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Creating messy fun - messy fun ideas with common items in your home

Updated: Mar 12, 2021

Before you say no to messy play let me explain some of the benefits of messy play to you. Messy play is so important for a child's development. Messy play or sensory play as its called too, allows your child to work and explore using their hands (sometimes even their feet) to create a controlled mess. You can start doing messy play with babies from aged 6-12 months using safe edible materials such as cooked spaghetti, gloop/oobleek using food colouring, blended chick peas, blended cereal to form a sand texture and so much more. Messy play allows your child to explore the world around them, encourages their language development, fosters curiosity and imagination, it allows for children to learn to play independently and so much more. The idea of messy play has been around a long time, I first started using these messy play ideas over 10 years ago. All pictures & combinations of mixed materials shown are my own.

Using foods:

I use mostly uneaten or nearly gone off foods in my messy play like cereal (can be blended to make a sand texture), jelly (can freeze any left over jelly and make it into a rescue mission), watermelon or any type of fruit that is going off (water play is great with fruit), spaghetti (cooked or uncooked), rice, chick peas, beans, vegetables (great for painting with), yogurt (put food colouring in to make different colours), custard, Ice cream really any type of food. Any coloured rice/pasta I use poster paint from @mrpriceireland to dye it. If you store dyed dry food correctly for play it can last you along time. My current batch of rainbow rice is now 11 months old.

How I dye dry food: All you need is zip lock bags (wash and dry them out afterwards to reuse again for dying), poster paint, rice/chick peas/lentils/any dry food and some trays for them to dry on. First pour in your rice into the bags, put a little bit of poster paint about a table spoon, zip bag up, shake well then pour out flat onto a tray and leave to dry. When finished the activity put the dyed dry food into zip locked bag or tuba wear box to keep, it can last up to a year or even longer if kept dry and some lighter colours can be recoloured with darker colours. To dye cooked spaghetti, I cook it first, leave to cool, put into a zip locked bag, add poster paint and leave to dry on a tray.

To see the video on how to dye rice


This is a brilliant sensory messy play activity. It is easily cleaned with a damp cloth or mop. We love adding utensils & play kitchen items to this. To make I use 2 cups of corn flour to 1/2 cup of water and add poster paint to it. To make it safe for all ages use food colouring however I would avoid using dark food colouring especially blue as it took nearly three days for the blue to come of our 6 year old's hand!

If you use coco powder instead of poster paint or food colouring it will go brown and will look like mud and this can be great fun if you add in animals, cars or trucks. You could then turn it in to a washing activity afterwards.

Frozen play:

Why not instead of throwing out your used messy play (jelly, gloop/oobleck, left over shaving foam) pop it in the freezer, add a few toys and it becomes another activity. Ice rescue is a big hit here. We use empty recycling bottles like shampoo bottles & fill them up with warm water to rescue the toys. Great for strengthening those hand muscles as they try to squeeze the water out.

You can add some salt (this helps break down the ice) and some tools too! Please only use tools that you know your child can safely use.

Water play:

All kids love Water play. Why not let them 'help' clean up an activity by getting them to wash the toys, set up a small world at the sink, let them wash a baby, cars, animals, or add bubbles or food colour. You can use your sink, basin or a storage box, water play doesn't have to be restricted to a bath. Water play is the ultimate messy play activity and children just love washing and playing with things in water. How many times have you argued with your child when its time to leave the bath because they are having too much fun!

To extend it further you could add in left over messy play from the day before like spaghetti or ice and shaving foam is great in water play.

Water play requires constant adult supervision.

Shaving foam:

Shaving foam is a big hit here. Great for playing on its own or add drops of poster paint or food colouring on top to change its colour or add it to other materials like water beads, rice, coloured ice cubes for extra messy fun or add sand to make it into a different texture. It can create endless messy play possibilities and is a must have if your child loves messy play. An alternative to shaving foam is canned cream, we had to stop using it as the boys would just sit and lick the table till it was all gone!

Moon sand and Cloud dough:

Moon sand is great however I find this one can get very messy as flour is the base of it and seems to stick to everything but its a good activity for keeping them busy. You can mold it into shapes just like sand and if you add coco powder, spices or a few drops of essential oils it adds another sensory element to it.

Cloud dough is a great one and has the same texture as playdough and smells so good from the conditioner. It can mold too into shapes much like playdough. If you keep it in a tuba wear box it will keep up to a week. After a few days I normally leave it out over night and let it dry out and then use it for an activity as snow as it turns very flakey. Instead of throwing it out after the activity put it in a container, add some toys and pop it in the freezer for a rescue mission another day.

Do check out our Instagram page for lots of more messy play set ups and ideas.

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