Messy Play: Every Way, Any Day


Children are natural instigators of mess! During the early stages of development, they are exploring and engaging their senses as they experiment and investigate. Messy play helps support children’s development and encourages their natural curiosity for the world around them. By creating opportunities for messy play, and supporting children’s sense of discovery, you can aid children’s development and the many wonderful benefits they get from sensory exploration, such as fine and gross motor skills, cognitive and creative development, hand-eye coordination, problem solving, emotional regulation, and more.

However, trying to incorporate messy play in children’s day-to-day can seem like hard work. After all, parents and carers are already doing so much, providing all different kinds of play experiences can be a lot! But messy play is one of the most versatile ways for children to play, and with these tips, it’s easier to find ways to incorporate it throughout the day.


Head Outdoors

Exploring the outdoors (or the backyard) can be a free and simple messy play experience. Here are some ideas for messy play outside (where the only clean-up needed is on messy hands and clothes).

Mud kitchen – Creating a mud kitchen in the backyard does not have to be set up perfectly. With a few old (but safe) kitchen tools, children can have loads of fun exploring all the messy fun of dirt, water and the natural materials they find outside!

Gardening – Spending time in the garden provides all kinds of messy play fun as children dig into the dirt and get messy planting, tending and watering.

Water play – Water play is a great messy play activity that has endless possibilities, and when it’s done outside, no clean-up is necessary! Children can splash in sprinklers or use cups and spoons to pour, trickle and splash in a tub of water!

Eco-friendly art – Use natural materials or even eco-friendly paints to create some art in the backyard that won’t leave any mess that can’t be sprayed away.

Sand play – Sand is a great sensory experience for children. Building sandcastles on the beach or in a sandbox, or collect some sand in a tub for a makeshift sensory box!


From the Kitchen

Children and their families spend plenty of time in the kitchen or at the dining table, and there’s plenty of messy play to be had in the hub of the home.

Potion-making – Potion-making is a fun, open-ended play activity that encourages experimentation, exploration, and messy fun. Provide some ingredients (lots of stuff from the cupboard that is taste-safe), some pots, spoons, water, and let children make their own concoctions!

Sensory creations – There are so many different sensory experiences to be made with simple household ingredients. Flour and oil makes a great moon sand, dry rice can be a great textile experience, and cornstarch and water makes the best (and most interesting) goop!

Baking – Baking with children can get messy and makes for a lot of fun together. As well as the added bonuses of introducing measuring, following a procedure, and letting children explore the different tastes, textures and smells!

Taste-safe fingerpainting – Yoghurt and food colouring, or a flour and water concoction, can be a great taste-safe painting option. Children can get messy with their hands and make some art (and it won’t matter if curiosity leads to exploring their sense of taste). You can even use yoghurt and biscuits and let children create their own edible art snack!

Experiments – There are plenty of messy experiments that can be made with simple ingredients found in the kitchen. Bi-carb soda and vinegar (and some food colouring) makes for one of our favourite experiments, but don’t be afraid to explore others – see what happens when dish soap is added to food colouring in milk, or when oil and water are mixed (or not mixed).

Taste-testing – Young children are exploring and experimenting with all their senses, and while they are trying different foods and exploring textures, snack time can be an opportunity for sensory exploration. Children are experimenting with taste and texture when they squish spaghetti or mash fruit.


During Bathtime

Not only is bathtime already a sensory experience in itself, there are also lots of ways to make it more fun!

Water play – Water play isn’t just for outside. With some bubbly soap and a few toys and cloths, children can have their own car wash, or baby bath time in the tub. They also experiment with a few simple tools such as cups, cloths or sponges.

Bubble-making –Incorporate messy play in bathtime with some materials to make bubbles, such as bubble bath and a child-safe whisk! Or try different tools in the soapy water to make foam or blow bubbles.

Fizzy science – The bathtub is a great place for messy play (even if no one is getting in it)! Try some fizzy science in the tub with bath bombs or other ingredients and watch what happens. The best part is no mess as it is all washed away!

Bathtime crayons – Bathtime crayons are super easy to make and can be lots of fun during bathtime, just add food colouring to melted soap and let it set. Children can colour and decorate as they like!

Messy mixes – Sometimes, there just doesn’t seem like a good spot for messy play anywhere (especially on rainy days), and the bathtub can be a perfect alternative. Let children play and mix water and materials in the tub, or create icy landscapes with frozen toys for children to ‘rescue’, or place smaller sensory tubs in the bath to catch any spills!

PLAY MATTERS BRISBANE MPM (192)At Events, Playgroup and Play Areas

There are a number of great ways to give children a chance to engage with messy play outside the home, such as parks or messy activities nearby. There are also a number of messy-play themed playgroups. You can check out the play matters search tool to find one near you!

Check out our Search Tool Here

But don’t forget to keep an eye out for messy play events. Play Matters Australia hosts a number of messy play events throughout the month of May. Our Messy Play Matters events are great opportunities for families to have a fun and messy day out. They include a huge range of messy activities aimed for children aged 0-5, and there’s so much to do and explore, children will have hours of messy fun. They’re also FREE, but be sure to register. And the best part? No clean-up! Have a ball getting messy and leave the clean-up to the Play Matters team. All you’ll just need to worry about are some messy hands and clothes (so many bring some extra – clothes, not hands). Head to the Play Matters event page below to check out some of our upcoming events.

Check out our Events Here

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