Messy Play Ideas

Guest Authored By Kristian S, MS, OTR/L

Children love to make a mess! They often enjoy exploring and playing with different textures and ingredients. Messy play can be a great activity to promote your child’s learning and development. During messy play, children learn to explore with their senses, foster their creativity and develop their motor skills. Use the ideas below to expand your child’s messy play. 

Ingredients 

  • Sand or Kinetic Sand 
  • Rice 
  • Flour & Water  
  • Slime 
  • Play-doh 
  • Glue 
  • Fingerpaint 
  • Shaving cream 
  • Corn starch & Water 
  • Soap, bubble bath 
  • Water 

Expanding Messy Play 

  1. Fine Motor  
    1. Introduce utensils. Use spoons, forks, knives, shovels to manipulate your texture 
    2. Practice using a toothbrush to clean off messy toys 
    3. Encourage your child to write shapes or letters using their finger to develop their handwriting skills. This works best with fingerpaint, shaving cream or glue 
    4. Strengthening: For thicker textures such as clay and play-doh, encourage your child to squeeze and pull it apart. This will help strengthen the small muscles in their hands. You can hide small beads, buttons, or beans into the clay and have your child find them. 
  2. Language  
    1. Encourage your child to describe how the texture feels. Is it hot, wet, cold, dry, sticky? 
    2. Theme your messy play! Depending on the time of year, you can hide themed toys or objects in the texture to introduce new vocabulary. 
    3. Introduce prepositional words to your child during play such as “on, under, in, out, etc” when describing your play. 
  3. Cognition 
    1. Involve your child in the creation process. This is a great activity for your child to develop planning, organizing, and sequencing skills. Have your child help you identify the materials and write a list. Encourage them to write and follow the steps of the recipe. They can check off the steps as they make it. 
    2. Allow your child to practice their math skills. They can practice counting hidden objects in the texture. You can even work on addition/subtraction. “There are 10 beads hidden in the sand and we’ve found 5. How many are left?” 
  4. Sensory 
    1. If your child has issues with sensory input, this can be a fun activity to increase their exposure to a variety of textures. Be sure to follow your child’s lead and keep the activity playful. If they are hesitant or upset with new textures, encourage them to manipulate the texture with a utensil or toy. 
  5. Play 
    1. Pretend play. Encourage your child to explore and develop their own ideas. They may want to incorporate their toys into the activity. They can pretend the truck is stuck in the mud, they’re making a potion, or their animals are taking a bath. Follow your child’s lead and see what they come up with.  
    2. Sharing or collaborating with peers. Encourage your child to take turns mixing the ingredients or looking for hidden objects. Additionally, you can encourage your child to follow their peer’s lead during pretend play.