The Virtues of Messy Play in Early Education (And Some Ideas)

Making A Mess Is More Than Just Good Fun!

Messy play is awesome. It’s fun, it’s easy to make child-led and it benefits children in so many ways. Concerns regarding clean clothes, mess, germs and children catching ‘colds’ should be left at the door. But just in case you need them here are some responses to those concerns.

Children get dirty

messy play
Get dressed up for getting muddy

Yep. Being engaged and learning through messy play means dirty clothes. But – both clothes and children can be washed. Remind parents to pack a supply of spare clothes, and to dress their child in clothes that they don’t mind getting ‘messy’.

Children will catch germs/colds

It happens – children can get sick. But they can get sick at home as well as at preschool. If children are suitably dressed, properly dried off and wash their hands afterwards – it’s a myth that messy play will be the cause of colds or flu.

Messy Play makes Mess

Kids at Play Counts love messy play

Sure does. And kids love mess! But early childhood educators use many common sense ways to limit mess. You can also learn to embrace  easy play and get the children to “own it” like Denita Dinger at Play Counts. Most children will happily help with the clean up – to them it’s all part of the play!

But why Messy Play? What are the Benefits?

For children messy play is sensory exploration

Messy play is sensory. It’s physical play, it’s exploring and it’s imagining. Children can practice fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. They can pre-write and draw, fill and pour, feel different textures, mix and create…they can talk, and they will giggle. Language opportunities abound during messy play.

Across the curriculum, messy play gives children the chance to explore, be independent and take risks. Messy play is a great time for early childhood educators to observe interactions between children, their peers and their environment. Some children may not like the sensations of particular play – there’s an observation in itself…

What are Some Ideas for Messy Play?

We thought you’d never ask! For these suggestions, we went straight to the experts. Early childhood educators have tested these recipes when creating messy play experiences for preschoolers. They generally use everyday household items or nature to provide the ingredients. So mix them up – and have some fun!!!


Dirt and water – simple. Make an outdoor space with containers and tools for mixing…many early education services have “mud kitchens” specially designed for messy play. What’s for lunch?

Witches Brews

Leaves, water, dirt, flowers, small stones – mix with sticks and imagination

Sand Play Dough

  • 1 ½ cups of sand
  • 1 ½ cups cornflour
  • ½ cup of boiling water

Mix together and knead.

See powerful mothering for alternative versions of Cloud Dough and activities

Fizzy Cloud Dough

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup baking soda
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • Vinegar
  • Droppers

Combine the first three ingredients (you can mix color into the oil). Use droppers to drop vinegar on to the dough. Play with dough and watch it fizz.

Edible Finger paint

  • 2 cups cornflour
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 4 ½ cups boiling water

Mix together cornflour and cold water, slowly add boiling water and stir. Add food coloring

* Not recommended for eating – but can be put in mouth without harmful side effects.

More Tried and Tested Educator Concoctions

  • Lux (soap) flakes in warm water (let sit for a couple of hours)- beat with an egg beater (add paint)
  • Cornflour and dishwashing liquid
  • Shaving foam and cornflour
  • Shaving foam and sand
  • Paper pulp (use paper from shredder, add water in a bucket the day before)
  • An extension of paper pulp is paper mache – add glue, sculpt & dry
  • Cornflour and conditioner
  • Flour and water paste
  • Flick painting or soaked cotton wool ball throwing
  • Dishwashing liquid (or bubble bath) water and a beater (electric or hand)

Staying Dry

  • Shredded paper with hidden items
  • Play Doh
  • Sensory Bags – Use Ziplock bags for infants – filled with shaving foam, paint, play dough, baby oil and food coloring (make sure the bags are securely sealed).
  • See Mama OT for 40 Fun Sensory Bags

We want to see your play set ups. Share a picture of your messy play concoctions on our Educa Facebook page – you could post a before and after shot!

Looking for more messy play resources?

New Shoots Educational Resources – Recipes

See 5 tips for parents from Let the Children Play for more ideas and resources.

Happy Art – The Poster

source: happy art