I recently wrote about the benefits of outdoor play and an added benefit I didn’t mention but is a huge one in our home is that the mess stays outside! We love messy play and I know that you are going to love it too when we look beyond the “mess” aspect and into the benefits and learning outcomes of creating these opportunities for our little ones. In this post you will find:

  • 63 amazing ideas for messy play

  • The benefits of messy play and sensory play

  • Our favourite messy play activity

  • Two awesome freebie printables for you to download!

  • A homemade finger paint recipe

*This post contains affiliate links which if used cost you nothing extra, but a small percentage comes back to me to support more learning! You’re welcome to check out my privacy policy or reach out to me directly with questions anytime!*

But first let’s start with what messy play is all about!

I am a tidy person for the most part and I love organization, but having a child with the wind as her guide and a business that I’m so passionate about, leaves little time to clean and organize the way I once would have. Plus, who wants to be scrubbing dishes when the rest of the family is running around in the yard? In welcoming all types of play, I want my daughter to investigate the world in whatever way she likes, chase her passions and part of that means letting her make a mess. Taking all of this outside let’s us both walk away with a win (read more about the benefits of outdoor play here). She’s getting the benefit of playing in the fresh air, getting to play with messy and wonderful methods of play, and I can use the hose to clean it all up at the end!

Amazing Benefits of Messy Play Plus 63 Great Activities You Can Do at Home BooksBeesAndABCs.com #messyplay #sensoryplay #quickandeasy #toddler #preschooler #activitiesathome
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What are Sensory and Messy Play and Why Do These Activities with My Child?

Amazing Benefits of Messy Play Plus 63 Great Activities You Can Do at Home BooksBeesAndABCs.com #messyplay #sensoryplay #quickandeasy #toddler #preschooler #activitiesathome

What is Messy Play?

Messy play is play with no set outcome, using materials that can be manipulated and changed that evoke the use of children’s senses while working their hand-eye coordination, fine and gross motor skills, life skills such as pouring, mixing and measuring, and essentially ends up with a happy child and a great big mess (although not always)! There are so many types of messy play and materials you can use. I’ll list a few further on in this post.

It can be intimidating to take on messy play in our homes when our days are already filled with so many tasks, taking on a great big mess in the middle of our living rooms can be daunting. But there are so many benefits of having our children dive into this type of play.

What is Sensory Play?

Sensory play is often a goal in providing messy play that is well known in the early childhood education world. It provide experiences and opportunities that make a meaningful contribution to a child’s cognitive and creative development as well as so much more. We all use our senses in more ways than we can understand, to make our way through our day to day but more so in young children who are making sense of their work, through touching everything in sight, putting everything in their mouths, smelling things we can’t imagine smelling, watching and searching out information in all they see around them, listening to every word (yes, they can hear everything and often repeat it!) they hear, and moving in such a way that they involve themselves with their surroundings; climbing, crawling, jumping, rolling, sliding, dancing, twirling. This is all sensory learning through play.

In creating opportunities for children to apply what they are naturally drawn to do, we are allowing them to develop parts of their brain that sitting back and “watching” or “listening” as you would imagine in traditional educational environments simply can’t provide. We are giving them the opportunity to learn more about their world while using their 7 senses.

What are our 7 senses?

We are so familiar with our five senses: sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch

But it turns out there are actual 7 senses in play, the two additional are: Vestibular and Proprioception

Sight – the ability of the eyes to focus and detect images of light and translate the message to the brain about colors, hues, and brightness.

Smell – the ability to detect odour molecules which send messages to our brain based on how mild or strong the information is.

Taste – the ability to gather information from food and some minerals through our taste buds and send the message of sweet, bitter, salty, sour and savoury to our brain.

Hearing – the ability to translate sound from changes in the air, or vibration and pass that information to the brain to recognize and interpret.

Touch – the ability to take variations in pressure, usually on the skin using hair follicles and tell the brain of the message and where on the body this sensation is felt.

Vestibular – has to do with balance and telling our brain when our body is in motion and when it needs support from other senses to stay stable (example: walking on an uneven or slippery surface)

Proprioception – is about the overall placement of our bodies, where our arms and legs are and what they are up to, and if they are able to do what the brain is asking of them next. (example; jumping from a rock and landing on our feet knowing our feet will be there to land on or clapping our hands with our eyes closed).

Amazing Benefits of Messy Play Plus 63 Great Activities You Can Do at Home BooksBeesAndABCs.com #messyplay #sensoryplay #quickandeasy #toddler #preschooler #activitiesathome

The Benefits of Messy Play and Sensory Play to Child Development

  1. complete more complex tasks through practice of life skills
  2. enhances cognitive development
  3. enhances language development
  4. stimulating the senses
  5. gross motor development
  6. fine motor development
  7. practice using tools (shovels, paint brushes, tweezers, spoons, cups, etc.)
  8. supports independence
  9. enhances memory
  10. conflict resolution
  11. problem solving skills
  12. decision making
  13. concentration
  14. patience
  15. STEAM learning
  16. unique experience each time
  17. freedom to learn with no set outcome
  18. planning ahead
  19. responsibility and care for materials
  20. can be done anywhere, anytime with any materials (list provided below)
  21. relaxing and soothing
  22. meaningful interactions with friends and family
  23. boost confidence in mastering skills such as pouring or measuring
  24. learning shapes, sizes, patterns size, shape, height, weight, counting, grouping, buoyancy and volume
  25. learning about cause and effect
  26. learning about literacy
  27. hand-eye coordination
  28. it’s fun!
  29. develop imagination, curiosity, and creativity
  30. investigation and testing theories
  31. incredible tactile experience
Amazing Benefits of Messy Play Plus 63 Great Activities You Can Do at Home BooksBeesAndABCs.com #messyplay #sensoryplay #quickandeasy #toddler #preschooler #activitiesathome
A beautiful resource for homeschooling, and enriching learning through play at home with toddlers and preschoolers, which will take them into adulthood. Builds upon core concepts that are increasingly challenging so as your little ones grow and knowledge expands, you have the resources to support them all in one place.

Purposefully made with calming colors to prevent distraction and provide a focused space for learning through play with a parent or teacher,

The Love of Learning Binder can be used in a homeschool setting, preschool, or as a daily part of a momma life with little ones at home and makes a wonderful quiet time activity so you can get to business on your own goals.

Here for you, Momma!

63 Amazing Outdoor Messy Play Ideas for Your Children to Enjoy

Bug Hunt and Collection for Investigation
Build a bird feeder or bird house
Building and Decorating Cardboard Boxes
Camping Fun (super cute ideas here)
Chalk Painting
Collage Creating
Colored Rice
Cooked Noodles Play
Cooking Adventures – let them cook up a family favourite or be adventurous like this kimchi recipe or this homemade butter!
Digging for Dinosaur Bones (This is a cute activity about finding dinosaurs in the ice!)
Dry Pasta Play
Finger Paint
Flour Fights
Garden Play
Giant Canvas Painting
Glitter Activities
Grass and Mud Soup
Ice and Snow Painting
Jello Bins
Jelly Balls
Large Scale Construction
Learning About Food Coloring (Dying Carnations Experiment)
Learning How to Use Liquid Glue
Make Giant Bubbles
Making “Dough” – Letting the Child Take the Lead.
Making Music with Homemade Instruments (and learn how children around the world make music!)
Marble Painting
Modelling Clay
Move Indoor Toys Outside
Move Pillows and Blankets Outside
Mud Kitchen (and learn about different feasts around the world for inspiration of what to create in your mud kitchen!)
Nature Inspired Painting (clouds, flowers, trees)
Oat or Dry Cereal Play
Outdoor Bath
Paint Balloons
Painting with Feet
Pasta Jewelry
Play Dough
Play in the Leaves (fall)
Playing is Messy Weather (rain and snow)
Playing with Beans
Potato Flakes
Put on a Play (with beautiful set creation)
Rock Collecting
Rock Painting
Sensory Bins
Shaving Cream
Shower in the Rain
Soapy Water (or better yet, make this elephant toothpaste! So fun!!)
Sports Play (while learning about the sports children around the world play!)
Sprinkler Fun
Stamp Painting with Nature Items
Stamp Painting with Potatoes
Take Messy Meals Outside to Let Your Child Enjoy with the Freedom of Allowing the Mess to Happen.
Tea Party
Turkey Baster Painting
Washing Station
Water Balloons
Water Painting
Water Play
Working with Tools (with adult support)

Invite the Scientist

Exploration Through Painting – Our Favourite Outdoor Messy Play and Sensory Learning

We love painting outside. Little Bee loves to make a giant mess on craft paper wrapped around our big oak tree, painting rocks, or logs, making prints with leaves and grass, but most of all she loves to mix and pour the paint, learn about it through hands on play. 

STEAM learning allows our little ones to create their own colours, mixtures, art pieces through investigation and testing their own theories. What started out as everything ending up brown, my daughter has been learning to mix colours in such a way that she can now create the combinations she wants from primary colours, and add texture when she decides to do so. She is learning hand-eye coordination, fine and gross motor skills, life skills such as pouring, mixing and measuring, to name just a few. The most important and meaningful benefit to today – she’s having a wonderful time!

Amazing Benefits of Messy Play Plus 63 Great Activities You Can Do at Home BooksBeesAndABCs.com #messyplay #sensoryplay #quickandeasy #toddler #preschooler #activitiesathome

The Amazing Benefits of Painting with Your Child

  1. Allowing an artist to form and discover their creativity.
  2. Allows children to express their feelings by discussing their creation.
  3. Learning the science of the materials they are using. How each works, the effect and impact of each type of tool or canvas, different types of paint. Chemistry, and physics all wound into one simple activity.
  4. Never the same activity twice. Even in the most simple form, with paper and paint using fingers to create, the picture will be something unique each time.
  5. Given the freedom to create, children are able to take control of the activity and make it whatever they wish. It’s entirely up to them and they can allow the experience to guide and direct them.
  6. There are so many ways to use painting to build sensory experience and move those muscles, both fine motor in holding the painting tools, to large motor in moving one’s body to create the picture.
  7. Decision making – colours, materials, design and critical thinking
  8. Supports Independence
  9. Cleaning and Care for Materials
  10. The materials you can use are endless (list shared below)
  11. Relaxing and Soothing
  12. Meaningful Interactions with Friends and Family
  13. Accomplish a Goal – Ending the Activity with a Final Product
  14. Enhanced Concentration
  15. Appreciating the Arts
  16. Create Gifts for Others – Spreading the Joy
  17. Boost Confidence in Mastering a Skill
  18. Learning Shapes, Sizes and Patters – Introductory Numeracy!
  19. Learning About Colour Mixing
  20. Hand-Eye Coordination
  21. It’s Fun!
  22. Engaging the Senses
  23. Develop Imagination, Curiosity, and Creativity
  24. Investigation and Testing Theories
  25. Learn About Beauty, in Nature (inspiration) in the Tools and Supplies (such as our beautiful things bin) and in Creation (what is made in the process and final product)
  26. Cognitive Development (both sides of the brain are used in creative and emotional application as well as logic and step by step process application)
  27. Language Development – using descriptive language to explain what you are doing and asking the same of the child, explain what they have created, what materials, what colours, how many colours, shapes, sizes, widths, designs, what have they used as inspiration, why did they choose it – get them talking, describing and building their vocabulary.
  28. Enhanced Practical Skills: pouring, wiping, cleaning, counting, organizing, to name a few

Bonus Benefit to Painting with Your Little One

It can be inexpensive! You can create you own paint or use inexpensive paint you purchase –  you can create you own brushes using nature’s supplies or use non at all (finger painting), use can use paper, or natures canvases all around (rocks and leaves). This is an activity that is accessible to anyone, anytime, anywhere!


(requires stove)

•2 cups flour

•2 tsp salt

•2 1/2 cups cold water

•2 cups hot water

food colouring

Have your little one mix the dry ingredients while you add the cold water. Mix until smooth (or if you are using a mixer, you can take over to move this process along). Add the hot water and place on the stove to boil stir until it becomes clear and smooth. Add your food colouring to the mixture or split into many bowls to create multiple colours.

The Best Painting Supplies for Your Child

If you aren’t feeling quite ready for messy painting –

we love this mess free paint for when we are somewhere we don’t want to make a big mess,

such as Little Bee’s Grandparent’s house

– thanks so much Amanda, Avery and Max for introducing this to us!

Download Your Freebie Here!

This amazing type of play sets the foundation for those basic concepts that from afar may look like “mess making” but when you get a better understanding you come to find that in fact they are building important core skills that will take them into adulthood, they are investigating and practicing and becoming who they have the potential to be. Cleaning up a bit of rice after knowing this, is so small when you are setting the stage for someone amazing to become someone amazing. 

Amazing Benefits of Messy Play Plus 63 Great Activities You Can Do at Home BooksBeesAndABCs.com #messyplay #sensoryplay #quickandeasy #toddler #preschooler #activitiesathome

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