5 Messy Play Ideas That Are Easy to Clean Up

Guest Post by Danielle from Keeping Up With the Holsbys

5 messy play ideas that are easy to clean up

Danielle from Keeping Up With the Holsbys  is guest posting today. You can heck out her previous posts: the Easy Green Vegetables and Basil Pasta Recipe, gorgeous Giggle and Hoot Cake and Easy Playdough Recipe.

When you’re cleaning about 5000 little messes, a few hundred big messes and seemingly endless poo every day, it’s really easy to dread the very thought of creating more mess.

When my son, D Man’s, favourite toy was his blocks, I could be picking up those lurid little cubes up to a gazillion times a day. He’d toddle up to me with the bag of mega-blocks in his paw, and sometimes I think he loved the sound of all the bits falling onto the wooden floor, more than the actual building.

I can remember once asking my mother-in-law, with the full air of a martyr, “How many times do you think I pick these up in a day?”

“If you were smart, only once,” was her sage response.


I can’t think straight in technicolour clutter, but I have learned to only clean up twice – one quick hurricane type clean in nap time before I sit down to work, and one slightly more thorough clean after the kiddiwinks are down for the night.

With my already full housework schedule, why would I want to create more mess?

You see, there actually something very important to be said for getting down and dirty when you’re a kid. What looks like another chore to clean or even sometimes a child being naughty in the grown-up eye, is actually little synapsis’ doing happy dances and important brain connections being made.   Messy play stimulates the senses but it’s also the very foundation of self-expression.  Because there is no right or wrong answer, children are able to just go with the flow and discover their creativity.

I am by no means super cool or an expert at these types of activities. The picture accompanying this piece was taken in a panic when I turned around and realised that my finger painting experiment had gone quite awry.  Two seconds later, D Man put his hands in his hair and I was picking dried acrylics out for weeks, eventually forced to cut the final rainbow dreadlock out.

That said, I can see his excitement when I do let him get in there and get dirty…and when I let my guard down and get dirty too, I can see the allure.

I have found a couple of ways to corral the mess somewhat so he can ‘get his mess on’, and I don’t have too much of a clean up that makes me dread it.

Here are five ways I messy play ideas that aren’t too messy.

1. Finger painting

I put a plastic placemat on his highchair table, and place a few dollops of paint onto a disposable plate. I have donated my favorite old New Orleans t-shirt to the cause and I pop him in it and it’s like a dress, covering up any vulnerable areas from flying paint.

If it’s warm enough you can just strip them down to nappies and let them go for it.  Why he felt the need to paint his face is beyond me, but hey, no babies were harmed in the taking of this picture.

I give him my son things that to paint with like potato stamps, or empty match boxes, paddle pop sticks, straws etc to make interesting shapes.

Benefits of messy play

2.Sand play

I considered getting a sand pit in the garden until I realised the neighbours cats would turn it into a cat turd mine-field, and that totally turned me off the idea. I’ve also been told that left out in the elements, your sand pit can get a bit yuck, so I just thought it was all too hard. Whenever there is a sand-pit, or at the beach, D Man totally digs (pun intended) making sand castles, so I got him a big, shallow plastic box and we filled it with sand. We add water to get the right consistency and then get in there and make sand castles and mermaids and fill all sorts of cups and bowls and stuff. Then I can put the lid on it, or leave it to dry somewhere sheltered. Problem sorted!

Check out some of Kelly’s imaginative play scenes here on the blog too.

Sand pit in a box

3. Water play

We left many parks with our clothes in the pram and just our nappies on (when I say we, I mean, he) due to exuberant water play.  On a warm day, I completely get the allure, but he’s totally non-plussed about the weather and would probably play with water in the snow!  I got a little shallow pool for $15 from K-Mart and in summer, we have a blast. If you don’t have the space, you can just do it in the bath. Make sure you have an array of cups and plasticware as apparently, the joy is in transferring of the liquids from one to the other.

water bucket fun

4. Water painting

If you have an outdoor area, this one is a cracker. I learned it from another mum who said her kids will do this for hours. D Man’s attention span ain’t quite up to that but it can hold his attention for a little bit. Half fill a bucket with water, and add food colouring. Give your kid a paintbrush and set them to work on the fence, or the pavement. It’s brilliant!

The colour doesn’t stain, I ascertained after D man tried to stand in the bucket, spilling it everywhere. The water dries taking all evidence of your messy play with it.

bowls of coloured water - easy play idea 

5. Gardening

It wasn’t until recently building a vegetable patch that I realised how awesome simple dirt is. We’re forever saying to stop getting dirty, but I have to admit that when I got my hands into that soil, and added water to make mud (see our mud kitchen here), something quite wonderful came over me. No, I didn’t smear it all over my body, or eat it, but I sure did make a mud pie…complete with a worm for garnish.

D-Man loved it. Not everyone has a garden, but you could plant some herbs in a box together, or grow some tomatoes if you have the inclination.

how to make a mud kitchen

So, in short, I’m not suggesting you do these activities all day, every day, but I’m suggesting you shrug off your fear of the mess for a couple of hours a week and see how liberating it can be to get paint on your face and dirt under your nails.

I mean, for the kids, of course.

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  • Reply
    Kate- Crazy Crunchy Chocolate Mummy
    January 20, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    They all sound like such great fun! I love your blog, thank you for sharing 🙂

  • Reply
    January 21, 2013 at 10:37 am

    I was pretty anti-mess as well, considering what you mentioned right at the beginning: they’re already so messy; do I *want* more mess? But these are pretty fun kinds of messy, and my kid loves the finger-painting kind. Hey, so long as they wipe up easily, I’m cool with it 🙂

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