Easy Messy Play Ideas for Summer

smiling toddler with paint on face

I’m a very weird parent - messy play is one of my absolute favourite things to do with my children! Many parents find the idea of messy play daunting, scary or just downright a pain in the arse. For those of you who, like me, enjoy a bit of messy play, or maybe you want to start doing some simple messy plays at home: here are some easy messy play ideas for summer.

What’s so good about messy play in Summer?!

Okay so before we get into the actual messy play ideas themselves, let’s talk about why Summer is the perfect time to explore messy play!

First up, if you have a garden or outdoor area then you can set up the messy play activity outside – meaning there’s no risk of getting paint on your furniture or having to reach under the sofa to hoover up a stale cornflake. Being able to take your messy play activity outside makes it a lot less stressful, and is definitely what I would recommend to parents that are a little nervous about messy play.

Cleaning up after messy play is also a lot easier if you’re outdoors – you can literally hose down any materials, or if you’ve used a food-based messy play product, just sprinkle it into the garden and let nature do its’ thing and decompose. If your children have got mess on themselves: you can clean them up in a paddling pool, and if you have any utensils or clothes to wash then they’ll dry nice and quickly outside in the sun. Let’s face it… everything is just better in Summer: especially messy play!

If you don’t have outdoor space to your advantage, or maybe you’re new to messy play and really worried about the mess, then here are 8 tips to reduce the mess and stress of messy play at home, which should help ease your nerves before you get started.

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Messy Play Ideas

Let’s skip to the good bit: the actual messy play ideas!

  • Finger painting
  • Nature painting – see what you can find in the garden or on a summer nature walk and then use these to paint. Try different leaves, sticks, stones, blossom etc! What prints do they make on the paper?
  • Water painting – give your child a plain paintbrush and a bucket of water and let them ‘paint’ the garden. This is a great one to do if you’re painting your garden fences at the same time – let them copy you!
  • Chalk – if you have a patio, let your child draw pictures on the patio with chalk. When they’re done, give them water and a scrubbing brush to wash their drawings away!
  • Chalk painting – grate chalk finely then mix with water and it will create a chalk paint – my son prefers using this on our patio to regular chalk. It helps make the chalk last longer, too.
  • Colour mixing – start with 3 pots of water and tint them yellow, red and blue by using paint, bath tints or chalk. Use pipettes to mix the colours together – this is a great pre-school learning activity.
  • Bubble foam – whisk together 2 tablespoons of washing-up liquid or bubble bath with a splash of water and it will create bubble foam! It’s easiest to make in a stand mixer if you have one, and you can also add food colouring to make different colours.
  • Make your own playdough at home together using this recipe, then either play with it on its own or pair with other toys.
  • Oobleck – this is just cornflour and water mixed together in a 2:1 ratio! Use on its own or add cocoa powder to create ‘mud’, or you can even add food colouring of your choice. Green makes a great ‘swamp’ and blue could make water or the sea.
  • Cloud dough – it's a little bit like sand – just mix together flour and oil in an 8:1 ratio.
  • Jelly! Make a batch of jelly – use as it is with scoops or spoons or why not hide figurines inside the jelly when you make it, and let your child rescue the figurines and dig them free?!
  • Ice painting – make a batch of ice cubes, but pop some food colouring in each hole. As the ice melts, it’ll turn into ‘paint’! Freeze them in lollipop moulds or with lollipop sticks poked in to make it super easy for little hands to hold.
  • Ice rescue – hide animals or other figurines in a thin tray of water and freeze it – let your child rescue the animals by pipetting warm water onto the ice block or using a toy hammer to hammer the ice!
  • Muddy animals – use either oobleck or real mud to get animal figurines covered in mud, then supply your child with a washing-up bowl and sponge and ask them to clean the muddy animals! You can also do this as a car wash activity with toy cars and trucks.
  • Dry sensory bases – you can use any dry sensory base as an outdoor messy play activity. Here are over 15 different activity ideas for sensory bases (my favourite is rainbow rice!).
  • Mud kitchen – if you don’t have an actual mud kitchen, no fear: give your child some pots, pans, bowls and spoons, don’t forget to add some mud, and let them whip up some mud cakes in your garden.
  • Gardening – we often forget that sometimes the best play is natural play – let your child get stuck in with the gardening with you! They’ll love getting messy as they dig holes in the soil, plant plants and water them!

If any of the above ideas sound like fun, but the idea of doing them on a large scale is a little terrifying, why not try starting off on a smaller scale, as part of a sensory tinker tray?

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Themed messy play ideas

Sometimes, if you’re lacking inspiration for messy play, thinking of a theme is a great place to start. You could choose a theme you know your child loves – for us it’s always dinosaurs! – or use this as an opportunity to introduce a new theme or learning point you’ve not yet explored together. Here are some of my favourite themed messy play ideas:

  • Dinosaurs
  • Space, astronauts and planets
  • Farm animals
  • Zoo animals
  • Insects and bugs
  • Beach and seaside
  • Trucks and construction
  • Cars and carwash
  • Rainbow and colours
  • Nursery rhymes
  • Alphabet
  • Numbers
  • Why not choose your child’s favourite book or song and use that as a theme?!

Still not sure if messy play sounds right for you and your family? If you really aren’t feeling the messy play at home – why not see if you can find a messy play group in your local area? That way you can explore messy play without any worry of making a mess or needing to tidy up. Do remember to take a spare change of clothes, though!

If you try any of the ideas I’ve mentioned, we would love to see photos of your fun! Tag us in your photos on Instagram @jodetopia and @yourbabyclubuk – we can’t wait to see what you get up to!

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