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Each quarter, Richland First Steps selects one school readiness goal from the SC Early Learning Standards (SCELS) to spotlight and explore throughout our programs for children, families, and child care providers. This quarter’s readiness goal spotlight comes from the Play and Learning Development domain of the SCELS. We will share strategies to explore this goal through MESSY PLAY in children birth to 36 months+.



Messy play enhances children’s curiosity by combining visual and motor skills. Through hands-on exploration, they develop muscles for writing and understand cause and effect, building problem-solving abilities. This type of play allows children to explore in their way. Children learn that pouring sand into a bucket will lead to being able to pour water into a cup. Squishing play dough with their hands allows children to develop the muscles necessary to write with a pencil. Jumping in water puddles helps to strengthen their large muscles as well as learn cause and effect. The cause and effect is, if a child jumps in a puddle then water splashes around. This is why children continue doing certain activities because they are trying to figure out why something happens. 




MESSY PLAY:  Birth to 18 months

    • Infants will put objects in their mouths to explore. They will also drop items to see what the effect is. This is why babies drop their bottles and have you pick them up. They learned the cause and effect of dropping a bottle.

    • Children this age will take markers and crayons and draw freely. They will use large motions when coloring. Give them a defined space or large paper to explore while coloring.

    • When given paper, they may start tearing it into small pieces. This is also a form of messy play and  this activity allows them to strengthen and define their small muscle movements. 


MESSY PLAY: 18 months – 36 months

    • During this age,  toddlers begin experimenting with art materials, sand, and water, focusing on making shapes and using materials precisely.
    • They may try to recreate shapes or pictures, combining their thoughts and observations in creative expressions.
    • They engage in problem-solving, such as molding shapes or drawing pictures of houses or animals.

MESSY PLAY: 36 months+

    • Older toddlers express more developed creativity in art and messy play, often recreating stories from videos or from books that have been read to them.
    • They take on roles of characters during play, fostering imagination and story development.


Richland First Steps follows the HSELOF and SCELS models.

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