Messy play ideas


​Whether with paint, foam or slime – you and your child can get messy.

When children use their hands, they explore with their sense of touch, and build their fine motor skills. Talk with the children about their discoveries as they play. Give them lots of opportunities to play with messy materials using their hands before introducing other equipment (e.g., rolling pins and cutters for play dough, beaters and whisks etc. for slime).

Messy play promotes positive learning, curiosity, independence, problem-solving, investigation and exploration.

When engaging in messy play parents/carers can use open-ended questioning to support their child to think more deeply about what they are doing or what they are noticing. For example, “I wonder why that happened. What would happen if you add more water?” Allow children time to respond.

Through messy play, and working alongside other children or you, your child’s social learning opportunities, concentration and focus, and fine-motor skills develop.

Most importantly, you can have fun with your child as they explore more messy play experiences. 

Messy paint and water play

Let’s have fun with messy paint and water play!

Embrace the cold with chilly ice paint! Kids love to swirl the melting paint over paper, creating beautiful designs. They’ll practise their colour recognition and counting skills while observing paint going from a liquid to a solid and then back again.

Gather your resources:

  • Ice cube/ice pop mould
  • Liquid craft paint
  • Craft sticks
  • Butcher paper
  • Plastic wrap (optional)


  1. Pour paint into ice cube tray.
  2. Put a craft stick into the middle of each paint cube. If the sticks don’t stand up use some plastic wrap and poke them through.
  3. Place the ice cube tray in the freezer and only remove when the paint is frozen solid.
  4. Once the ice cubes are frozen you can take them out of the tray and start to teach your child about mixing colours. 

Freeze green and red paint cubes, and then let your child discover what results from using those colours together. As they melt, the paints will magically mix into yellow!

Enjoy this messy play activity.

Messy slime play

Messy slime play is fun!

This activity is simple, low cost, introduces mathematical and science concepts (i.e. ratios, measurement and properties of materials), and is a messy play activity that is extremely popular with kids.

Gather your resources:

  • Large mixing bowl
  • Measuring jug & spoon
  • 500g cornflour
  • 375ml (1½ cups) water
  • Food colouring


  1. Add food colouring to the water (about 20 drops).
  2. Pour the coloured water and cornflour into the mixing bowl and stir.
  3. If the mix is too stiff add more water. If the mix is too sloppy add more cornflour.
  4. When left in the bowl the slime will look like a liquid and will feel like a liquid if you slowly stir it. Rapid stirring will make the slime feel like a solid. When the stirring is stopped, the slime will revert to its liquid-like state.
  5. Stick your hands in the slime and experience how it feels and changes its consistency!
  6. Cover the mix and refrigerate. If the mix dries out add more water.
  7. Do not dispose of the slime down the drains or toilet as it can cause blockages. Allow it to dry out and then wrap in newspaper and put it in the bin.

Keep the messy play fun going and create curiosity in the children by adding measuring cups, bowls, plastic cups, etc. for them to fill and pour. These measuring skills help in developing mathematical concepts. Encourage them to reflect on what they are doing and you will help them develop a love of learning.

Enjoy messy slime play!

Messy foam play

Let’s have fun with messy foam play!

Shaving foam is a messy, sensory experience that uses all five senses of touch, sight, smell, sound and even taste (though tasting is not encouraged!).

It is a textural wonderland that changes and reforms in your hands. Adding colour enables swirls and patterns to form and burying and hiding toys in the foam adds to the sense of discovery and play. Shaving cream encourages children to manipulate and mould materials, building their fine motor s​kills.

Gather your resources:

  • Shaving foam (brands for sensitive skin are gentle for little hands)
  • Water tray/trough
  • Dinosaurs (or other rubber or plastic toys)
  • Food colouring
  • A paint brush
  • Dry towels for clean-up.


  1. Spray shaving foam around the bottom of a tray.
  2. Mix through a few drops of food colouring.
  3. Draw in the shaving foam with a paintbrush.
  4. Add dinosaurs or rubber/plastic toys to the clouds of foam.
  5. Enjoy the swirly, gooey fun of exploring through the foam.

To extend the activity, use multiple trays with different colours and swap the trays so the colours can mix together.

Ask the children discovery questions:

  • ​What does it feel/smell/sound like?
  • Can you squish it through your fingers?
  • What happens when the colours mix?

This activity creates curiosity in children and enables them to enjoy the moment, developing a love of learning and encouraging them to take the initiative by making decisions.

Article courtesy of Playgroup Queensland.

Last updated 05 September 2023