I am going to start this blog post off by saying… I am not a blogger! I am a busy mum of two, who is trying to run a small business and keep everyone alive and happy! My early years teaching experience gives me invaluable insight to the benefits of play/sensory play/messy play and so on… but as a busy mum setting up these types of play can simply be another thing to add to the to do list.

But what I do want to do- is to inspire, encourage and support other mums for supporting their little ones development at home through play. So I am going to try and focus on providing messy play ideas that can be done at home with minimum effort and set up time. I am often inspired by beautiful invitations to play that I see on Instagram but I equally sit there scratching my head wondering when will I have the time to prep them…If I am dying rice it’s a night before job that involves me to think ahead…that’s hard sometimes! Hopefully, like me, this blog will encourage you to pick a couple of extra items onto your weekly shop to grab when you need to.

I am a HUGE fan of getting out to classes – if you are lucky enough to have a local messy play class…super! You can save the cleaning up for them! However you could be like me and not have those classes to attend. Messy play is simply a type of experimental play that offers endless ways to develop and learn. There is no specific end goal with the set ups – children can experiment and have the freedom to explore using their senses. This type of play often engages children and fosters creativity and imagination. With babies it’s great way to introduce a variety of textures, smells and things to see. It’s a physical, multi-sensory experience which offers a chance explore.

Lots of these activities laid out here will involve the use of a shallow tray/tuff tray. If you do not have one I highly recommend and they can be picked up cheaply off eBay/amazon.


Lets start simple!

What you will need:

  • Jelly
  • Various containers
  • Spoons/scoops
  • Ice cube trays
  • Various items to hide in the jelly

Jelly is a fab multi-sensory item to have in the cupboard. It smells, its taste safe with a unique texture perfect for little hands to hold/squish/pinch.

As jelly is a material that can be moulded – using various size containers will allow little ones to explore different sizes and colours. Ice cube trays are great for creating manageable sizes for little baby hands – encourage them to pass the jelly between hands, let their little feet feel and hands squish. Toddlers will enjoy scooping the jelly and enhancing fine motor skills as well as language by introducing words. ‘Cold, Big, Small’. My toddlers current favourite thing to do is to pass materials from one container to another – so spoons/scoops/bowls will allow the opportunity for this type of free play.


Now this is one I like! I found this idea in a book that I had bought for inspiration for my class a few years back.

What you will need:

  • Instant custard
  • Shallow tray
  • Spoons/scoops
  • Containers
  • Plastic animals or anything linking to a theme you may fancy.

Another taste safe item- great for making marks and feeling the new texture. If you create the custard from scratch with a toddler- talk about the changes happening. Stir, pour, mix, scoop and even taste!

*note the food allergy aspect using custard*

Porridge Oats – Wet

What you will need:

  • Porridge oats
  • Warm water
  • Colouring

Super simple again, you can make this together by simply allowing little ones to use their hands to mix the warm water with the oats to create the ‘gloop’. Add colouring too! Perhaps include some plastic small world animals (any that can be rinsed off after). I am thinking green colouring and some farm animals.

Porridge Oats – Dry

This was shared on our Facebook by another fellow teacher mama and it encouraged me to pick up a Tesco value pack of porridge oats on my next food shop.

What you need:

  • Dry porridge oats
  • Tea set/cups/spoons
  • Teddies

How about making a little teddy bears picnic at home? I am a big fan of reducing plastic at the moment so forever charity shop hunting for metal teapots/gravy boats etc but if not available any tea set will be super! Allow little ones to explore the textures with their hands/feet, allow them to scoop and spoon the oats between containers. Encourage language; ‘tea please Oscar’. With toddlers you can introduce sharing and turn taking through play.

Dry Beans

What you will need:

  • A variety of dry beans: butter beans, cannelloni, black, lentils (red and green)
  • Metal pots and pans
  • Scoops/spoons
  • Colanders /sieves

Slightly better suited from the toddlers – this is a colourful and attractive set up. Allow little hands to feel the beans run through their hands and the difference in textures and shape. With the older ones; talk about the sizes/colours. Can they be sorted? Can a pattern be made? Can a picture be made?


What you will need:

  • A variety of dry pasta shapes
  • Pots made from a variety of materials (metal allow noises to be made)
  • Spoons/scoops
  • Ribbon/string to lace
  • Food colouring if desired

This is one of my favourite set ups. It’s so simple and always one that involves little effort from me. Maybe I need to put an order in or make a call. I usually fill the tuff spot with a variety of kitchen items and a selection of pasta shapes. Every single time Oscar uses this he will find something new to do.

I found a tip from a book about how to best dye the pasta: use food colouring and a sandwich bag to cover the pasta. Then place onto a baking tray for 10mins (medium heat) to dry it out.

Adding the laces/ribbon is a great extension for toddlers to work on fine motor skills.

I think that’s enough to get you started! There is rice, baked beans, instant mash, compost, water etc that can also be used in various ways. The main point that I would like to make to fellow mamas is… it doesn’t need to be complicated, fancy or take a lot of prep.

These examples I have tried to bring need you to simply remember a few extra items on your next food shop. Have them kept in the cupboard and build up a small basket of resources…. spoons/scoops/bowls that can all be kept together. I also recommend using bin liners to collect any mess under the tray – but everything can be cleaned up. Enjoy watching your little ones explore the textures/smells/tastes/sights and finally, follow their lead…nothing I could write is better than following your own childs lead.


Katie – Rainbow Sensory Gifts