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Top 10 Marvellous Messy Play Ideas for Kids

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by Lucy Watson (subscribe)
A stay at home Mum who doesn't stay at home much; too many exciting things to be discovering in this city...
Published March 6th 2012
The mere thought of doing messy-play with your little one might be enough to send you running for the hills. Sticky hand prints along the wall, a trail of something unidentifiable on the new couch, brand new clothes stained with non washable paint. Why bother?

Let's Get Messy


For the uninitiated, messy-play (or sensory play to give it its official title) is much favoured by today's early childhood educators as an excellent learning tool, because of the many and varied opportunities it provides children with. Kids are active learners - they need hands on activities which involve exploring and discovering. In this way they learn to make sense of the world around them. Babies and toddlers will enjoy finding out the textures, smells and properties of different materials. Older children will move to solving problems and making choices in their play. They need to make a mess more than you might think.

If you are breaking out in a cold sweat just reading this, fear not. With a bit of forward planning, initiating messy-play doesn't have to be as time-consuming, costly or stressful as you might think. Here are a few bits of simple advice to get you going:

If you're playing inside, whack down a big plastic sheet (cheap shower curtains work well) as the designated play area. Containing the mess helps.
Have a set of messy-play clothes which your child can wear each time they do sensory play. Use hand-me-downs or opp-shop clothes - it doesn't matter if they get ruined.
Be organised. Have everything you need for a particular activity to hand, including a rag or wipes to clean hands as you go if necessary.'
Try not to direct your child's play too much. If you wanted them to paint on the paper and they painted their arm instead, does it really matter?
If it's going to be a really messy activity (paint, clay, mud), have a sink full of bubbly water ready and a step stool so short legs can reach it. My son thinks he's getting to do a whole new activity when I let him 'play' (get clean) in the sink afterwards.

Below are 10 messy-play activities that you could try with your littlies. I have kept them as simple as possible, whilst choosing ones which were judged a success by myself and my 2 year old. Please do be aware of individual sensitivities or allergies to materials.

Fun with Shaving Foam


1. Shaving Foam
It doesn't get much easier than this. Squirt a can or two of shaving foam into a large container (we used a paddling pool, but a large storage tub would do) and let the kids go to town on it. You can add drops of food colouring to swirl about, or spades, spoons and containers to play with. Best done outdoors.

2. Super Silk
Mix a few cups of cornflour with a few cups of water (add the water slowly). Vary the amounts until you get a consistency like thick custard, then add some food colouring. This stuff is totally weird; if you let it sit in a container it is a solid, but when you try to pick it up it trickles through your fingers like a liquid.

3. Mud Pies
Have a small patch of garden designated for mud play. Provide your child with spades, trowels, pots, watering cans and so on. Sit back and watch them create.

Body Painting


4. Body Paints
This is a great recipe and so simple. Get a bottle of baby wash - the stuff you use in the bath - which should be either clear or white. Add a few spoons of cornflour to thicken it a slightly. A gooey consistency is what you're after. Divide the liquid into a few containers and add different coloured food colouring to each. Strip off your kids and let them paint themselves or each other with fingers or paintbrushes. Best done in the garden or the bath.

5. Muddy Puddles
After a heavy rainfall take your kids out and let them splash in the biggest, muddiest puddles you can find. You don't even need gum boots; sandals with bare feet will allow them to feel the water and mud between their toes.

Mad about Muddy Puddles


6. Water Play
Kids always seem drawn to water. You don't need a fancy water-play table; any large container will do the job. Provide a variety of other household items such as sieves, spoons, buckets, bowls, cups, ladles and pots. You can also try dying the water different colours or adding glitter to it for another dimension.

7. Play Dough
This is great because it's actually not that messy. The internet abounds with different recipes for the stuff, from edible play dough to peppermint smelling play dough. Cookie cutters are a favourite to use with dough of any kind, but you can also mix it up by using kiddie scissors, plastic knives or a garlic press. Air drying clay is a good alternative for something a little different.

Oohy Gooey Slime


8. Slime and Bugs
You can make your own slime to order by combining very hot water with soap flakes and food colouring. We used Lux soapflakes. Quantities really depend on how thick you want your slime so add the water a little at a time and stir very vigorously (free workout included). Pour your slime into a container and hide some plastic bugs or other animals in it for your curious child to find.

9. Coloured Rice
This one is pretty much the same as Water Play but done with uncooked rice instead. It will 'pour' in a similar way to water so is great with water wheels and the like. Get a big bag of rice and divide into 3 or 4 large food bags. Add a few drops of colouring to each bag and shake for a while. Leave it to dry before you let the kids at it and beware that if it gets wet, the colouring will come off.

10. Jelly
There is a little bit of forward planning involved in this one. You can play with jelly in a variety of ways, but the one my son loved was akin to an archaeological dig. Put some small, plastic animals, such as dinosaurs in a large, shallow cooking dish. Make up the jelly according to the instructions and pour it over the animals. When it sets, your little one can excavate the animals using fingers, forks, chopsticks - whatever they fancy. They'll probably want to eat some too.

If want to get on board the messy-play wagon, this fantastic blog will give you tons more ideas. Happy mess-making!
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Your Comment
Great article - love the jelly excavation! I can also recommend trying a messy footprint runway on a sunny day http://mykidcraft.com/messy-footprint-runway/
by Jane Street (score: 2|438) 1567 days ago
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