Messy play

What is messy play?

Messy play is exactly what it sounds like: letting children play by creating a great big mess. 

It’s a great way for your child to learn more about textures, tastes and sensations. It can involve getting hands stuck into wet materials like foam, or dry materials like sand. 

Messy play activities can be presented in a number of ways, such as on sensory trays, each with a different theme.  

Why is messy play important?

Messy play can help children to develop their motor skills, while learning all about how different materials and textures feel. 

It’s also just a lot of fun to make a big mess!

Introducing different textures brings more variety into play. It also exposes your child to a variety of different objects, helping them to develop preferences.  

For example, you can show how textures change by starting with dried custard powder or dried shredded tissues and then adding water. 

Messy play can also encourage different hand movements. These can include: 

  • A palmer grasp (squeezing toys and play dough). 
  • Using thumb and fingers (building towers of bricks). 
  • Pincer grip (popping bubble wrap). 
  • Release (placing objects in containers). 
  • Rotary action (pouring from one container to another). 
  • Finger isolation (making fingerprints in play dough). 
  • Bilateral hand use (tearing paper). 
  • Hand and finger strength (manipulating play dough). 
  • Tracking (following lines of wool).

Messy play ideas

Below you’ll find some ideas for different materials you can use in messy play, and links to step-by-step guides for specific activities.

Remember to use edible, clean materials, and be mindful of choking hazards and allergies. 

Dry messy play

  • Dry textures that fall away from your hand: dried rice, dry sand, dry lentils, or cotton wool.
  • Dry textures that mostly fall away but some particles or bits may stick to the hand: play dough, sterile compost, clean mud, or chalk. 

Wet messy play

  • Wet textures that stick to the hand but that your child can easily break contact with, for example, by lightly wiping their hands: jelly, baked beans, wet sand, or sensitive shaving foam. 
  • Wet textures that stick to the hand and that your child has least control of breaking contact with, for example, by washing their hands: yoghurt, finger paint, mud, Angel Delight and ice cream.

Wet messy play ideas

Make your own bubbles

Make art with ink blowing

Homemade edible fingerpaint