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Let’s Make a Mess! Messy Play Ideas for Toddlers

Feb 25, 2024

Girl with down syndrome with paint on hands.

Creating messes isn’t just something that kids do. It’s something that propels them forward. Messes mean that your toddler is exploring the world around them, which can be so rewarding to witness as a parent. Encouraging messes at times is beneficial for your child’s development even if it, well, leaves a mess. We have messy play ideas and tips for a successful playtime session. 

Messy Play Matters

Of course, toddlers make a ton of messes. That’s what tiny tykes do after all in order to make sense of their world. But, why are messes so fundamental for development? It turns out that messy play affects your child in more ways than one. That’s good news if you’re looking for ways to really improve your child’s learning and growth. A few big benefits of messy play include:

  1. Gross Motor Skills Practice
  2. Fine Motor Skills Practice
  3. Enhancing Problem-Solving Skills
  4. Sensory Exploration
  5. Self-Expression
  6. Nurturing Curiosity
  7. Nurturing Creativity/Imagination
  8. Learning How to Play Independently 

These are just a few of the many, many benefits your child has to look forward to. Messy play for toddlers is a truly immersive experience as it allows them to use their senses and body as a whole. It’s time to make a mess on purpose. 

Setting Boundaries with Messy Play

While messes are fun and handy for kids, it’s important to set some ground rules (where you can, at least) before unleashing buckets upon buckets of joyful chaos. If you can avoid making too much of a mess, clean-up time is easier. Messy play activities can happen in a controlled space so that nothing gets damaged or destroyed. Try these tips before getting started. 

Set rules before messy play begins (if your child is old enough). For example, you may say something like, “When we do this activity, please don’t throw paint at other people.”

Confine the area where you’ll make a mess in. Don’t encourage messes in spaces where you hold your most prized possessions unless you want them to come along for the messy ride.

Wear clothing that you’re not attached to. For messy play, choose clothes with holes, looks worn, or fits way too loose.

Cover surfaces as much as possible. Use newspaper, large white paper, or be messy on surfaces that are super easy to clean up like kitchen tile. Be wary of staining in any situation because things could get a bit wild.

Make sure you have all that you need to clean up the mess after all the fun. Window cleaner, rags, mops, vacuums, and much more will help you get the job done. You don’t want to have to make an extra trip to the store. 

Messy Playtime Ideas

A good sensory activity for kids? Messy play, of course! Messy play ideas often come with a theme. Figure out which item you would like to be the star of the show (like baking powder) and build your activity idea from there. Give these a try for messy play if you need inspiration.

Shaving Cream Art: Have your child use a smooth surface like a fridge or a window to create their shaving cream masterpiece. 

Foody Fruit Bowl Mess: Put chopped-up fruit together with yogurt in a bowl. Have your child create designs out of the fruit with the yogurt being the messy backdrop. 

Feet, Fingers, and Hand Painting: Did someone say finger painting? Take it a step further and include the feet, hands, and fingers. Use large white paper for this activity. Before you let your kiddo loose, draw a picture on the large paper with a pencil or marker. Your child is tasked with coloring in your picture with their hands, feet, and fingers. Don’t forget to include a water bucket so that hands and feet can get a good wash. 

Splash Attack: Get messy with water! Fill up a small pool outdoors and add objects that can withstand water (pebbles, certain toys/figures, beads). Ask your child to find certain objects in the water. Once they find it and give it to you, they get to create a splash as big as they can muster with their hands. 

Play-Doh Restaurant: Uh-oh. It’s lunchtime and boy are you hungry. Lucky for you, your toddler is now running their first-ever Play-Doh restaurant. Ask them to make certain foods for you so that you can satisfy your hunger needs. Encourage them to use different colors and get a little messy. 

Free Play: Remember to include some free play and allow your child to express themselves without too many rules involved. Use beads, glitter, sand, whipped cream, M&Ms, or any of the items we mentioned above to make a good ‘ol mess. You’ll be surprised at how enjoyable messy play can be without a bigger goal in mind. Sometimes you just have to let go and have fun. 

Worried about sensory issues or behavioral problems during messy play? Occupational therapy may be right for your child. Reach out to us today.

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