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Monday, 28 September 2020

Messy Play Activities (That Aren't So Messy!)

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5 Quick To Engage & Even Quicker To Tidy Away Messy Play Ideas!


I absolute adore messy play, but it wasn't always that way. I can still remember the first time a friend of mine mentioned it. She had taken her daughter to a messy play group at the local village centre and explained how she would strip her off and dunk her into a bath of beans or a tuff tray of spaghetti. I was horrified! Who on Earth would do that to their child?! I wondered, seeing visions of children screaming and covered in mashed potato. I smiled, nodded along and vowed never to subject my future children to that nonsense. 

Speed forward about 3 years and I was in my local village centre supporting a local cause with fundraising. Across the way, a leader was in the process of setting up a messy play area. Space was at a premium, so she meticulously covered the carpeted floors in sheets and plastic then laid out the materials. I watched intently as Mum's arrived with their babies and plonked them into various vats of mess. Well, I was amazed. Every single child was engaged, smiling, laughing, squishing things between their fingers and toes... having an absolute blast! From that moment, I realised what messy play was all about. It was something we, as adults, don't get to experience very often - being in the moment with nothing much going on except the enjoyment of our senses coming alive. I was hooked! 

Soon after, I begin to use messy play experiences in my work as a newly qualified teacher. The children found the experiences so memorable. It was a joy to see. Years later, I was pregnant with my son and I couldn't wait to get started with all of the messy play experiences. 

In the year or so since Arlo has been able to engage in messy play, I have tried dozens of activities. Some were successes, some he hated and were complete failures, others were good but not pitched correctly for his age. I learnt a lot! One of the things I learnt, was how to conduct a 'messy play' activity that wasn't actually so messy. Let's face it, some days, there is just too much going on to spend the afternoon washing mashed potato off the kitchen cupboards. Sometimes, I only have an hour or two to get an activity set up, played with and put away again. This got me thinking about how I could incorporate the experience of messy play - engaging the senses, plenty of sensory things to touch, feel, smell, taste (sometimes!), and to really get into that 'hands-on' zone where learning is a true joy both for our little ones and for us to observe, too. 

Here I hope to share with you some of my favourite not-messy-messy-play activities which you can keep in your repertoire to bring out again and again when you're looking for an engaging experience which can be tidied away quickly. 

1) Using Shredded Paper


Shredded paper makes a fantastic messy play resource. It is free (just shred whatever you have to hand and if you don't have a shredder, cutting some newspaper with scissors will work just as well), it can be stored indefinitely to use again and again and it makes zero mess! 

In the activity pictured, I had stuck some plastic toys to a tuff tray using tape and covered in a layer of shredded paper. Arlo had great fun 'rescuing' the animals and exploring the paper. 

2) Water Play - Without The Water!


Water can be a pain to tidy up, especially if time is short, however this one is much easier as it uses ice instead.

Here, I used moulds from a sand castle set, filled them with water and a splash of food colouring, added a wooden hammer tool and let Arlo go to town breaking apart the ice with a hammer. When he was done, I simply brushed the ice onto a dustpan and threw it outside to melt on the grass. Job done! 

A little word of caution, however. Some food colourings can stain clothes, so if you don't have time to change your little one, use plain ice instead.

3) Getting Back To Nature



We use nature themed activities all the time. Again, they're free as I can collect the pieces I need outside in the garden and are easy to set up and put away. 

For the activity pictured, I ran around the garden and gathered up some cuttings from various plants, laid them out in the centre of the tray and hid some plastic insects underneath. I then gave Arlo a pair of tweezers to see if he could move the branches aside and find the hidden critters! This one was an absolute hit and so easy to do! For packing away, all I needed to do was collect the insects and put to one side before sweeping up the leaves and putting them into the garden waste bin. Perfect! 

4) Pass the Pasta! 


Pasta is a great resource for practical activities. It is cheap, reuseable and easy to clean away. 

For this activity, I drew a picture onto the tuff tray with chalkboard pens and gave Arlo the corresponding colours in pasta (see my post on dying your own pasta). He used his trusty tweezers to put the right colour onto the right area. Arlo is still a little young for this, so he didn't put the colours in the correct place, but he definitely worked on his fine motor skills and had great fun while doing it! 

To simplify this activity, you could lay out some plain pasta in different shapes to be sorted into various containers or give them a few tools and some pasta to explore for themselves. You will be amazed at what they can come up with! 

Clean up is easy - sweep the pasta into a box or food bag and store for next time! 

5)  Beans, Peas & Lentils! 

These make great resources for messy play because you can dump them back into a box or bag and use them time and time again! A quick run around with the vacuum and all the mess will be gone! 


In this activity, I gave Arlo some toy diggers and let him race them around the track I drew with chalkboard pens - a must have if using a tuff tray! I have tried several different kinds and some are really faint, but I highly recommend these ones which have lasted absolutely ages and still give clear, bright colours. I positioned some stones and various split peas, quinoa and cous cous to make different areas for the diggers to dig. This one was a huge hit!

Packing away was simple. I used a dustpan and brush to sweep up the different ingredients and put them back into food bags ready for our next adventure! 

Now it’s your turn!

So, there you have it! Five different messy play activities which will keep your child's clothes mess free and allow you to engage in some wonderful play before getting on with the rest of your day!

If you have a go at one of these activities, or think of any other suggestions, drop me a message in the comments box below. Alternatively, tag me on Instagram @MontessoriAtHomeUK and I will be sure to share your wonderful creations on my story! 

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




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