Tips for Messy Play Activities at Home

The value of messy play

Messy play is a great way to encourage your child’s development. While it helps to develop creativity and imagination, there are many other benefits. Learning to handle paint brushes and dough will help with the fine motor skills needed for writing. Mixing, pouring and playing with sand, paint and water will help in understanding scientific principles. Talking about the play will help with language. This kind of play is also calming and therapeutic and can keep children occupied for a considerable length of time.

Here are guidelines to make messy, creative activity at home an enjoyable experience.

Set the boundaries

Be clear and consistent. Have one or two sensible rules and stick with them. These might be:

  • We clear up one play activity before we get another out
  • Messy play stays on the plastic
  • We only paint on the painting paper

Let the child lead the play

When playing with children, adults often want to dictate how the play develops. This leads to the child becoming frustrated abandoning the activity.
Let your child decide how to use the materials and act as a helper in the process rather than a leader. Avoid taking over or correcting what the child is doing unless a safety issue is involved.

Allowing the child to make a mess

Many parents are afraid to allow messy play activities into the home for this reason. Prepare as follows:

  • Get a large plastic table cloth or use an old ground sheet and cover the floor.
  • Invest in good quality aprons or smocks for your children.
  • Cover a good sized table with another plastic cloth. If the cloth is a cheap one, you can always scoop up the mess inside it and throw it away when the play session is finished.

Expect accidents

Accidents will happen even if you are well prepared. Have a bowl of soapy water and cleaning cloths available from the start of the activity.

Always supervise messy play

Make sure that you supervise any of these sessions and that you are clear with your child that the messy play stays in the designated area. Preschool age children may easily become distracted or forget to keep to the designated place.

Use cat litter trays!

Don’t introduce large sand and water trays, create play using a cat litter tray and children’s sand. Find miniature pots and scoops for both kinds of play.

Provide quality art materials

Make sure that you provide quality paints and paper and good size brushes. The better the painting experience the greater the chances of the paint landing on the paper rather than walls or floor.

Introduce dough

Playdough is a wonderful substance and will keep children happy for hours. It is easy to make your own. Making it with your child as well as giving it to them to play with is a great way of introducing cooking skills.
Here’s a link to some playdough recipes

Follow the child’s imagination

Let the child tell you what they are creating or about their picture. Aim for a safe environment where the child cannot fail. Don’t ask for pictures of particular things, but let them decide.

Understand the value of the mess the child makes

Children of Preschool age don’t need to end up with a finished product. Using the materials is the important part of the activity. Whatever they are doing at this age will be part of the learning process. Let them experiment.

Colouring books are a last resort

Colouring books and pencils may be soothing, but they will not help your child’s creativity. They will set the child up to fail. Until motor skills are sufficiently developed, the child will not be able to colour within the lines. A plain piece of paper, good strong colours and imagination are always preferable. If you really cannot introduce messy play, make sure pencils and crayons work well and are the best you can afford to buy.

In the end, messy play activities play an important role in building a child’s intellectual well-being.

Featured Image: tookapic/Pixabay


  1. Tania K Cowling

    Messy play is one of the best ways to enhance a young child’s fine motor skills. They learn about creativity and realize it’s okay to get dirty while thinking and creating. Whether it’s paint, clay, or even mud — children learn through play.

    1. Gil Camporazo

      I agree with you. Kids love to be on their own. They enjoy for what they’re free to do. In so doing, they could realize the importance of being free and the opportunity to do what is pleased for them.

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