30 messy play ideas for kids

Make this month a messy one with AO.com's "Life is Messy" campaign.

Messy play is an important part of children’s development helping to stimulate physical, communicative, social, intellectual and creative development. But all too often, the lure of the iPad or something that, er, isn’t going to spread glitter and red paint all over the house, wins the day.

In a recent survey on children’s play by home shopping site, AO.com, 29% of parents said they worried that their child’s development – in particular social skills and attention span – was being negatively affected by TV, games consoles and other technology. And yet, 41% still discouraged children from getting dirty or messy when playing outside for fear of extra housework or germs.

But there are many ways to make mess and not all of them are as ‘messy’ as you might imagine. So why not make next month a messy one with these 30 messy play ideas for kids? It may be a good opportunity to teach little ones about clearing up after themselves too… we can but hope.

1. Arty Animals2179

Roar like a tiger. Create an elephant stampede. Giggle uncontrollably like a hyena. All these things are possible when you are wearing a handcrafted, animal face mask. Scissors, floppy card, felt tips and some elastic is all you need for your little monkey to be transported to a jungle for the afternoon. Wildlife Watch has some fabulous stencils for you to download and print off.

2. Rounders

Take a trip down memory lane with a good old fashioned rounders.

3. Chemistry

Budding Einsteins will love making colourful explosions with bicarbonate of soda, food colouring and vinegar.

4. Den Building

Who doesn’t love a den? Come rain or shine, dens are the perfect way to while away an afternoon – and you can always make one indoors with cushions from the sofa.

5. Exploding Rockets

Blast off! Stage your very own exploding rocket launch in the back garden with the help of Science Boffins Film Canister Rocket. Kids will love seeing how high the “rocket” flies and how much mess the explosion makes.

6. Finger Paintinghow-to-make-finger-paints-recipe-2

Raining outside? What better way to keep your kids entertained than by letting them loose on some finger painting masterpieces! We love how Red Ted Art has even thought about edible paint too for those sneaky taste testers.

7. Gardening

It’s never too early to inspire green fingers and gardening is a super fun activity for little ones – give them their own little corner of the garden where they can choose their own flowers or vegetables to grow and let them get muddy!

8. Homemade Play Dough

An oldie but a goodie, play dough is the perfect way for kids to go wild with their imagination and create anything from monsters to a three course dinner. Homemade play dough is easy to make and lasts much longer than shop bought stuff. The Imagination Tree has come up with a simple, no-cook and quick recipe that lasts for up to 6 months.

9. DIY Waterfall

If there is one things kids love doing on a hot summer’s day it’s getting wet and messy. If you have a fence, a few screws, a hammer and some empty plastic bottles then you are well on your way to building a water wall that will keep your munchkins fascinated for hours.

10. Elephant ToothpasteIMG_6655

Elephant’s teeth are enormous! They must get through an epic amount of toothpaste everyday…or maybe they don’t use regular toothpaste…maybe they have their own, special Elephant Toothpaste?! Fun at Home with the Kids has the perfect recipe for such a thing.

11. Collage Making

There is a reason why collages are so brilliant. As long as it sticks to paper then your kids can experiment with all kinds of things to create a fun, crafty hodgepodge. Petal, leaves, glitter and pompoms – the world is their oyster!

12. Lollipops

Sticky fingers are a given with homemade lollies. Let your kids experiment with flavours until they discover their favourite combination – Frugal Family has some great advice and recipe inspiration.

13. Mud Puddles and Pies

Throw caution to the wind, get your little ones dressed head to toe in some old clothes and get them outside to jump around in mud. Timeless, ridiculous and downright fun, muddy puddles and pies are a sure-fire way to put a smile on their faces.

14. Nature Walk

Nature walks are so exciting! There’s a whole world of critters and plant life out there for your kids to explore. Just head out to your nearest park or woodland and remember to keep a note of anything you spot.

15. Obstacle Course

Jump, crawl, wriggle and slide around a homemade obstacle course. Simple Kids has some awesome ideas for how to create the course – you will be surprised at what everyday things you can use for obstacles.

16. Polka Dot Slime4-IMG_3879

Just when you thought slime couldn’t get any better, Fun at Home with the Kids has taken it up a notch with Polka Dot Slime, guaranteed fun for your little rascals and perfect for a rainy day.

17. Marble Painting

Who would have thought that the humble marble could be so useful in creating such eye-catching paintings! The Kids Craft Room have come up trumps with their multi-coloured marble painting idea.

18. Rainbow Cakes

There’s no denying it. It might be a struggle at times to get your kids to eat their greens but it’s never a struggle to get them to eat psychedelic food. For a special treat, have a messy afternoon baking some rainbow cake! We absolutely love the organic version that Inhabitots has come up with that’s made with natural food dyes.

19. Slip and Slide

Summer wouldn’t be summer without a slip and slide. Fun for all ages, kids will not only love sliding around themselves, they will also relish watching mums and dads slipping around slapstick style. Happy Hooligans has a lovely visual guide with all the information you need to recreate your own diy water slide.

20. Treasure Hunt7300679408_d1d59197a0

Shiver me timbers. Your little pirates will be in their element as they solve clues on a homemade treasure hunt. Make the hunt on a larger scale in a local park or keep it cosy indoors on wet weather days. Nurture Store has a super simple and effective way of making a treasure hunt using chalk.

21. Water Fights

Prepare to get drenched! Arm your little scamps with water pistols and let them run riot…anything goes in a water fight, just bear in mind that you must let them win. As a more civilised alternative to water fights, we love the water play ideas that Mummy on a Budget has come up with – perfect for a quieter afternoon that is still just as much fun.

22. DIY X-Ray

There are not many little ones who don’t love playing doctor/vet for an afternoon. Making their own X-Rays is a brilliant way of mixing art with role play. One way is by using black paper and white paint, but Red Ted Art has come up with a much easier version which we think the kids will love.

23. Homemade Soap2013-02-19_00021

After all of these messy antics, your kids are going to need a good scrub. Why not encourage the big clean up with some beautifully bonkers handmade soap?! Truly Madly Kids has some amazing ideas ranging from glittery heart shapes to hidden joke flies, and, ironically, the kids will get just as messy making the soap as they have done on all the other messy activities.

24. Painting Plant Pots

Let your little Van Goghs give your tired looking plant pots a new lease of life with some paint and craft accessories. Hobbycraft has some great ideas to inspire you.

25. Pancakes for Breakfast

Leave the cereal in the cupboard and get flipping. Making pancakes is just as much fun as eating them. Once the pancakes are flipped and plated, reward your kids with toppings of their choice. Thinly Spread has a brilliant, easy to follow recipe for delicious pancakes.

26. Egg Box BugsPicMonkey Collage2

Don’t chuck your egg boxes in the recycling – there are so many ways that you can upcycle them. Kids will love inventing their own new species of bugle with these Bug Egg Boxes from Mini Mess.

27. Glass Paint

Don’t restrict your little painters to paper, let them loose on a window with The Imagination Tree’s homemade glass paint. It’s easy to make and even easier to clean off afterwards, and what’s more your kids will be so proud of their stained glass creations.

28. Papier Mache

There’s something really nostalgic about papier mache. The sheer scope of sculptures you can create and the lengths you can go to on the “painting and decorating” side of things makes for a super exciting rainy day activity. Zingzing Tree has some really useful tips on how to create the paste and some inspiration for your end creations.

29. Jam TartsPicMonkey-Collage-31

Whisk yourself off to Wonderland, hang out with the Mad Hatter and bake some jam tarts. A great way to get your little chef baking and used to the kitchen…and they will love seeing how much you enjoy the fruits of their labour afterwards. Multiple Mummy has a scrummy recipe that is simple enough to follow (but will still need some guidance from an adult for the “hot to touch” bits.)

30. Water Gun Painting

Young or old, there is something very appealing about shooting paint at a blank canvas! Definitely an activity for outside, sit back and watch as your little ones create colourful paint explosions. Have a look at Somewhat Simple for some inspiration on how to take this one step further.

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