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2 toddlers playing with paints

let them get messy!

4 minutes


How do children learn through play?

Before they sit at a desk and learn to read and write, your child is learning through their everyday experiences – most of that being play. Playing helps your child ask questions like, “what does this toy do?” “what happens if I push this ball away with my hand” “what happens when I try to roll over and look at Mum” …all those important problem-solving questions.

Your baby has been developing muscle strength and fine motor skills from the day they were born. You’ve watched as they started rolling, crawling and sitting up. For the most part, it was rolling around on the floor and plenty of opportunity to play that meant your child eventually met those milestones.

As your baby becomes a child and starts playing with others, they’ll learn communication skills, more problem-solving, body awareness, resilience etc.

Why should children be given the opportunity to get messy?

  • It fosters their curiosity

  • It lets them experiment and ask questions

  • It builds their imagination and creativity

  • It’s a sensory overload which helps your child’s brain development

Often the hardest part for us parents, besides the mess, is letting our babies direct their own play. Sometimes we want to show our child how to play with a toy or activity but letting them explore is a great way to learn cause and effect. Try and pause next time you’re about to interrupt your child’s play…and you might be surprised at what holds their attention.

Our favourite ideas for messy play

Messy play with food

  • Separate cooked pasta (spaghetti is great) and add food colouring. You can put the rainbow pasta in a baby bath, large container, bath or deep dish and let your baby explore.

  • Add food colouring to baby rice to make finger paint. The best thing is it's perfectly safe for your child to eat.

In the bath

  • Bubbles are the original (and ultimate) messy play fun!

  • Collect leaves and flowers on your walk and add them to your baby’s bath. They’ll love watching all the bits and pieces floating in the bath.


We certainly don’t expect your little one to be cutting and pasting, or being responsible around sequins and buttons, for a few years yet. But there are some great crafty activities you can try with your baby.

  • Sensory bags. The idea is to fill a snap lock bag with water (or shampoo or any other squishy/sludgy mix) and add things like glitter, buttons, shells, leaves, pom poms etc. Your baby can poke and prod and squish to their hearts content.

  • Create a crawling tunnel with a large cardboard box.

  • Stick post-it notes to the wall. Your baby will love to peel them off the wall. Older babies might be able to stick them back on again!

Mud and outdoor play

  • Water play is great for little ones. Cut lemon or orange slices and let them float around in bowls of water. Give your baby some kitchen utensils and you might be surprised at what “game” they come up with.

  • Let your baby explore in the garden. Often it’s the activities we steer clear of that our babies really love. Let your baby dig around in the garden and touch flowers or herbs that might be growing there. They might even like their own little spade to practice digging.

Okay, but what if I don’t want all that mess in my house?!

Have a search online and you might just find a messy play class in your area. Or join a playgroup, these often include messy play in the schedule.

If you’re brave enough to try messy play at home, set the activity up outside or in an open space inside (like in the kitchen or dining room) – it goes without saying you want to avoid carpeted areas.

You could always pop your child in the bath with their messy activity or on a tarp/messy mat (you can get plastic ones from the toy or hardware department at your local).

And always make sure to have a packet of WaterWipes handy for when your child has finished their messy play and is about to crawl or toddle the mess around the house. A quick wipe of hands and surfaces will bring your heartrate back down to normal.

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