The more a child is exposed to the activity, the more they are able to learn. She says it takes 16-22 times doing something before a child is able to understand. One time exposure won’t develop the brain. She stresses that you need to continually expose your child to these activities. Just like you tell an adult something and they may, or may not remember. But once it becomes a routine, then it develops into a habit.

So at this point, I think Kate and I just got a little closer. Besides the fact we share the same first name (her official name is Katherine), and middle name, our babies are both adorable and they both love messy play. I may not be a royal watcher but I do like that messy play is apart of George’s education. And if it means more parents will seek it out to be-like-Kate, then I’m all for it.


As for my sister, I’ve encouraged her to do more ‘messy play’ with my daughter when she’s babysitting. In fact just the other day she had a big bag of shredded paper at her apartment. As I was going out to do some errands, I suggested that perhaps if Kate was here, she’d let George loose with the bag of paper ‘shreddies’. She bought it. Opened the bag and let the confetti size paper free. I left shortly between the paper in my daughters’ mouth, and all over her apartment. I think I’ll suggest finger painting next time Auntie babysits.


Further information:

Jane Hewes, PhD Article on Let the Children Play: Nature’s Answer to Early Learning:

As part of Bright Path’s curriculum, everyday children are involved in sensory activities. Sometimes both in the morning and in the afternoon. Infants always have sensory activities while toddlers have a variety of these activities in the morning and afternoon. For more information on Bright Path early learning and childcare centres, you can find them at:


For more information on Kate Middleton: google Kate Middleton.


What do you do for sensory play? Or messy play? Leave your comments below. We can always use new ideas!

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