Mud, sand, dirt, leaves, goop, foam, paint, water and grass—these are the things that make messy play. Whipping up a mess is fun. It’s also good for your child’s development. It stimulates their senses, strengthens their hand-eye coordination and develops their fine motor skills.

Messy play is a type of sensory play. Babies from 12 months and up as well as toddlers will enjoy the thrill of making a mess. It is easy to tidy up outdoor messes. What’s more, with bathtubs, sinks and sensory tubs you can bring messy textures indoors.

In this article, we’ve selected ten of our favourite messy play ideas for babies and toddlers. When organising messy play at home:

  • Have spare clothes and a towel at hand.
  • Designate a set of clothes for messy play activities.
  • Use water-based paints.
  • Always supervise your children.
  • Establish a set of messy play rules to keep play-time safe.
  • Observe how the benefits outweigh the cleanup.

Children explore a water activity as part of their messy play.

Messy play ideas for babies (12 months and older)

Tap into your baby’s natural curiosity with messy play ideas in the mud, sand, water and leaves. Often undervalued as a play-based activity because of its mess and lack of an end product, messy play provides children with an opportunity to develop new understandings.

1. Find the animals

Hide large toy animals or blocks in the mud and encourage your child to use their fingers and hands to explore and dig them out. Build their listening and language skills by naming each animal that they retrieve. Count how many they find!

2. Mud pie

Encourage your child’s creativity with this practical activity. All you need is mud, a bowl and some water to keep the mud sticky. It’s a perfect activity for rainy days. Fill the container with mud, turn it over, pat it down, give it a shake then lift the container.

You can use an edible-mud recipe for indoor play or build a mud pit in your backyard with fresh unfertilised store-bought soil.

3. Just get messy

Give your child the freedom to explore and get messy in the mud. Let them squelch mud through their toes and fingers, roll mud balls in their hands and build mud castles until they are fully covered in mud.

4. Sand kitchen

In a sand kitchen, children can have the choice of playing with either dry or wet sand. Sand, like mud, helps to develop gross motor skills as your child digs, pours and scoops with pots, pans and sifters. Grasping kitchen utensils builds your child’s fine motor skills.

5. Rainy day escapes

Rainy days are the perfect excuse to get wet. Run outside with your child to feel the natural shower of water on your skin. Dance around in the rain together or splash in puddles of water on paths or lawn.

An outdoor sand kitchen one of the many messy play ideas for babies and toddlers.

Messy play ideas for toddlers (2 years and up)

The warmer months may seem the perfect time for messy play in nature. The snow, however, can still make an exciting, messy experience for your child when they’re rugged up well. There are also other natural messy textures to try outdoors like a pile of leaves or fresh cut lawn.

6. Water play for toddlers

Put the sprinkler on or fill a shallow tub with water and add a bucket (or pot). Let your child’s imagination run free. Always supervise children closely around messy water activities and ensure the play area is free of slippery surfaces.

7. Leaf and lawn tumble fun

Young children delight in tumbling about in leaves and grass and inhaling the smell of fresh-cut grass or wet grass when it rains is memorable.

Make a big pile of freshly cut grass and leaves for your toddler to play in. Let them run about without shoes to feel the different textures of the ground on their feet.

8. Finger and feet painting

Use a big piece of cardboard or butchers paper for this messy activity. Pour primary paint colours into a couple of tubs, or dribble the paint straight onto the painting surface. Let your toddler work their feet into the drips or dip their fingers and toes to make their fabulous creations.

Child gets messy with paint and other messy paint ideas for toddlers.

Messy play bins

Messy play bins are ideal tactile experiences for children. They allow you to bring messy outdoor adventures inside while helping you to keep your home clean. They are also perfect containers for other messy experiences that use foam, ice, goop, paint, jelly and slime.

9. Rainbow bubble foam

This activity requires tear-free baby bubble bath, water, natural food colouring and a mixer. Your role is to make the foam by combining 2 tablespoons of bubble bath with ¾ cup of water and a drop or two of natural food colours in your mixer. The amount of water you add may vary depending on whether it’s hard or soft.

Make up different coloured batches and then add them to your child’s messy play bin. Observe how they play and mix the bubble foam. You could hide foam letters and numbers in the tub for extra fun.

10. Jelly Extreme

Jelly is a fun messy sensory experience. This activity begins by making lots of different coloured jelly shapes with ice cube containers and more. You could also insert dinosaurs and bugs into the jelly. Once the jelly sets remove the jelly shapes from their containers.

Before the jelly begins to melt see what fun things your child can create from the different shapes. Jelly is useful for squishy, icky, sticky feeling experiences. Ask your child how it feels against their hands and feet. When the jelly begins to melt, they can mess it all up together and explore how the colours mix and mingle.

Supervise your child’s messy play at all times. Take precautions against the weather, allergies and bugs when playing outdoors. Always check your materials for possible dangers. Best of all, encourage your child to have fun and explore their messy play environments.

Children make us of a messy play bin for a muddy experience.

Inspire your child with messy play at Petit Early Learning Journey

Children are innately curious. Our naturalistic outdoor playscapes encourage children to use their senses to explore. We offer child-led sensory activities with mud, sand, water, real-grass and hay, rocks, dirt mounds, vegetable and herb gardens.

At Petit ELJ, both indoor and outdoor play-based learning is an integral part of your child’s experience. Visit your nearest centre to see our inspiring learning environments and give your child the best start in life-long learning.

Book a tour now.