10 Messy Play Ideas to Try With Your Toddler

Messy play ideas for toddlers | Slime play fun at Papilio Early Learning Centre

Messy play is a highly beneficial form of play where children explore and interact with a wide range of sensory-rich materials. From squishing and moulding playdough to splashing in water or digging in sand, messy play allows children to engage their senses, develop fine motor skills, and foster creativity.

It’s not just about making a mess; it’s about the joy of discovery, the freedom of expression, and the valuable learning experiences that come from hands-on exploration. Through messy play, children develop cognitive, social, and emotional skills while having a blast getting their hands dirty and immersing themselves in playful experimentation.

Here are 10 toddler messy play ideas that are sure to inspire joy and learning.

1. Finger painting

Set up a space with large sheets of paper or a roll of butcher paper taped to a table or the floor. Provide non-toxic finger paints in various colours and let your toddler create masterpieces using their fingers. You can also use tools like sponges, brushes, or even fruits and vegetables for stamping patterns.

2. Water play

Fill a shallow container or a sensory table with water and add some plastic toys like cups, spoons, and small containers. Let your toddler splash, pour, and explore the water. You can also add bubbles or coloured water for added excitement.

3. Sensory bins

Create sensory bins using materials like rice, dried beans, pasta, or shredded paper. Hide small toys or objects for your toddler to discover as they dig and sift through the sensory materials. Add scoops, funnels, and containers for scooping and pouring.

4. Playdough fun

Make homemade playdough or use store-bought playdough in different colours. Provide tools like cookie cutters, rolling pins, plastic knives, and moulds for your toddler to manipulate and create shapes and designs. Encourage imaginative play by adding small figurines or props.

5. Mud kitchen

Set up a mud kitchen outdoors using old pots, pans, utensils, and containers. Mix soil with water to create mud, and let your toddler “cook” and explore messy concoctions. Add natural materials like leaves, sticks, and stones for added sensory experiences.

6. Sandpit play

If you have access to a sandbox or a beach, let your toddler dig, build, and play in the sand. Provide small buckets, shovels, moulds, and toys for sandcastle building and imaginative play. You can also hide treasures like shells or small toys in the sand for them to find.

7. Gloop or slime play

Mix corn starch with water to create a fascinating substance called gloop. It’s a non-Newtonian fluid that behaves like a liquid and a solid depending on how it’s handled. Let your toddler explore the unique texture and experiment with its properties.

8. Ice play

Freeze small toys, coloured water, or edible items like fruit pieces in ice cube trays or larger containers. Provide tools like spoons, brushes, and salt for your toddler to melt and excavate the frozen treasures. This activity is great for hot days and sensory exploration.

9. Painting with different materials

Expand beyond traditional paintbrushes and let your toddler paint using unconventional materials like sponges, cotton balls, feathers, or even their hands and feet. Experiment with different textures and techniques on paper or cardboard.

10. Bubble play

Set up a bubble station with bubble solution and wands of various shapes and sizes. Encourage your toddler to blow bubbles, chase them, or create bubble art by catching bubbles on paper. You can also add food colouring to the bubble solution for colourful bubble fun.

Embrace the messy play fun at home

Messy play is an invaluable learning experience, essential to early childhood development. From social skill development to fine motor skill development, there are so many benefits of messy play.

Our Papilio Early Learning Centre educators are qualified in Affinity Education’s Lifelong Learning Curriculum in which messy play is a key component. We hope these ideas inspire you to engage in some messy play fun at home too.

Read more about how messy play helps child development.