Hazel Janes, Busylizzy Instructor, www.busylizzy.co.uk
Messy play can be like Marmite – love or hate! BUT it’s great for little ones’ sensory exploration and development, while providing plenty of opportunity to work on those fine motor skills.
It is also possible to limit the devastation to some degree. Investing in a small paddling pool or builder’s tuff tray can be a good way to contain the chaos of messy play. Or if you’re experimenting with artistic endeavours, plastic ground sheeting and rolls of lining paper are a perfect medium for small hands that don’t want to limit themselves to a piece of A4!
The below suggestions are best for little ones aged six months upwards – or from weaning.
~ Rainbow spaghetti. When cooking the spaghetti, do not cook for quite as long as you would if you were planning on eating it, and then run under cold water to cool it down. Add a few drops of food colouring and give it a good stir to mix and cover it all in the colour. Now lay the spaghetti out on a tray or large plate and let it dry overnight or for a few hours. If you don’t do this then the food colour will come off easily all over your baby! When dry, put it on a large tray in front of your baby or on their high chair and just let them play and explore the textures and colour. It’s great if you can do two or three different colours and put them out together.
~ Dry coloured rice. Pop some rice into a sealable sandwich bag about half full, add a few drops of food coloring (the gel ones are better) and seal up. Now shake it and squish until the rice is all coated and there are no big patches of food colouring. Your baby may also enjoy watching you doing this bit! Now tip it all out in a thin layer onto a tray to dry overnight. Once dry you can put it into a large tray or plate and mix with other colours for your baby. You can also add cups and containers for tipping and filling. The really large flower pot trays are good for this sort of messy play. You can use the rice a few times if it doesn’t get anything mucky in it. It will keep well in a container.
~ Water and ice play. Just that. Simply put a small amount of water into a tray or container and let them smash and tip and fill with it. You can also add food colouring to the water if you want. Ice is also great to use and again you can also colour this and just let them explore with their whole bodies.
~ Simple gloop or oobleck play. Oobleck is a non-Newtonian fluid – i.e. it has the properties of both a liquid and a solid. As such it encourages scientific exploration! All you need is two ingredients – cornflour and water. Mix half the amount of water to cornflour and then see what happens. If it’s too hard then all you need to do is use your hands to warm it up – the more you play with it the softer and more liquid it will get. It’s got a fab texture and will be calming and fun for you to play with too! Scoop some up and hold your hand up high and let your little one watch it fall through your fingers and maybe try to catch it. You will need to get stuck in with exploring too to help them feel comfortable with it – remember they are watching and learning from you all the time. This is also great to do with them on their tummies. If they are clearly comfortable with it then you can also put it onto a plate or small tray and let your baby get stuck in.
~ Edible paint. The easiest type of edible paint is simply natural or greek yoghurt and food colouring, or blitzed up brightly coloured fruit like blueberries. Mix them up in different containers and blob some spots around some paper or on a clean table or mat then just let your little ones use their fingers to create their art! You can also do this on large paper or lining paper on the kitchen floor with them on their tummies or however they are comfortable. They can explore with their feet too! If they are older you can add cars or toy vehicles to make marks through the paint, or animals and dinosaurs to stomp footprints on the paper.
If you want these ideas to be less messy (although messy play is great for them it’s obviously not practical all the time!), add the things from above (or paint) into a clear sandwich bag and tape it or seal it well and then let them play with this at the table or on the floor. They are great for tummy time and can be taped down at the edges too to stop them moving or putting them in their mouth. You can also tape them to windows if you have a low one or glass door. Water beads are also great for putting in a bag, they have a great squishy, bumpy texture and fab colours!
Try and limit the time you spend doing each activity to around 30 minutes so that your little one doesn’t become over-stimulated. But most of all – relax and try and enjoy it with them! Cleaning up can be done later!