Why is it that any child will swiftly seek out and plunge directly into the tiniest patch of mud in your backyard long before you even knew it rained? Because kids, being the little scientists that they are, don’t get caught up in thoughts about the future (clean up) or the set-up (the past), instead they tend to be completely immersed in the moment.
And if that moment happens to have a squish, squelch, slosh, plop sound about it, well – all the better!
Messy play has so many benefits for children. They’re active learners, they learn through play, in fact, play is their number one job. Messy play allows children to stretch their imaginations, make choices, solve problems, learn new processes and develop concepts. It also stimulates their senses and engages their learning in ways far greater than any structured activity.
So rather than another ‘activity’ to add to your already hectic schedule, which can sometimes be more hassle than it’s worth, not to mention costly, set up some messy play, make yourself a cuppa, sit back and watch your little ones get to it. Or better yet, join in!
Top 10 Messy Play Ideas For Summer
- Cloud Dough. 1 cup of baby oil to 8 cups of flour. Use a whisk or fork to mix, throw in some cutters, spoons, bowls or mini dump trucks and you’ll keep them happy for hours.
- Goop. I find this one A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. A fascinating mixture that has a consistency from another planet – it feels firm when you pick it up, but then turns to liquid and streams between your fingers. Mix 2 packs of cornflour to 2 cups of water and add food colouring for some extra fun.
- Mud. This one is easy but best done in the afternoon just before coming in for a bath. Simply find a patch of dirt. Turn on the hose or give the kids some buckets of water, some toys such as shovels, dump trucks, etc and let them go for it.
- Water Painting. Again, not so messy but kids will get wet so best done on a hot day. Fill buckets with water, add some large paint brushes encourage the kids to paint trees, bricks, fences.
- Soapy Slime. 1 cup of soap flakes to 3 cups of warm water. Add food colouring for interest. Beat all ingredients together in a large bowl with an electric mixer. Using a water table or simply different buckets and containers, let kids explore and help them use descriptive words to understand what they’re feeling (slimy, heavy, slippery, etc).
- Breadcrumbs and Trucks. Fill a large rectangular container with breadcrumbs and add mini cars or mini construction vehicles and let the kids loose in their mini sand pit work zone!
- Bubble Fun. Fill a large container or bucket with some bubble bath or dishwashing detergent and water (eco-friendly as some of these products can be quite harsh on kids delicate skin). Add some sponges and toy animals for some extra fun. Little ones might need some help to get started and supervision to ensure that they don’t just empty the whole lot out onto the grass straight away.
- Body painting. Find some child-friendly or eco paints and help your child get creative outdoors.
- HUGE Art. Find a large roll of paper from a craft store. Lay it out and provide some child-friendly paints in different pots. Add sponges, brushes, etc and let their imaginations run wild.
- Kinetic Sand. 98% sand and 2% magic, this amazing new product revolutionises indoor sand play. Soft and stretchy, the sand sticks only to itself, not to you, shapes exactly like wet sand and never dries out. Sold online and in most good toy stores, this is one product that I’ll be loving this summer!
Keeping The ‘Mess’ In Messy Play Contained
- Cover up – use an old adult shirt or you can buy plastic kids coveralls. This way, when kids have finished, you can simply remove a layer and they remain ‘relatively’ unscathed underneath.
- Go au-naturel. If the weather permits, remove their clothing which will mean less washing up and a quick bubble bath or even a hose off at the end (making it part of the fun) is all you need to have them looking spick and span again.
- Use a table kids can stand around and containers to keep things off the floor.
- Hose off the mess into the garden – again this is the importance of using eco-friendly products to protect the plants and groundwater.
- Keep a towel handy to wipe any hands or deal with any accidents, such as soap going into the eye.
- Protect your surfaces with newspaper, plastic, old sheets and use washable paints.
- Do messy play outdoors if weather permits, but if not, pick a suitable indoor location. A bathtub or kitchen floor isn’t that hard to clean up at the end.
- Supervise! Little kids are easily distracted. Let them lead their play but make sure that you keep an eye on things.
- Have fun, keep your camera handy and relax. Enjoy the creativity that comes with messy play and try to stay in the moment with them, rather than worrying about how you’re going to clean it all up afterwards.
What are YOUR top tips for messy play?