Play is messy — unleash the unselfconscious child (Archive)

Nicole Walsh Author
3 min readJan 18, 2021


Splashing into puddles, splotting a hand into mud, colouring outside the lines, painting with your hands… why should kids have all the fun? It’s what… messy? Yes! Yes, it is. To play like a child we need to shed out usual dignity and pretty clothing and sensible shoes and stiff ways and climb and run and roll and be.

Have you watched children play? In these strange days of the same four walls and limited company, you may be lucky enough to have a chance to do just that. When children play they’re here, there and everywhere. They’re up on that, down amongst that than behind, beneath, inside. In these moments of play they’re not thinking or planning — they’re being. Being in this moment. Being themselves. Being someone else.

How often do we do something sheerly for the joy of it? How often do we play?

As we shift our creative hobby from a space of escape and dreaming and pleasure into something more structured we run the risk of losing the joy of it. The shine and sparkle becomes lost in the gridwork of allocated chunks of time, deadlines, goal list and project plan. Before long the job we made of our hobby begins to chafe and slump in the same way our last nine-to-five job drooped and dragged.

With more time on our hands and new routines forming to our days and weeks and months, do not forget to play.

When a child plays with abandon they make a mess. Things get slopped and splashed and dropped and clattered. Mess works its way inside. Inside things work their way outside. Lines blur. Rules get forgotten. We paint with our hands. Our bodies become the game.

Play time in our creative spaces allows us to dance down a narrow, mossy path that deviates from the heavily paved road of productivity and structure. When you play you make a mess. Adults usually loathe the idea of making a mess. We’re so focused on the pending clean-up duties we lose our capacity to be in the moment, pre-mess and mid-mess.

I cannot count the number of times my fingers have frozen on the keyboard. I can’t trap this idea in words, I whine — what if I pick the wrong words and this bright brilliant idea becomes stale and useless? I can’t finish this piece, I wince — the beginning is too crisp and perfect. What if I veer off in the wrong direction? Fear of making a mess or the thought of the work required to clean up the mess paralyses us.

Maybe its time to splash about a bit? To forget to be responsible and sensible? To shrug off the yoke of being adult and just play? Make a mess! Maybe this mess is physical, or maybe its time to play on the page with a new technique or a new exercise. Does it matter if it’s silly? No child hesitates before playing in case what they play is silly. Silly is the point!

Let’s schedule in time to romp and splash and frolic. Let’s chase quirky ideas and toss dignity out the window and try awkward new games or have a red-hot go at a new technique or exercise. A benefit of self-isolation is no one needs to see you. Play as if you were a child in your own backyard, with no eyes on you but your own.

How do you play? Does playtime feature in your creative project time? How could you unleash the silly and create an unapologetic, unselfconscious, glorious mess?

(Posted 2 Apr 2020. Follow me at:



Nicole Walsh Author

Nicole writes short and novel length speculative fiction. She writes a weekly blog at: or