Messy play

Messy play is a great way for a child to learn more about things by experiencing them. It can be presented in a number of ways, such as on sensory trays, each with a different theme. When enjoying messy play be mindful of different hand movements you want to encourage.

It’s useful to think about different textures. This can help you to make an activity suitable for the child’s needs, and also to think about variety.

Easy textures: with these the child has more control over contact.

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

Difficult textures: with these the child has less control over contact.

  • Wet textures that stick to the hand but the child can easily break contact with (e.g. by lightly wiping): jelly, wet sand or sensitive shaving foam
  • Wet textures that stick to the hand and the child has least control of when breaking contact (e.g. by repeatedly wiping): yoghurt, fingerpaints or ice cream

Changing textures: you can demonstrate how textures change by starting with dried custard powder or shredded tissues and then adding water.

Top tip

Not all children like to get messy. As an alternative, try paints in a clear plastic bag or on paper with cling film over the top. The child can play by pushing the paint around with their fingers and hands over the plastic or cling film. Always use edible, clean materials, and be mindful of choking hazards and allergies.

First published: Monday 17 October 2016
Updated: Monday 31 October 2016