Messy Play

Why Do Toddlers Need Messy Play?

  • It allows children to express themselves creatively and use their imagination.
  • It is soothing and can give an outlet for aggressive feelings
  • It encourages manipulative skills and hand-eye co-ordination
  • It provides first hand experience of how substances behave
  • It provides pre-writing, pre-maths and pre-science experiences
  • It can stimulate opportunities to learn new words

Be prepared – get everything together, have protection for clothes and flooring, and cleaning materials ready close to hand

Some suggestions for Messy Play:


You can make this, and it makes very little mess and can be used on its own or with tools, or with dry pasta, large beads, shells or fir cones etc. for variety.

  1. Two cups of flour, one cup salt and one cup water (and food colouring if wished). This will keep for a week or two in a bag in the fridge.
  1. Three cups of plain flour, one cup salt, one tablespoon cooking oil and one tablespoon water.

Neither of these doughs need heating or cooking.

For a longer lasting model, mix then knead
2 cups plain flour
½ cup salt
Add water to make stiff dough.

When model finished, bake on gas mark 1, 250o F, 120oC; timings depend on size of model. Models will sound hollow when tapped. When, these can then be decorated with paint or glitter etc if desired.


You will need to set rules for no throwing before play begins. Partly fill a washing up bowl with clean damp sand, and place either on a low table or on the floor. Have small tools, such as yoghurt pots, spoons, milk scoops available for play, or cut down a pop bottle or washing up liquid bottle, using the top half as a funnel (but check regularly for sharp splits).


Keep it simple – cooking in these early years means stirring, mixing and spreading.
Try icing a biscuit with thick water icing and sugar strands, cherries or chocolate chips.
Make sandwiches for lunch together, allow extra time so your child can help.


You will need large brushes, with stubby handles for very young children. Or you could try finger painting. Again, be well prepared, and have cleaning materials to hand. In good weather, you could let your child paint outdoors. You do not need a whole rainbow of colours, one or two colours are fine to experience the feel of the paint and create marks.
Water (Supervise constantly)

A washing up bowl or two is perfect for this. Again prepare the area with waterproof mats or plenty of towels, so that you can relax and enjoy the play with your child. Just add a little, say 2 – 3 inches of water. Sometimes food colouring or washing up liquid could be added too. Small containers and spoons can be used, as for the sand.

Try playing a washing up game with plastic / metal pots etc, or bath the baby doll for variety.

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