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Messy Play Ideas For Babies

Olivia Jones

Olivia Jones

Content Writer

Baby painting with hands

Did you know messy activities and play is one of the best ways for children to learn and develop as it introduces sensory play, helps develop imagination and creativity and boosts physical development?

We’ve put together some of our favourite sensory tray inspiration, water play ideas, STEM activities, and creative play ideas for babies so now is the time to embrace it and get messy! 

Sensory tray activities

At Fennies, we incorporate sensory trays into children’s daily activities as they are beneficial to sensory development, encourage communication and promote problem-solving skills. Here’s some that you can try at home:

Sparkly Sensory Fireworks

Whether you’re celebrating or simply looking to elevate your sensory trays, this messy play idea will be a hit with all babies and toddlers! Simply mix biodegradable glitter, hair gel, and sparkly pom-poms, and that’s it! When your child explores the tray, encourage them to squish and squeeze their hands through the gel to encourage imagination and develop fine motor skills.  

Rainbow Oats

We absolutely love this colourful confetti-like rainbow oats activity from AndNextComesL! You can incorporate them into so many messy play activities or simply add them to a sensory tray for your child to explore and learn.  

Tip! Switch the liquid watercolours for food colouring for a taste-safe baby sensory tray.  

Bowl of oats

Rice and Ice Sensory Tray

This rice and ice tray takes sensory play to a whole new level as it is the perfect opportunity to play with rhyming words, learn about colour mixing and explore scientific concepts. For this messy play activity, all you need is water, food colouring and rice. Encourage your little one to get stuck in and explore all the different textures and they’ll be amazed as the ice begins to melt in the tray and changes colour!  

Safe Sensory 'Mud'

We love how creative this sensory play activity is. Once your child has selected their choice of toy and the ‘mud’ has been created, put everything in a tray and let the fun begin! This messy play activity is perfect for imaginative play whilst providing a fun sensory experience for all.  

Visit MyBoredToddler for the full recipe 

Taste Safe Sand Tray

This is one of our favourite sensory play ideas as not only is it fun and creative, but it’s a great way to use up ingredients you may have at the back of those kitchen cupboards. To create the edible sand, simply blend breadcrumbs and porridge oats and add a drop of yellow food colouring and voila…Throw in a hard hat and your mini construction site is good to go!  

Child in sand pit
Water play Header

Babies and toddlers are often drawn to any activity where water is involved which is ideal because water can provide some great messy and sensory play activities. Here are some of our favourites: 

Water Tray Play

It’s no secret that babies love exploring water! However, finding play ideas before your child can sit unsupported can be a little tricky. For this wonderfully simple yet effective activity idea, fill a baking tray with water for your baby to splash and explore to combine tummy time with messy play. 

Soothing Lavender Sensory Play

This lavender sensory play is perfect for cooling down after a hot summer’s day, or for calming down just before bedtime. You can even recreate this in the tub for a soothing bedtime bath!  

For the full ingredients and more sensory play inspiration, visit nurturestore.co.uk. 

Lavender sensory water play

DIY Bath Crayons

Sometimes, the best play ideas can be incorporated into our day-to-day routines so why not make bath time more fun with these DIY bath crayons? This makes for great sensory play as the combination of the water and the colour from the crayons stimulates multiple senses at once. There’s also the added peace of mind that these are homemade so you don’t have to worry about any nasty chemicals or ingredients.  

Foamy Fun

This simple soap foam is a treat for all the senses! This fluffy soap messy play is amazing for helping your baby or toddler develop an awareness of their senses. The best bit? You don’t need expensive materials to create this activity, you probably already have everything around the house already!  

Tip! Spoon into a tray or plastic bowl and add toy sea creatures or bath toys for even more fun. 

Child's hand holding foam

Lemon Water Tub

When life gives you lemons… Add them to a sensory tray! This lemon water tub activity is a wonderful way to incorporate lots of different textures and introduce refreshing smells for one of our favourite unique sensory play ideas. 

Did you know the smell of lemon can be calming and help reduce anxiety?  

STEM Activities Header image

Messy play is a great introduction to STEM as they often involve the concept of cause and effect, for example, a baby will learn “if I hold this ice cube, it will melt.’ Most of the play ideas in this blog incorporate STEM in some way, however, these are some of our favourite activities. 

Baby Play Goop

Goop is a really simple yet effective sensory material made from two ingredients. It’s solid under pressure and a liquid when released and therefore perfect for babies exploring new textures and developing motor skills. This goop recipe is dry so it’s easy to clean afterwards with a vacuum cleaner or hose.  

Tip! Elevate your goop sensory play by adding food colouring to the mixture.

Toddler Messy Play

Sensory Sand Foam

This is one of our favourite messy play ideas for babies and is spectacularly simple; all you need is two ingredients! Simply combine sand with shaving foam to create the sand foam and your baby or toddler will love exploring this new tactile sensory experience. For older kids or children developing their language skills, enhance this messy play by encouraging them to use descriptive words during their play by asking questions like “how does the foam feel?” or “what temperature is the foam?” 

Colour Melt Experiment

Using ice within messy play is great because it melts and becomes a new temperature, texture, and state all by itself. Why not try making these colourful ice cubes during your next sensory play time? All you need is water, an ice cube mould and some food colouring, once frozen, place in a bowl and let your little one explore! This is great during Summer as the ice will melt naturally in the sun and you can get messy without having to worry about cleaning up! 

Red ice sensory play

It's in The Bag

This DIY sensory bag is not only simple to make using household items, but it will keep your child fascinated for hours! Fill a zip lock bag with hair gel and small toys, seal with duct tape and allow your little one to explore and develop their sense of touch.  

Edible messy play header

Messy play can be difficult when your little one is exploring the world by putting everything in their mouth so here’s our favourite play ideas that are completely taste-safe. 

Baby Safe Cloud Dough

This baby-safe cloud dough recipe is made from just 2 ingredients; coconut oil and organic baby rice cereal. There are so many messy play ideas you can recreate with your cloud dough and babies and toddlers will love feeling the texture and squishiness of the dough, which is not only great for development but a delicious snack!  

Rainbow Spaghetti

Why not try making your very own rainbow spaghetti? Your child will love this sensory experience of squishing and squelching their spaghetti! Not only is this messy play activity super easy to make (simply add food colouring to cooked pasta) but is a great way to enhance babies and toddlers fine motor skills. Your child will love pulling individual strands, creating interesting shapes and chopping with a toy knife …The possibilities are endless! 

Rainbow Spaghetti Sensory play

Edible Paint

It’s never too early to ignite your child’s creative spirit and messy play is a great way to introduce colour, painting, and patterns. Why not whip up some of this edible paint, lay down a sheet of paper or mat and let your little one’s imagination run wild! 

Jiggling Jelly

Jelly is great for sparking babies and toddlers sense of touch and this activity is baby safe and perfect for when they put everything in their mouth! For this messy play activity, simply hide your child’s toys in the jelly, allow to set, and it’s ready to be dug out. As they work their way through the jelly, they’ll enjoy squishing, squelching, and poking which is a great work out for those developing hand muscles and fine motor skills.  

Taste Safe Cake Dough

What could be better than play dough? Cake flavoured play dough of course! This recipe from Mama Instincts is completely taste-safe which makes it one of our favourite play ideas for babies. However, if you have toddlers or older kids, they can get involved by helping to make the dough and join in the messy play fun.

Cake dough sensory activity

Edible Play Dough Recipe

Although you may discourage your baby from tasting their playdough, it’s nice to have peace of mind in case some of it does make it in! This edible playdough recipe is simple to make and uses ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen cupboards. Playdough often sparks some fun play ideas from poking and prodding to squishing and rolling which is all part of developing motor skills, communication, and imagination.  

Jelly Finger Painting

Here’s a wonderful edible finger paint recipe that is completely safe for babies and toddlers as it’s made using jelly powder. Once the jelly has set, separate into colours and encourage your little one to use it as if it were paint. This is a great messy play activity that will allow your little one to experience new smells, tastes, and textures whilst creating their masterpieces!  

Toddler holding jelly
Creative Messy Play Header

Before babies can speak and walk, they begin to express themselves in many other ways. You can encourage their creativity and introduce colours by incorporating these artistic play ideas: 

Messy Finger Painting

t’s understandable why finger painting is avoided in many cases but there are many benefits to allowing your child to get messy every now and then. Sometimes our hands are our best tools and this messy finger painting activity will ignite babies and toddlers imaginations and creative spirit as they create patterns and shapes across the page. Remember, don’t forget to use washable paint! 

Tip! This is one of the best sensory activities for introducing colour mixing. Encourage your child to name the different colours they’ve created by mixing the paints together. 

Homemade Play Dough Recipe

It’s no secret that play dough is great for building those motor skills and tiny hand muscles, but it’s also been suggested that the kneading motion when making play dough can be therapeutic for babies and toddlers. This homemade playdough recipe is one of the best messy play ideas for when you don’t want to get too messy! As well as this it lasts a long time, is safe for babies, and uses ingredients you probably already have around the house.  

Toddler making play dough

Baby Bubble Wrap

One of the first ways babies can express themselves is through art, which is why it’s great to introduce them to messy play. Activities, where they can feel new textures or see new colours are great for their development, which is why we love this baby bubble wrap activity. From creating swirling colours to popping bubble sounds, the sensory play ideas are endless! 

Tummy Time Painting

Tummy time supports babies physical development and helps strengthen their growing muscles but why not enhance this by incorporating some sensory play? Give tummy time painting a try and your little one will love swirling and swishing the paint inside the bag… and the best part is that it’s virtually mess-free! 

Baby painting with hands

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