Messy Play

Let’s be honest, we all cringe at the thought of messy play! Messy play doesn't necessarily have to be something so messy that you end up with paint up the walls of course. What messy play does encourage is for your child to develop socially, personally and emotionally whilst also enjoying quality time with you.

As grown ups we sometimes find ourselves stressed with everyday life and really don't let our hair down enough; messy play allows for the kid in you to de-stress and have fun too. The benefit of messy play is that children of all abilities can get involved even if English is not their first language as words are not involved. Messy play builds self-confidence in children and making new relationships.

When enjoying art and craft and messy play children learn how to compare textures and this helps them to gain an understanding of their own body space. They also use their senses in the process of exploration, especially the sense of touch. We have found that bath time proves a great opportunity to engage in some messy play, bath gels and crayons help the child become creative whilst practising spellings, sounds, numbers and art work. Often parents find these sorts of activities more comfortable than the more messier activities and most definitely easier to clean up after (if we could hunt down the person who invented glitter.....).

For adults, messy play can be a lot of work and stressful if not in the right frame of mind and so careful planning and organising of these activities is needed. Maybe incorporate tidying up as part of the game. In our messy play guide we hope will give you some great ideas and help to bring out your inner child and encourage some fun together as a parent and child/children team.

With this type of play three things are guaranteed, it will be fun, cheap and most likely incredibly messy. Mess can be cleaned though and not all activities are so pad on the mess-scale so give some of these activities a go.

Make an Underwater Scene
This activity is simple to set up and can help make water play even more interesting and educational for little ones.

You will need:

  • Blue paper
  • Photos or photocopied colouring pages of fish
  • Photos or Photocopied colouring pages of coral reef
  • Sticky tape
  • Glue
  • Paint in a range of colours
  • Clear water tray

Take your blue paper, or get the kids to paint some white paper with blue paint and cut it to fit the outside of the tray. Then cut out your photos/photocopies of fish and coral and stick them to the blue paper. Older children can draw and colour their own fish to cut out. Then, using the sticky tape, attach the blue paper to the tray, so that the fish are visible on the inside of the clear tray.

Next, you can fill the tray with water, plastic fish and boats – you can even make a few paper boats to float in the water – then start having fun. Jugs, kitchen utensils and plastic cups all make good water toys. There will be a lot of splashing, so make sure you do this outside, or put down lots of towels before you start.

Hands and Feet Painting
Kids love this fun and simple messy play, especially as a group (if you can stand the mess).

You will need:

  • Plain paper of any colour, large enough for your little ones’ hands and feet
  • Sticky tape
  • Paint in your choice of colours
  • Trays or plastic plates to pour the paint into
  • Baby wipes, paper towels and possibly a mop or similar for clean up.

Attach pieces of paper to a table or the floor, depending on whether you’re doing hands or feet, then pour some paint into the trays. If the kids are old enough, let them dip their hands or feet into the paint themselves; otherwise, you’ll need to do it for them. And then let them get creative. You never know, you might end up with a fine piece of artwork for the wall.

Coloured Sand Pictures
You do need to some prep for this one, but it’s easy and kids of all ages love it.

You will need:

  • Food colouring in various colours
  • Water
  • Play sand
  • A range of plastic animals, trees, etc.

Mix the food colouring into some water, making it as light or dark as you like. Next, pour it over the sand, completely soaking it. Leave it to dry fully, and then the kids can use it to design pictures, letting their imaginations run wild. Blue sand for the sky, sea, a river or lake, green sand for grass, yellow for the sun, etc. The plastic animals and trees can embellish and inhabit the scene. There’s no glue, so the sand can be tipped off and new sand poured back onto the paper as often as the artists want to create a new world.  If colours get mixed up, so be it.

Creepy Crawly Jelly
Older children will love this – but do watch the younger ones with the plastic bugs and insects as they are a choking hazard.

You will need:

  • Jelly in a colour of your choice – but green and yellow work best
  • Jug or bowl to mix the jelly in
  • Plastic spiders, beetles, flies or other bugs and insects
  • Tray to set the jelly in

Read the instructions on the jelly and make it up in the jug or bowl (any older children can help you with this) then scatter the plastic bugs into the tray and pour the liquid jelly on top.

When the jelly has set, let the kids get messy and use their hands to find the bugs.

Dry Pasta Worlds
This is a really easy activity that isn’t actually that messy but is a bit different from the usual sticking-pasta-to-paper activity.

You will need:

  • Dry pasta in a variety of shapes
  • Plastic building blocks, plastic animals or dinosaurs, felt shapes, action figures, dolls – anything, really!

Place some pasta shapes and toys on a table or in a tray and watch as your little ones invent worlds and characters galore, using the pasta as trees, bricks, buildings, vehicles, whatever takes their fancy.

This activity is more suited for older children, who won’t drink the bubble mixture!

You will need:

  • Water tray or Bowl
  • Straws
  • A few drops of bubble mixture

Put a few drops of bubble mixture into a tray or bowl and fill it with some warm water. Then let the children put the straws in their mouths and blow bubbles into the water. They’ll love making both big bubbles and funny noises!

Shredded Paper
This can be really messy and again is better suited to older children rather than very little ones, who may put the paper in their mouths.

You will need:

  • Shredded paper
  • A selection of small toy animals/dinosaurs/action figures/etc.
  • Tray/bowl/plastic box

You can shred paper specifically for this activity although using the paper out of your household shredder if you have one works just as well, unless it is one that shreds into really small pieces. Place the shredded paper in the tray, bowl or plastic box and mix in a selection of toys. Now get the children to search for the hidden objects without looking, using just their hands and their sense of touch.

Homemade Play Dough
This is a simple way to make your own play dough.

You will need:

  • Jug of water
  • Flour
  • Food Colouring
  • Bowl

Pour a few drops of food colouring into the jug of water and mix well. Put the flour in the bowl and stir in the coloured water a little at a time. You can make the colour as deep as you like by adding more food colouring to the mix. As with all doughs, if the mixture is too sticky, add a little more flour; if too dry add a little water.

Once it’s all mixed together tip it out on to a dry surface and knead well until the colour is even and the dough is smooth. The play dough is now ready for the children to get creative. Give them “tools” such as plastic knives and forks to make patterns and indents in the dough.

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