by Katie Virk
Remember the golden rule of messy play - There must be more minutes of peace and happy playing than minutes of set up / clean up. These ideas are quick and easy to create, and more importantly, tidy away. They’re also super eco as they mainly use what you’ve already got and perhaps even prevent you buying a new toy out of boredom!
1. Outdoor time
The original messy play. No wonder messy play is good for tiny humans if you imagine that for tens of thousands of years our only toys would have been sticks, stones, dirt, sand, water etc. For tiny babies just lying on the grass and feeling the wind is a sensory experience. For older babies / toddlers, try these:
- Digging in mud or sand
- Splashing in puddles
- Making a ‘pond’ – i.e. dropping twigs and grass in a puddle to make it ‘nice for the frogs’
- Kicking, crunching, throwing dried leaves
- Making a ‘hedgehog /fairy home’ aka a heap of twigs, leaves, stones that toddler can enjoy finding and piling up
But mainly just let them out to roam and they’ll find their own messy play.
2. Sink play
For a toddler or older child, put some water and washing up liquid in the kitchen sink and pull up a dining chair. If there’s a towel already in the dirty laundry put it under the chair. Hey presto, hours of fun. Yes your child and kitchen may be wet afterwards. But water will dry, just don’t slip over in it.
Add-ins – rotary whisk (best non-toy ever), recycling bin contents, plastic toys.
3. Kinetic sand
This is one to remember when people ask what your child wants for Christmas. It’s like a cross between sand and playdough. (Obviously your child needs to be old enough not to eat it). I’m usually more of a DIYer for messy play but there is a certain convenience to something in a packet that can be opened, played with, makes barely any mess, and then returned easily to the packet for another time. We have the 1Kg bag and my son has been playing with it regularly for three years.
4. Trays of dried goods
Do you remember that scene in Amelie where she sinks her hand into the bag of lentils because it just feels so good? Lentils are my all-time favourite messy play; so soothing to swish around the tray. Plus the only clean-up is a quick hoover or sweep, which frankly my floor needed anyway, and all toddlers love sweeping so that’s round two of fun sorted.
Lentils are the BEST for low mess. Other dried goods rice, pasta etc. crush to a powder if you stand on the spilled ones, making them harder to sweep up. Not so lentils, they remain whole and easy to sweep.
I have used just two bags of lentils in the last five years of messy play; simply sweep and reuse each time. I did have to chuck one lot that got wet, otherwise they’ll live forever.
Get a big tray with sides e.g. a roasting tin or empty plastic drawer, tip in a packet of dried goods e.g. lentils, rice, pasta, dried beans, chickpeas, desiccated coconut, breakfast cereal. Add extras e.g. spoons, scoops, small pots / containers, small toys / figures. Sit back and watch your baby get stuck in, or even sit them in it.
Older babies or toddlers will tend to want to tip the whole tray onto the floor in one go which is annoying. Hold the tray, weight it or stick it down, end the play session if they do dump it all out… Mostly just wait for them to be old enough not to tip, around 18 months for my kid.
Have you got ice cubes in your freezer? Good. Dump some into a plastic bowl for your child to mess around with. Add the usual spoons, pots, little toys, jobs a good ‘un.
If you want to get really fancy you can freeze toys in there or dye the water with food colouring.