Kids absolutely love to be messy, and for good reason too, as messy sensory play ideas do wonders for their learning and happy hormones. While they’re squashing, pouring, stretching and often times, trying to eat, whatever is being played with in their hands, your babies are exercising their creativity, refining fine and gross motor skills, strengthening muscles and their hand-eye coordination.
Now is a great time to experiment with messy, sensory play ideas as most parents are being the ultimate multitaskers during this lockdown while keeping their babies safe at home. There’s a great sense of camaraderie too as parents band together and see how many fun ideas they can share to try and keep each other’s kids entertained. The super thing about messy play is it's free and you make the rules so get as creative as you can.
Roll out the bin liners, pop your baby in the bath tub or outside, and keep your phone close by. Your friends and family will definitely want to see these cute, exploratory moments.
Food, Glorious Food
Inside your kitchen cupboards are lots of options to create a buffet of sorts for your babies to do fun activities with. At this age, most babies can’t resist putting everything into their mouths so sensory play with food is a no-brainer. This could also be a fun way to learn more about which foods and textures your child likes and dislikes as they learn about their own tastes too. Tinned spaghetti, baked beans, fruit, jelly, custard, condiments and cooked pasta of different shapes and colours are all tried and tested examples. Get them into a baby bath or on a plastic mat and leave your curious mini-mes to get messy.
Moon sand or cloud dough is a messy play idea parents love. Just two ingredients – 2kg of flour and enough oil to create a crumbly texture – makes enough fake sand for a mini beach experience for one or more kids. Some parents choose to use baby oil and others go for vegetable oil just in case this flour mixture ends up in your baby’s mouth. Another cool thing to do is make the sand coloured by dropping food colouring to each batch. This will add a visual element to this tactile activity which will see kids moulding, sifting and playing with cloud dough for hours. Try having them dig around to find things you've hidden inside.
Have you never been the least bit tempted when washing the dishes to just put your hands in again and play with the bubbles? The magic of playing with bubbles never really leaves us. Babies will be so captivated by the rainbow reflected inside of fairy liquid, soap or shampoo bubbles which makes it a lovely messy play idea. Once they see how fun and soft bubbles are, they can pop them, stack them, scoop them, blow them onto you or try to find hidden toys inside. Tie in these play activities with an extended bath time and you’ll have two items ticked from your to-do list. (Thank us later.)
Paint Like Picasso
Well, not quite, this won’t be a painting that ends up on the fridge but this messy play activity is edible, simple and can be made smelly. The quickest way to make edible paint for babies is yoghurt or cream and food colouring, which are both cheap buys and can be adapted to their diet. Dairy-free yoghurt alternatives like soya or coconut are wonderful even if you’re happy with milk because they’ll excite babies' sense of smell, which can be a bit overlooked during sensory play. Pour the paint mixture into a tray or paper plate and see how fast their fingertips get messy. If you think your toddler might want something else to play with, leave some foam sponges and paintbrushes for this milky masterpiece just in case.
Messy play ideas don't have to be out of the box. Children adore water activities – even if it does go into their eye once or twice. There’s also a lot you can add to water to amplify the sensory play experience. See how your toddler reacts when they drop fizzing bath bombs into the water and watch the smelly bubbles erupt. We guarantee they'll giggle with excitement at the foamy mess. To make sensory play ideas even more stimulating for kids, try adding squishy toys or a bottle they can fill up and squeeze the water from. Put in plastic balls to play with, a big funnel, toys which float and some which will sink – there's so many extras you can throw into this babies' activity to make them explore the water.
There’s nothing edible about this soup but as far as sensory for babies, these garden-based activities are a messy hit. What you’ll be using for this mud soup is soil, either from your garden or bought from a supermarket, some shards of grass, flowers, whatever else you feel is safe to use from the garden, and water. Once you've gathered the different parts of Mother Earth, take them into the garden or kitchen and put them into separate trays. Your green-fingered kids can then play around in everything, scoop and pour what they like into a bowl to see what they create. Feeling soil and grass on the soles of their feet and hands will be such a new experience. Hopefully, by the end of sensory play time, they'll see how much fun the garden can be.
Once you’ve saved a slime recipe you like the texture of and is easy to make, it's an activity that will stay in your arsenal for future rainy days in as your child ages. Older kids love stretching and messing with slime so your toddler is bound to love kneading their little fingers into this slippery, sensory mixture. The recipe is brilliant because it doesn’t contain glue and you could let them sit at the table while they play with it. Mix 75g of cornflour and 120ml of baby shampoo into a bowl and add whatever food colouring you like or your toddler makes you pick. Leave the mixture in the bowl with a spoon to drip the goo from and see your child’s eyes light up as they play with this mysterious substance.
Snap, Crackle, Pop
Cereal is an amusing food to use for sensory play and there’s no need to use a lot. The way Cocoa Pops transforms a bowl of milk into chocolaty goodness will intrigue most young kids. Rice Krispies and their famous ‘snap, crackle and pop’ will be an aural treat too and add something special to their sensory play. Once the magic is over, they could still continue the fun and get some more cereal, play with their hands in the bowl or make a musical instrument by rattling the box around. Don't forget to seal it well first unless you want an even messier, messy play date.
Sure you can jump onto a website and buy play dough to be delivered, but we want you to see how much fun it is doing these DIY activities together with your kids. Homemade play dough is a squishy sensory play task that is amazing for building pre-schooler's concentration, cooperation – if there are a few kids – as well as calming them down. To make one ball of play dough, mix 8 tbsp of plain flour and 2 tbsp of salt in a bowl and in another bowl, have 60 ml of water, 1 tbsp of cooking oil and food colouring ready. Pour the liquid into the flour and mix together until you see it come together as a dough. Knead with your hands to make it smoother and it's done. They will keep in the fridge wrapped in cling film for whenever your kids want play dough fun again.
Ice, Ice, Baby
Ice isn't something babies can play with for too long at a time, but younger children will have fun touching and sliding it around. For older toddlers, ice can be fun way to introduce language into sensory activities and for parents to describe something so extremely cold and solid. We suggest creating an ice bucket maybe with different sized and coloured ice blocks, some squirting sea animals or rubber ducks and see how what your baby likes to do. Flavouring the ice could be fun for kids too.
At Kidadl we pride ourselves on offering families original ideas to make the most of time spent together at home or out and about, wherever you are in the world. We strive to recommend the very best things, that are suggested by our community and are things we would do ourselves - our aim is to be the trusted friend to parents.
We try our very best, but cannot guarantee perfection. We will always aim to give you accurate information at the date of publication - however, information does change, so it's important you do your own research, double-check and make the decision that is right for your family.
Kidadl provides inspiration for everything from family days out to online classes, arts, crafts and science experiments. We recognise that not all activities and ideas are appropriate and suitable for all children and families or in all circumstances. Our recommended activities are based on age but these are a guide. We recommend that these ideas are used as inspiration, that ideas are undertaken with appropriate adult supervision, and that each adult uses their own discretion and knowledge of their children to consider the safety and suitability.
Kidadl cannot accept liability for the execution of these ideas, and parental supervision is advised at all times, as safety is paramount. Anyone using the information provided by Kidadl does so at their own risk and we can not accept liability if things go wrong.
Kidadl is supported by you, the users. When you buy through the links on our site we may earn a commission.
All prices and product availability were correct at the time of publication.
We also link to other websites, but are not responsible for their content.