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Wednesday, 26 August 2020

5 Simple Messy Play Ideas to Engage Your Toddler!

Using Messy Play to Engage Your Toddler! 

Messy play is incredible! Children of all ages absolutely love it. They can get their hands, feet, faces and everything else in sight mucky while having the time of their lives. Not only is it fun, but they are developing so many essential skills along the way. 

You may notice in a lot of my messy play photos that Arlo is wearing the same yellow vest. This is because my husband accidentally ruined this vest by leaving a pen in his pocket which leaked onto the back of it. It is already ruined and therefore I don't mind whatever else gets stuck onto it. 

I chose a vest (over a t-shirt and trousers) for three reasons:
  • Firstly, it is much easier to get sticky things off Arlo's skin than material and so it saves me a ton of time when cleaning up.
  • Secondly, during our particularly messy 'messy play' I can strip him easily to put him straight in the bath afterwards. 
  • Finally, messy play is all about the sensory experience, so the more of his skin that comes into contact with the messy play materials the better I say! 
I highly recommend you find an outfit for your little one that you keep aside for your messy play adventures. It just means you can stick it straight in the wash and don't need to worry about it getting messy. 

Underneath each messy play activity, I have included a quick explanation of how to clean-up afterwards and a few tips to hopefully contain the mess as much as possible. Of course, messy play is all about the messier the better, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't also aim to make our lives as easy as possible. Our little ones will have just as much fun with an activity regardless of if it takes us ten minutes or two hours to clean up afterwards! 

So, without further ado, here are 5 of my favourite messy play activities. 

Rainbow Drops! 

As a child, rainbow drops were one of my all time favourite sweets. They are so tasty and the bonus is they are SO cheap! One bag will set you back just 50p from most big supermarkets (or you can order a multi-pack of 10 here for £4.30, making them just 43p a pack!). 

For this activity, I simply selected a few of Arlo's favourite toys and bits and bobs and arranged them onto his tough tray with some Rainbow Drops scattered all around. This activity is great because it is completely taste friendly - your child can put everything in their mouth and you can be confident they will be safe. 

Clean up - there really wasn't much to clean away after this activity, which was a huge bonus. All I needed to do was sweep up the escaped rainbow drops and dump them in the bin. 

 Play Dough! 

My son is still at an age where most things will instinctively go in his mouth. For that reason, I choose not to use shop-bought play dough as it full of chemicals and other things which I wouldn't want my child to ingest. 

Instead, I use my perfect home made recipe (which you can find on my play dough link here).

I had tried so many recipes, some with all kinds of wacky ingredients but none had ever really hit the mark. In the end, I decided to create my own simple recipe by combining what I had learnt from other recipes along the way. I hope you find it helpful! 

For this activity, I simply laid out the play dough on the tough tray with a range of cookie cutters and utensils. If you are short on time, or would prefer to keep this activity contained to a smaller area, you could even use my play dough recipe as one of your Montessori tray activities. Click here to see an example of this.

Clean up - If you are using a tough tray here, clean up is pretty straight forward as you can simply smush the play-dough back into a ball and either put it into a food bag or cling film for a few days if you plan to reuse it, or throw it out. I recommend you put a sheet underneath too as it is much easier to take the sheet outside and shake off any excess than try to pick it up off the floor. The one pictured is a 'Totsahoy' protective mat and I cannot recommend them enough. They have tiny bumps underneath which means the mat doesn't slip or slide along the floor which keeps your little one perfectly safe. Here's the link if you are interested, they come in a whole host of patterns and colours. 
If you have carpet, you might want to lay out an extra large plastic dust sheet or similar underneath just to be absolutely certain nothing will reach it. No one wants to spend an hour pulling play dough out of the carpet!

Sand and Water trays.  

Anyone who lives in the UK, or many other places for that matter, will tell you that you cannot rely on the weather. I love to get outside and use our sand and water trays, but some days that just isn't practical. Of course, you could just strap on your rain mac and wellies and enjoy the outdoors whatever the weather, but Arlo absolutely detests the sensation of wet sand. He will not put his feet into a wet sand pit! So, I found a great little alternative which is this mini sand and water pit. It is really reasonably priced and comes with everything you see in the photo plus much more. The watering can, sand moulds and utensils for digging. 

Now, Arlo can have beach inspired fun come rain or shine! 

Clean up - Again, by putting this onto our tough tray everything is contained, but I have put another blanket underneath just to keep any sand off my deep-pile conservatory rug. I recommend giving your child a cloth so they can clean up their own water spills and depending on their age they may be able to use a dustpan and brush to clean up the spilled sand too. 

The wonder that is - Tapioca Pearls!

Until a friend told me about this at play group one day, I had never even heard of tapioca pearls! Tapioca pearls are a jelly-like ball made from cassava root. They are used in Southeast Asian cuisine so are 100% completely edible and safe for your little one. 

Make sure you follow the directions on the tapioca pearls you have, but generally you add the pearls to a pot of boiling water and wait for them to float to the top. At that point, you cover the pot with a lid and turn the heat right down allowing them to sit for between 4 and 6 minutes, then use a slotted spoon to lift the pearls out of the water and wait for them to cool. 

Since this was Arlo's first time experiencing tapioca pearls, I presented him with some on a plate without anything else around them. I wanted him to get the full experience of feeling their unique texture and taste, however you could of course add any other utensils, plastic or wood toys you would like to use alongside them. 

I used these ones as they already have a mixture of colours inside the bag, although you can of course dye your own, too. 

Clean up - Again, I used my Totsahoy (Here's the link) mat for this activity. You could also use your tough tray, but because the pearls are quite sticky, I wanted something I could roll up, take outside and shake off. This worked great, but beware: those sticky little pearls really do get everywhere (including your little ones hair) as you can see here! Don't worry, they are easy to pick off and don't leave much goo behind. If you're worried, stick them in the bath straight afterwards.  

Animal Rescue! 

This one takes a bit of forward planning, but it really is so simple. I made some jelly by dissolving the packet crystals in hot water, gathered a deep tray (this was the lid from a sandwich platter, but you could use an oven baking dish, a large lunch box or whatever you have to hand), placed some beloved toys inside and covered it with the jelly mixture. Leave it to set over night and by morning you have a ready made messy play activity! 

When I attempted this messy play activity, Arlo was teething and so I included a few items I knew would help relieve his pain such as his teething rings and a rubber baby spoon. 

At first, Arlo was reluctant to dig into the mixture, but once I removed the first toy to show him how it worked, he was hooked! The rest were out in no time at all and by the end there was more jelly on himself than in the dish. It was great fun! 

Clean up - Usually, I am quite a thrifty person and always advocate for using what you have or buying the cheapest available option, however on this occasion I really feel it is worth spending those few extra pennies to get a named brand jelly. Having done this activity a few times, I have used both cheap supermarket own brand jelly and the usual name brand kind. I have also used both powdered and jelly cube type. I would strongly recommend using the name branded powdered jelly. The ones which come in a jelly block (both supermarket own brand and name branded) were very sticky and hard to get off things afterwards. The supermarket own brand powdered jelly wasn't too bad, but still had a sticky texture when you touched it. The name branded version, however, didn't have that stickiness to it and instead just felt cold and smooth. It was also much easier to get off the mat and Arlo's clothes. I would try to stick to that one, if you can, but of course the others are still great fun if that is all you can find. 
Again, I put a sheet down to collect the mess and simply took it into the garden to shake off the spilled jelly. The few bits just go into the grass and are soon washed away in the rain! 


So, there you have it! Five great messy play activities which will keep your little ones amused for hours. I hope you found them intriguing! 
Be sure to pop back soon as I will be updating with several other tough tray activities in the near future. For now, drop me a comment in the comments section below and let me know what you think!

Don't forget, you can also find us via our Facebook group and on our Instagram account. 


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Benedykt and Sylvester is a small British business run by Brittany, a Montessori Mum to Benedykt, 4, Sylvester, 2 and baby Otylia.  After be...