5 messy play ideas for summer

Posted on November 6th, 2017

We look at the importance of messy play, and offer up some fun, new play ideas for the warm, summer months. By Tammy Jacks

Messy play ideas

Did you know that messy play isn’t only about letting your little one loose with the baking flour? Messy play engages all your child’s senses and is a crucial part of early learning, despite the feeling that it might be untidy or disorganised.

Stimulating your child is critically important to ensuring that she develops optimally, says Carla Grobler, occupational therapist and author of My Smart Kid’s Growing Up Step By Step. It’s been proven that babies who don’t receive touch and stimulation activities may experience severe developmental delays.

However, this doesn’t mean you have to spend hours a day stimulating your child. Little ones’ need resting times too, says Carla. The key is to find a few fun activities that will keep your child entertained and help her learn at the same time.

Your preschooler will love this fun kitchen experiment

Although messy play is, well, messy, it also makes an enormous contribution to your baby’s and young child’s cognitive and creative development believes Bernadette Duffy, head of the Thomas Coram Centre for Children and Families in the UK.

ALSO SEE:  3 great games to develop your toddler’s cognitive development

“To mess about is to play with something and it is through play, which is part of the creative process, that children learn and develop,” she says. If you’re new to the idea of messy play, here is what it entails in a nutshell:

  • Children use all their senses in the process of exploration, especially the sense of touch.
  • Messy play, with various textures and objects, offers children plenty of opportunity to mould and manipulate materials.
  • The focus is on free and fun play without having to focus on making or producing something.

Ready to give it a go? Firstly, ensure your baby or toddler is rested and ready to play and dress her in old clothes or let her just wear a nappy, especially when playing with water.

Safety concerns

Always remember to check materials for potential dangers and do not leave children unsupervised, says Bernadette. If you have a young baby, think about the size of materials to avoid choking hazards.

When using foods, check for allergies and dietary requirements.

Occupational therapist and founder of Clamber Club, Liz Senior shares some of her favourite messy play activities for summer that won’t blow your budget…

Water texture fun

You’ll need:

  • A large bucket or paddling pool with a small amount of water in it.
  • Different textured water toys like a sponge, face cloth, plastic pot scourer, a soft nail brush, plastic textured toys. In fact, anything around the house you can think of with different textures.

The activity

  • Sit your baby in the water, or if she’s too small to sit on her own, sit in the water with her and hold her.
  • Gently stroke her body with all the different textures. For the rougher textures like the pot scourer and nail brush, only touch her hands lightly, or make sure that you’re not hurting her skin with them.

Take it a step further

  • Add bubbles or sand to the water to let her play with mud.
  • Allow her to feel the different textures and play with them. Shake them, pat them, poke and prod, squeeze and splash!
  • If you are in the water with her, put more in so that she can feel the volume of her whole body in the water.

ALSO SEE: 33 fun games and activities for your baby at ever age 

Make gooey goop

 You’ll need:

  • A box of maizena (also known as cornflour or corn starch)
  • A few different types of food colouring
  • A few shallow dishes
  • A bit of water
  • A few bowls of dried food ingredients such as lentils, oats or rice.

The activity

This messy play activity will stimulate your child’s creative senses, strengthen those fingers, and promote the sense of touch in her hands says Liz.  Cornflour mixed with water has an amazing texture, because it starts off gooey in your hands and hardens as you play with it.

  • Simply empty the contents of the cornflour into a few shallow dishes.
  • Add a drop or two of food colouring to each dish, with some water.
  • Let your child mix the water into the cornflour herself using her hands, but add small amounts of water at a time to allow your little one to really experience the texture without it getting too runny.

Take it a step further

  • As the mixture hardens, let your child experiment some more by mixing some of the dry food ingredients such as the oats and rice into the cornflour mixture to change the look and feel of it.

Shaving cream painting

 You’ll need:

  • A clean window or tray
  • A can of shaving cream
  • A bowl or plate
  • An apron for your little one (If she has clean clothes on as they’re bound to get dirty!)

 The activity

  • Let your little one sit or stand near a window or in front of a tray.
  • Spray some shaving cream into the bowl or plate and let your child start finger and hand painting!
  • If you’re doing this with an older child, encourage her to make big movements with her arms over the window or tray, and patterns with her fingers.

 Take it a step further

  • Add different elements to the shaving cream painting, like glitter or items from the garden like sticks, stones or flowers.
  • Be sure to watch that your little one doesn’t eat the shaving cream or other elements!

TIP: You could also use whipped cream if your child isn’t lactose sensitive and you’re certain she’ll want to stick her fingers and hands into her mouth.

Sand and mud play

Who says mud is out of bounds? Can you remember the joy of sinking your toes into a puddle of squishy mud?

 You’ll need:

  • A sandy spot in your garden or local park
  • A bucket of water and a spade

The activity

This is one of the most popular messy play activities that all children love. Let your child sit in the sand with water and a spade and let her maker her own mud pond!

Take it a step further

Play pat-a-cake, baker’s man…

Pat your mud pile, prick it and mark it with B, decorate with leaves and pretend to eat your chocolate cake!

ALSO SEE: 3 must-play holiday games for kids

Create your own ghost mud

This is the one time you can allow your child to shred the toilet paper and play with the soap!

You’ll need:

  • A bar of soap (frozen soap is easier to grate)
  • A small roll of toilet paper
  • A flat bin or container for mixing
  • A little water

The activity

  • Grate the bar of soap using a hand grater (this is a job for a parent).
  • While you’re grating the soap, let your child shred the whole roll of toilet paper with her tiny hands.
  • Put the two ingredients into a bowl with water and mix them together. It’ll form a type of dough which is an ideal sensory activity.
  • Keep adding water until you reach the dough consistency.
  • Let your little one play and mould the mixture to make different shapes and objects.

 Take it a step further

Because this mixture is even softer and silkier than play-doh, grab the cookie cutters or moulds you have in the kitchen, or simply spoon the mixture into muffin trays and pat it flat.


About Tammy Jacks

Tammy is a wife, mom and freelance writer with 15 years’ experience in the media industry. She specialises in general lifestyle topics related to health, wellness and parenting. Tammy has a passion for fitness and the great outdoors. If she’s not running around after her daughter, you’ll find her off the beaten track, running, hiking or riding her bike. Learn more about Tammy Jacks .