Once you have a baby, your house will never be the same again – mess is an inevitable and necessary part of being a child.
So, with all the cleaning you’re already doing (or thinking you should do, but can’t quite muster the energy and motivation to do it because life with a baby is already so hectic!), you’re probably wondering why you’d add in some messy play on top of the never-ending to-do list and laundry piles.
Before you look at this list of taste-safe (because everything naturally must go in their mouth!) baby messy play ideas, we want you to know what the benefits are, plus some sanity-saving tips. We hope it will help you to cope (even just a little) better with the extra mess.
Benefits of messy play
Messy play isn’t just lots of fun for babies. The benefits include:
- It’s stimulating to a baby’s sensory system, so it promotes brain development.
- It exposes little ones to different textures, colours, and sensations, making them more open to trying different and new foods. Check out The importance of messy play for babies starting solids.
- It enhances their fine motor skills as they try to pick up different materials.
- It promotes their language and social skills as you describe how it feels and point out the different colours.
- It provides opportunities of connection with you, which fills their love cup.
- Because of all these wonderful benefits for their cognitive, physical, and social development, it also helps to build sleep pressure. In other words, it’s all very tiring for them (so it’s a win when nap time comes around!).
Tips for messy play:
- Babies don’t have huge windows between milk feeds, meals, and sleep, so find some time once or twice a week when they’re not tired or hungry. Mornings might work best after their nap, and you could have the necessary materials ready to go to save time.
- Get involved yourself, and tell yourself that it can all be cleaned up at the end, and that it’s benefiting your baby.
- Try not to stress if some of it goes in their mouth. If they’re eating too much of it, and it’s worrying you, perhaps take a break and give them something to eat, or redirect to another activity. Better yet, pop them in the bath for a play there while you clean them up.
- Try to resist wiping them down and cleaning them while they’re playing. We want to keep playtime fun, relaxed, positive, and baby-led. Being dirty is something to be encouraged during play. Deep breaths, parents, it’s all worth it!
- Always supervise messy play time, and ensure that all food or other materials aren’t choking risks.
- If you have a newborn that isn’t quite ready for some of these activities, read about The importance of meeting your newborn’s sensory needs for some ideas for this age group.
- To make the clean up easier, you could set up the activities either:
- On a plastic mat or sheet, and then just scoop it all up and shake it into the bin before throwing it into the washing machine or wiping it down.
- On a sunny day, head outside and sit on the grass or a picnic blanket.
- An empty bath (if you’re particularly nervous about mess) is great for keeping it contained and then can easily be rinsed out. It can be especially fun to finger paint in.
- Use a large bucket, baking tray, or one of those huge trays that are designed especially for this kind of play (you can order them online).
All of the following ideas use what you most likely already have at home, and are super quick to put together.
(Image credit: A beautiful Mess)
You don’t even need to make the rice colourful. You can just keep it plain or only use one colour, but for some added interest, here is what you need to do to make rainbow rice:
- Mix 1 cup of white rice with 1 tsp of vinegar or lemon juice in a ziploc bag or container with a lid.
- Add a couple of drops (or more for a deeper colour) of food colouring. Seal bag or container and shake vigorously until the rice is evenly coated.
- Spread the coloured rice on a paper towel or baking tray to dry out. You could put it on an oven tray and dry it out on a low temperature in the oven, or near a heater, to speed up the process.
- Repeat for each colour that you want to use. Once dry, mix all the colours together in a tub for some sensory play. Add in extra toys, scoops, spoons.
(Image credit: Swaddles n’ Bottles)
Use leftover spaghetti or another pasta shape to provide a fun (and edible) sensory experience. You can even dye it, using a technique similar to the rainbow rice above. Instead of drying it out though, you’ll need to rinse the dyed spaghetti in a colander until the water runs clear. Otherwise your baby will be covered in food dye!
(Image credit: Sarah Chesworth)
Simply slice up some oranges, lemons, and limes, and throw them in a large tray/tub of water. The smell and taste of the citrus fruits plus the water provides an extra lovely sensory experience.
(Image credit: Fun Family Crafts)
Here are two simple ways you can make taste-safe finger paint, depending on what you have in your kitchen. Just make as much as you want for that day, as these don’t store well, and make as many different colours as you like. Let your bub smear it all over a tray or their highchair tray, or paint some paper or the bath.
Option 1: Simply mix your baby’s preferred plain yoghurt with a drop of food colouring.
Option 2: Mix plain flour with warm water plus a couple of drops of food colouring until it becomes a good texture to finger paint with. Make as much or as little as you want.
(Image credit: Whole Heartily)
Sand play in the sandpit or at the beach is fun, but it becomes a little less enjoyable when your baby starts eating it. Here are two easy ways you can make edible sand at home – just add beach toys, crabs, and shells for a seaside experience!
Option 1: Put a pack of baby cereal in the food processor until it becomes sand consistency.
Option 2: Mix together 8 parts wholemeal flour and 1 part olive/vegetable oil, depending on how much you want to make. For example, you could make it using 4 cups of the flour with ½ cup of oil.
Looking for some more sensory play ideas? Check out these…