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No-mess Messy Play Ideas

15 February 2012 11 Comments

Here’s Cathy from our Parent Panel with some inspiring tips on how to encourage sensory play with out the stress of mess!

Messy play is one of the best play activities for toddlers: lots of fun and full of learning opportunities for them. But what if the idea of all that squishy, squashy mess fills you or your child with horror? There are ways to benefit from all the positives, with these no-mess messy play ideas.

As it’s packed with colours, smells and textures messy play is a great sensory experience for touchy-feely kids who are still exploring the world using all their senses. It’s open-ended play too, where the children can be creative and try out all sorts of early science and maths concepts as they play. Messy play can be inexpensive and very easy to set up at home because you can make use of things you have around the house: sand, water, mud, even jelly.

Some children really don’t like messy play though. They might find the play too much for their super-tuned senses, and some are uncomfortable getting their hands dirty. As this kind of play offers so many benefits it’s a shame for them to miss out altogether, so why not adapt the play to suit them?

Or maybe it’s you who’s afraid of the mess? The thought of toddlers running around your house with hands covered in paint or mud isn’t every parent’s idea of fun play but there are simple measures you can take so your children can experience the play without destroying your home.

No-mess messy play ideas

How about containing the mess in a zip-lock plastic bag? You can fill your bags with hair gel, add glitter and food colouring to make different bags to explore, and even hide objects inside for the children to hunt out.

Another idea is to add in more play to times when you’re prepared for some mess. At bath time you’re already going to be dealing lots of splashing so this is a good opportunity to add in some extra sensory play. A few drops of food colouring in the bath water will transform the experience into a blue lagoon or pink magical land. You could also freeze some coloured ice cubes, using food colouring or fruit juices, and have them float and melt into your bath water.

Play dough is a good next step as it’s actually not too messy, although best played with in rooms with no carpets. Try my super easy playdough recipe and you can soon mix up an easy no-cook homemade version.

Even making a sensory tub filled with touchy feely things for child to explore can be much less messy if you make use of an empty paddling pool and put the tub and your child inside. They can have fun, make a bit of mess, and everything stays inside the pool, making clean up that much easier. You can start off with something easier to sweep up such as large pieces of dried pasta and work your way up slowly to using glitter!

image courtesy of http://nurturestore.co.uk

How do you feel about messy play – do you love it or loathe it? What your child’s favourite kind of sensory play?





  • maryanne @ mama smiles said:

    Just wrote about a favorite no-mess sensory activity in our house today! http://mamasmiles.com/no-mess-color-mixing-art

  • Anne (author) said:

    Thanks for sharing your link Maryanne-what a lovely activity, the resulting effect is really stunning. Love the idea about using toys to make footprints too. My kids like to roll their toy cars and trucks etc through paint to make colourful tracks on paper.

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