The importance of messy play

Do you remember when mess was fun? Before we grew up and got bogged down with the responsibility of having to clean up after ourselves it’s likely that most of us loved getting in a mess. Finger-painting, puddles, mud pies you name it… we did it. And being a messy toddler is part of their normal and healthy development because children learn from doing things.

The tactile nature of messy play allows children to test all of their senses… splat, splosh, glug, swish and dollop are just some of the messy sounds you can make, now think about how they feel, look, smell and taste? (Yes, toddlers love to try out all their senses, so we always play with age-safe, non-toxic materials)

So all this messy play might look like chaos to us, but our children are testing the very limits of their cognitive and sensory development. Fine and gross motor skills are fostered when children can see the results of their direct actions, and something as simple as learning to draw a shape with your finger, is as a result of trial and error while playing.

So let go of your inner toddler and get messy with some of these:

(And don’t forget to let your kid join in!)

Water play

Whether it’s a paddling pool, a baby bath, on the grass outside, or just in the bathtub, you can really have fun with water. You don’t need expensive toys… fill squirty bottles with water and make bubbles, floating and sinking bottles, or pour cups of different sizes into one another. You can always add a few drops of food colouring (best outside) for added interest!


There are some great recipes online now for safe and natural playdough if you would rather make your own than buy the commercial kind. Either way, you can provide lots of colours and together you can have hours of fun making things, and younger ones will just enjoy squashing and handling the dough.


No need to stay in on a rainy day! As soon as your little one is old enough to toddle with you holding their hand you can have fun in the puddles. Okay, so they will need a decent pair of gumboots, but I find charity stalls and table sales a great place for these. A playpark with shallow puddles can be great for little ones who don’t want to get wet but still want to make a splash!


The younger ones can do this in a highchair, just put some old towels or a sheet underneath and fill the tray with paper and paint pots. Otherwise outside or on a tile floor with a plastic tablecloth works well. Look online for some safe, non-toxic paint recipes.

Potato stamps

This is a great one to add to the finger painting routine, use the same paints and materials but you can carve some shapes into potatoes first, and now you have some shapes stamps to decorate things with. For slightly older ones you can start introducing paint brushes, sponges and stencils too.

At our Cherry Bridge Station Early Learning & Childcare centres in NSW, we fully support the importance of messy play. Our experienced educators include it in our fun, hands-on curriculum, and don’t worry, we supply the aprons and clear up the mess!