Messy play

Messy play provides so many explorative and investigative experiences, which promote so many of the characteristics of effective learning. 

Some easy ideas to start you off

Here are some easy ways you can enhance your continuous early years provision with messy, tactile, multi-sensory play.

These ideas could be used large or small, inside or outside, dry and wet. The possibilities are endless so have fun experimenting.

  1. Having a water area, tray or water source continuously available inside, outside or both. An additional water source like a hose or a tap is helpful so that children can use it freely once they know how.
  2. Having a sand play area, table or tray always available inside, outside or both
  3. Providing a painting easel, preferably 2 easels next to each other or a large easel so that children can paint alongside and groups of children can paint collaboratively on a larger area.
  4. Providing clay which can be wet or dry, with a pot of water added so that children can experiment with adding water. Introducing other props with clay as play develops, like sculpting wire, cocktail sticks, pipe cleaners, sticks, stones or children’s ideas.
  5. Making and baking bread with children. The smell of baking bread is very stimulating, comforting and homely. Imagine making it in your provision and then eating for snack to complete the multi-sensory experience. Allow children to knead and explore a batch of raw dough.
  6. Using an aromatherapy scent in play dough or adding to materials like water or sand (you can find lists of suitable scents online). Lavender, orange, citrus scents can be used with children. Some can have a calming or stimulating effect.
  7. Adding colour to substances using paint, powder paint and food colouring.
  8. Making play dough (flour, water, salt): this can be warm or cold, hard or soft. You can add colour and scent. You can add other inspirations like glitter, lavender, petals, grains, more flour, more water. Children can make themselves. It can also be made with cream of tartar and oil.
  9. Exploring gloop: a cornflour and water mixture (add water to a packet of cornflour until it is quite runny but will set in your hand). Add colour and scent, warm or cold water and glitter for different sensory experiences.
  10. Mixing topsoil and water to make mud. Enhance with props from kitchen or garden like jugs, spoons, wheelbarrows and spades.

Try to always have access inside or outside (or both) to sand and water as these tend to be staple play areas that have such endless potential and are often loved by many children. These areas can be enhanced by the above or by using different props and provocations, letting the children discover, or leaving empty… 

Children’s powerful learning mechanisms mean that a lot of their development happens through playing and experimenting with high quality materials. For example, through many experiences of playing with water and other liquids, children move from simple Core Experiences for the EYFS actions (e.g. a baby flicking water with her fingers) to more complex, co-ordinated actions (e.g. a four year old carefully pouring water from one container into another and then carrying the container over to the sand and mixing the two substances together). Through repeating and practising these physical actions and experiments, children develop concepts about shape, space, and the properties of substances.

from Core Experiences for the Early Years (page 8) by Kate Greenaway Nursery School and Children’s Centre

For more help and information

  • There are many amazing blogs and websites out there with great ideas so we encourage you to check them out and let us know what you discover.
  • Try pinterest and instagram for recipes. 
  • Look for Sally Featherstone’s book called The Little Book of Messy Play
  • Messy play booklet by Play Scotland free to download

Further reading

Children as artists

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Loose parts play

Here are some links to resources to support your play. Loose parts play tookit is such a rich and comprehensive free publication from Inspiring Scotland to

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Play with clay Clay is natural, it comes from the earth. It is cool to the touch and soft on our skin. It has a

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How can I be more creative? Be inspired by our guest bloggers from Rachel Keeling nursery school who shared about their clay and sculpture project.  Have

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