You’ll find a ton of messy play ideas here on Fun-A-Day! There are messy activities for every season and various holidays. And you can find messy ideas to try outside, in the classroom, or at home. So I’ve got you covered when it comes to all things messy play!
Messy experiences are incredibly important in early childhood, for a multitude of reasons. (Don’t worry, I delve into them more below!) So I want to help you build your messy activities toolbox! That way, you’ll have all the knowledge you need as you jump into the messy fun with the kids.
I am a BIG fan of messy play in preschool. Well, honestly, I’m a big fan of messy play for kids of all ages. Even adults can get a lot of benefits from it.
I’ve had some great conversations with other early childhood educators about this topic. And I’ve been asked a lot of in-depth questions about it. So I thought I’d put all of my messy play ideas in one place for you!
Now let’s jump into the messy fun in all of its glory!
Messy Play Ideas
Are you ready for all of the messy fun?! Below you’ll find so many messy play activities to try with your kids. Some are individual activities, while others are collections based around seasons, holidays, topics, etc.
This way, you can tailor the messy play to your preschool themes, your students’ interests, or even the time of year. Click on each link to read about the individual messy ideas more in-depth.
Seasonal and Holiday Messy Play
Let’s kick things off with messy play ideas for every season, as well as some holiday messy activities.
- Winter Messy Play Ideas – More than 25 messy sensory and art activities perfect for the cold winter months.
- Christmas Messy Play Ideas – Over 35 messy activities to keep the kids engaged as the holidays approach.
- Snow Messy Play Ideas – Ideas for getting messy with both real and fake snow.
- Spring Messy Play Ideas – 30+ messy art and sensory activities to do as the weather starts warming up again.
- Easter Messy Play – A messy sensory bin perfect for Easter. Bonus: use items you have on-hand to make it.
- Summer Messy Play Ideas – More than 15 messy ideas the kids will love on hot summer days.
- Fall Messy Play Ideas – Over 30 ideas to try as the leaves start changing colors.
Thematic Messy Play Activities
Next up, I’ve gathered messy play ideas around various themes. Since there are so many messy activities you can do with the kids, this will help narrow things down when you’re searching for just the right one!
- Messy Play Recipes – All of the must-try messy recipes!
- Easy Messy Play Ideas – More than 20 messy activities that use 3 or less materials and can be set up in less than 10 minutes.
- Messy Art – 25 amazing art activities that are gloriously messy.
- Space Messy Play Ideas – Over 20 messy play ideas focused on a space theme.
- Messy Play Ideas at Home – 25 messy play activities that don’t require too many materials. They’re perfect for homeschooling families or just when you need some weekend ideas.
- Outdoor Messy Play Ideas – 20+ messy activities to take outside!
- Messy Science Experiments – Over 20 science experiments with a side of messy fun.
- Dry Messy Play Ideas – 20+ messy play ideas that only use dry materials.
- Gingerbread Messy Play Ideas – Perfect for your next gingerbread theme!
- Bear Messy Play Ideas – 12 messy bear-themed activities.
Even More Messy Play Ideas
Finally, here are some additional messy play activities. These are individual ideas for when you just want one engaging activity for the kids.
- Garden Messy Play – A messy garden sensory and small world play experience.
- Shaving Cream Messy Play – A seriously epic shaving cream experience.
- Rainbow Messy Play – A messy sensory play invitation using dyed pasta and white play dough.
- Pirate Messy Play – The “walk the plank” messy fun is perfect for your next pirate theme.
- Bear Messy Play – Soft and inviting activity for your next bear theme.
Be sure to save this page, as I’ll be updating it with more messy play fun throughout the year!
I’d also LOVE to hear about some of your favorite messy play ideas! What activities do your students love to get their hands dirty with?
What is Messy Play?
Before we chat about messy play ideas, we need to answer the question, “What is messy play?” Some educators use the term interchangeably with sensory play. I have a slightly different take on it.
In my mind, messy play is any activity where the kids can get . . . well . . . messy! The two subject areas that offer messy opportunities most often are sensory play and art. Science offers some messy opportunities quite a bit, too.
So, here’s my take on the subject! Messy play:
- is hands-on
- is multi-sensory
- allows kids to fully explore the materials at-hand
- encourages creative learning
- is usually open-ended
- allows for messiness within a safe, controlled environment
What are the Benefits of Messy Play?
There are so many benefits of incorporating messy play into your preschool classroom (or at home)!
Below are just some of the messy play benefits for kids. Messy play:
- allows children to explore many of their senses
- encourages creative thinking
- gives kids chances to practice decision-making
- lets children develop vocabulary and language skills
- supports independent and cooperative play
- encourages many early learning skills with hands-on activities
- helps kids develop both fine and gross motor skills
- lets the children practice early concepts in developmentally appropriate ways
- encourages self-regulation skills
- gives the kids many chances to practice cleaning up after themselves
Read my in-depth explanation of the benefits of messy play for even more information. It touches on each area of child development and how messy activities can support that development. I think it’s perfect if you’re just stepping into messy play, or if you have parents or colleagues with questions about why it’s important.
What Age Should You Start Messy Play?
Have you ever watched a baby splashing in her bathwater? Or a toddler spreading his food around the plate and all over himself?
Those examples are child-initiated messy play activities. And it just so happens to be the answer to the question, too.
You can start the kids off with messy play at any age. Just be aware of each child’s needs, age, and interests. For example, kids who are prone to putting things in their mouths should avoid getting their hands on things like shaving cream or water beads. But don’t worry! Those children can still enjoy those sensory materials, just put shaving cream or water beads inside a sealed bag and let them go to town.
And of course . . . always ensure proper adult supervision!
This means that, when done safely, messy play ideas are “age-appropriate” for babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary-school children. Don’t be afraid to start them young, and don’t be afraid to start with older kids if you want to. Even middle school and high school kids can get a lot of messy activities. And I have to be honest here, some adults get a kick out of them too!
As we all know, kids can make a mess with any material. And I’m not one to judge as I have that same talent and I’m way past childhood! But if you want some suggestions for what materials to grab, I have tons of ideas for you.
Here are a few items to get you started:
- Corn starch
- Baking soda
- Washable tempera paint
- Liquid watercolors
- Jell-O powder
- Liquid starch
- Shaving cream
As you can see, these materials aren’t too out-there. You likely have most of them in your kitchen or your teacher supply closet right now! You can, of course, add a wide variety of other items to the basics at any time. There are just so many possibilities.
You’ll also want to consider having some messy play “tools” on-hand. Again, they don’t need to be anything fancy. Start with what you already have, and pick up a few pieces as you go. Here are some ideas:
- Sensory table and/or containers of various sizes
- Tablecloth, tarp, shower liner, or protective mat
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Condiment bottles
- Salad spinner
- Child-sized eye droppers
- Kitchen utensils
- Tongs and scoops
- Mixing bowls
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