14 Messy Play Activities to Keep Children Busy and Learning all Year

Though the phrase “messy play” alone might be enough to have you running for fear of domestic disaster, hear us out.

Messy play is actually one of the very best ways to encourage independent play and learning. This means that your children will have the chance to partake in some hands-on education whilst you can sit back and enjoy a cup of tea that’s, wait for it, actually hot.

Here are 14 messy play activities to keep children of all ages busy and learning year-round! And the best part? They’re all incredibly easy to put together – you probably already have everything you need sitting in your kitchen cupboards!

Messy Play Activities

Rice Messy Play

1. Rice play

So simple yet so effective.

Rice play can keep children entertained for hours. They’ll practice pouring, manipulating small objects, and listening to the interesting sounds of dry rice being moved around.

You’ll need:

  • Rice
  • Food Colouring
  • Various bowl and utensils

Pour your dry rice into a big bowl and provide your baby or toddler with cups, spoons, whisks, and various sized bowls for them to play with.

You might like to contain this activity inside a tuff tray to make the rice easier to clear away afterwards! Once used, store the rice in a jar and save for the next rice play – probably best not to eat it…

Cloud Dough

2. Fizzy cloud dough

This messy play activity is, um, messy. You’ll probably want to do it outside or in the bath to make things easier to clean up afterwards.

The benefit of all this mess is that your child will get to experience a new visual element as well as feel the fizzing of the dough as it touches their skin.

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup of plain flour
  • 1 cup of baking soda
  • ¼ cup vegetable/sunflower oil
  • Food colouring (optional)
  • Vinegar
  • A tuff spot tray/bath/play area

Add the flour, baking soda, oil and food colouring to a bowl, then mix well to make your dough.

Put the dough into your tray/play area then add small amounts of vinegar and watch as the mixture starts to fizz! Adding extra baking soda will also create more bubbles on top of the fizz – this activity is safe for young children and will be loved by all ages.

We even used cloud dough in our Christmas Messy Play Boxes.

3. Baked Beans

Sometimes the best messy play activities are the simplest. Messy play with beans is cheap, easy to set up, and, best of all, edible!

This is a great sensory play activity for babies and toddlers that love getting messy whilst experimenting with new tastes.

You’ll need:

  • A tin of beans
  • A tuff spot tray/container
  • Utensils

Empty your tin of beans onto the tough tray and arrange a few interesting utensils around the mess. You might like to give your child a metal spoon, wooden spoon, fork, whisk – use your imagination and provide them with anything that you think will make the activity even more fun!

4.   Slime

Homemade slime is as much fun to prepare as it is to play with, and is sure to lead to hours of entertainment and, surprisingly, not very much mess!

You’ll need:

  • Child-friendly glue
  • Slime Activator – https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Slime-Activator-ALL-IN-ONE-Solution-makes-perfect-slime-for-your-KIDS-every-time-/383315363026?_trksid=p2349624.m46890.l49292&fbclid=IwAR38TvsoNPokXBIxyfeiMlblwxXi5tBzA9SlAuwsFUXRcs-hmiwff0lBxmY
  • Food colouring (optional)

First, pour your glue into the bowl (however much glue you use will be how much slime you end up with).
Next, take your activator and pour it in SLOWLY, and keep pouring and mixing until it starts pulling away from the bowl.
Now, start kneading the mixture with your hands. It will be sticky at first, but as you knead it it should get less sticky and start to become slime!

Note that this slime is not edible, so avoid using it with babies and younger children.

Jelly Messy Play

5. Jelly and sea creatures

Create an under-the-sea world using yummy jelly and plastic sea animals. This activity is just as fun alone as it is when shared with siblings, friends, or even at a birthday party!

You’ll need:

  • Jelly mixture (preferably blue)
  • Sea creatures
  • A tub

Prepare your jelly mix and make sure that it’s well set – otherwise it will turn slushy very quickly. Put the jelly into a tub before breaking it up and placing the sea creatures inside. Let your little one explore the wonders of the underwater world from their kitchen!

6. Finger painting

Finger painting is a wonderful way for children to get creative, learn about colours, and develop motor skills. Why not let them loose on a giant sheet of paper in the garden so that you have less mess to worry about later?

You’ll need:

  • Child-safe paints
  • A palette
  • Paper

Put the paints into a palette, empty yoghurt pots, or egg boxes (painting is a great way to reuse some of your recycling!) before popping an apron onto your little one and letting them loose.

You could leave them to experiment with solitary play or engage with them by asking what it is that they’re painting.

7. Dinosaurs in the mud

Let your toddler get messy without the concern of them ingesting actual mud. We’ve suggested using dinosaurs for this muddy activity, but really you could use any selection of toys that you have lying around – cars, zoo animals, sea creatures, etc.

You’ll need:

  • Toy dinosaurs (or other toys)
  • 2 cups of cornflour
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 cup of cocoa powder
  • Tuff Spot tray/container

Combine the cornstarch and cocoa powder in a bowl, before slowly adding the water in and mixing. 1 cup of water is a guideline, you might find that you need more or less depending on what consistency you’re trying to achieve!

Pour the muddy mixture into your tray or container before adding the dinosaurs in to create your own Jurassic world.

We loved Dinosaurs so much we made our own Dinosaur Messy Play Boxes.

Ice Cube Messy Play

8. Hatching ice cubes

This is the perfect activity for those warmer days when you’re desperate to cool your little ones down without the torture of having to throw them in a cold shower!

You’ll need:

  • Ice cube tray
  • Food colouring (optional)
  • Small toys

You will need to prepare this activity in advance to give the water time to freeze. Start by adding a little food colouring to a jug of water. Pour the coloured water into the ice cube trays before placing one toy (or item) inside each ice cube.

Once frozen, remove the ice cubes and present them to your toddler in a bowl or tuff spot tray. The will have lots of fun experimenting with different ways to melt the ice, all whilst slowly watching their toys be revealed!

Another great way to do this is by freezing water in egg-shaped moulds – this will be like hatching their own animals. We have done this before to make Dinosaur Eggs with balloons, dinosaurs and water!

9. Balloon art

Are you ready to get paint everywhere?

This activity can make for some interesting pieces of artwork that you might even like to display in your toddler’s bedroom.

You’ll need:

  • Balloons
  • Paint
  • Paper

Fill a few balloons with different colours of paint before tying up. Create a small hole in the top bottom of each balloon and watch whilst your little one releases their inner artist.

10. Water play

The best thing about water play is that there is no shopping necessary. You already have everything you need in your kitchen!

This activity is similar to rice play, whereby you give your child water as well as a variety of objects that they can use to mix, pour, and play with it.

You’ll need:

  • A bowl
  • Water
  • Utensils, cups, cutlery, interesting objects
  • Containers to fill and empty

Pour some warm water into a bowl (you might prefer to use cold if it’s hot outside) and let your child go wild with exploring the different ways in which they can play with it!

This activity is best done outside, in the bath, or on a large towel.

You might also like to add bubbles for an extra element of fun. If your child is young, be sure to use something that won’t sting if it were to get in their eyes – like a baby bubble bath.

11. Car painting

Car painting provides vehicle lovers with a brand new way to play with their toy cars and trucks. They’ll also make some interesting artwork that they can display proudly on the fridge or in their bedroom.

You’ll need:

  • Plastic vehicles – trucks, cars, trains
  • Paint
  • Paper plates
  • Sheets of paper

Start by adding different colours of paint to different paper plates, then flatten it a little. Add one vehicle to each plate then give your child a sheet of paper to ‘drive’ on.

12. Mud kitchen

Everybody loves a mud kitchen! The mess is all-natural and it stays outside, what’s not to love?!

A mud kitchen doesn’t have to be a great, impressive structure built over 4 weeks. All you really need are some old pots, pans, and a bowl of water.

Here are a few things that your child could make in their mud kitchen:

  • Soup – using water, mud, leaves and flowers (not for eating!!)
  • Mud pies
  • Cups of “hot chocolate”
  • Small World Toys

This is a really great opportunity to engage in some outdoor learning whilst getting really messy. Be sure to have the bath awaiting your children’s return into the house! Maybe purchase some mini beast toys to find in the garden!

Cereal Messy Play

13. Cereal

Messy play with cereal is simple, cheap, and edible!

This is a great sensory play activity for babies and toddlers that love getting messy whilst experimenting with new tastes.

You’ll need:

  • Soft cereals (like porridge)
  • A tuff tray tray/container
  • Utensils

Empty your cereals onto the tough tray and arrange a few different utensils around the mess.

You can set out a small world tuff spot tray with using Weetabix as hay bales, Chocolate Hoops as Mud, Porridge Oats as a field etc.

Play Dough Messy Play

14. Play Dough

Play dough takes a little more work to make but it’s still easy to do with common household ingredients. Children love rolling it, cutting it and making different shapes, a real winner.

To make:

  • 8 tbsp plain flour
  • 2 tbsp table salt
  • 60ml warm water
  • food colouring
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil

We’ve used play dough in many of our own boxes including scented play dough in our Safari Messy Play Boxes.

When it comes to messy play, we hope you find these activities easy and straight forward, all whilst your children learns through play and gets messy!

Remember to make sure you always supervise you child whilst doing any of these activities.

Which activity are you going to try out first?