Messy Sensory Play For Toddlers & Kids: Benefits & Ideas To Get Started

Toddlers and children love making a mess – whether that means splashing around in water, smearing finger paint, squishing their hands in slime, or sifting through sand. But while this type of play is certainly fun, it is also extremely beneficial for your child’s development. Keep reading to learn more about messy sensory play, the benefits it has on development, and some fun ideas to get you started.

What Is Messy & Sensory Play

Messy sensory play is any type of activity that stimulates a child’s senses: touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing. This type of unstructured, uncontrolled play allow children to explore the world around them and learn about different textures, sounds, and tastes without any type of end goal. Children simply get to make discoveries by themselves using their own sense of curiosity – which is huge at this age!

What Benefits Does This Type Of Play Have On Development

While messy sensory play to your children is all about having fun, it also helps them develop cognitive, physical, social, and emotional skills. Here are just a few of the benefits of messy sensory play.

Stimulates Cognitive Development: Kids start to understand things like problem solving, cause and effect, sorting, counting, science concepts, size, and more.

Increases Fine Motor Skills: Kids get to explore activities like using cutlery, grasping objects, dunking, pouring, measuring, stirring, whisking, and more.

Boosts Creativity: With no right or wrong way to play, kids can use their imagination to come up with their own desired outcomes.

Develops Social & Emotional Skills: Kids learn to play together and how to respect boundaries with group messy play. Messy sensory play can also be a way to increase concentration or regulate emotions.

Tips & Tricks For Managing Messy Play

A lot of parents might turn away from messy play because, well, it’s messy. They think about the glitter, slime, and mud that these activities can leave behind, before considering the amazing benefits it provides. In order to conduct somewhat controlled messy play, here are some of our top tips:

  • Lay out towels and clean clothes before messy play commences
  • Use water-based paints with arts and crafts, so nothing stains
  • Designate tarps and shower curtains for messy play to protect surroundings
  • Always supervise your children during messy play to make sure they stay safe
  • Have group messy sensory play dates – this makes for quicker cleanups with more hands on deck
  • Always remember that the benefits outweigh the cleanup

Ideas For Messy Sensory Play

1. Build Sensory Bins

You’ve probably seen sensory bins trending on Pinterest or Instagram over the past couple of years, and now you know it’s for good reason. This is a great way to facilitate messy sensory play, with a bit less mess than some other activities since everything goes inside a bin. Here are some ideas for DIY sensory bins:

  • Construction/Gardening: Fill a bin with coffee beans or plain oats and throw in some construction trucks, artificial or real flowers, and toy shovels, so your kids can dig and bury.
  • Ocean Exploration: Grab some boxes of gelatin, prepare as per instructions, and pour the liquid in your bin. Toss in some ocean themed toys and then refrigerate. Give your kids some spoons or little shovels, and they’ll love digging the toys out.
  • Chocolate Mud: Mix 1 can of chocolate frosting and 1.25 cups flour. This makes for taste-safe mud to squish and dig around in.

2. Amplify Traditional Arts & Crafts

Art and messy sensory play go hand and hand. By pushing the boundaries a bit on traditional arts and crafts, you can really tap into your child’s senses. Here are some great art ideas for messy sensory play:

  • Finger Painting: Elevate this classic toddler activities by letting them paint on aluminium or bubble wrap (new texture than paper) or by giving them toy cars to dip in the paint and roll across paper.
  • Window Art: If you have large ground floor windows, let your kids ‘paint’ them with shaving cream. They’ll be able to explore the texture and draw whatever they please. Plus, it’s easy to hose off.
  • Sheet painting: Head outside and lay down or hang up a large white sheet. Have your kids dip their hands, feet, sticks, flowers, utensils, and more in some paint and make prints on the sheet for a messy masterpiece.

3. Elevate Bath Time

You can even add some messy sensory play activities into your daily routines – especially at bath time. Sensory water play is extremely popular with kids, and with some extra towels around the tub, it can be done inside. When you have some extra time on your hands for baths, try out the following activities:

  • Scooping/Pouring: Throw in some cups and buckets and let your children endlessly scoop and dump out water. Strainers and funnels can be added to the mix as well.
  • Absorbing/Squeezing: Adding some sponges into your baby’s bath time is a great sensory activity that strengthens their hands. You can even find animal shaped sponges to make this sensory activity extra fun.
  • Colour: With a few drops of food colouring and toys that are all the same colour, you can stimulate your baby’s sight while they play with toys and splash around.

4. Head to the park or on a walk

If outdoor space is limited at your house, you can still engage in messy sensory play while on walks or at the park.

  • Sensory Walk: Go on a walk with the idea of being messy (wear appropriate clothes). Jump in puddles, play in mud, roll around in grass, and whatever else your children are drawn to.
  • Collection Bucket: While on a walk, carry a bucket and have your toddler fill it with whatever they find on the walk. They’ll practice breaking twigs, pulling grass, picking flower stems, digging in dirt, and more.
  • Sand Box: If you can find a park with a sand box, let your toddler play around in it. You can even bring your own toys, bury them, and let your toddler dig through and find them for a sensory scavenger hunt.

Now that you know the benefits of messy sensory play and have some ideas to get started, you can keep your kids entertained for hours this summer while also supporting their development.

Tags: Parent's Corner