Everything Messy Play

My previous post made me realize just how much I know about messy play for toddlers. It’s really time consuming to stop random people on the street and share my wisdom, only to find out that they don’t even have kids, and I should “Go home and put on pants”. Whatever, I’ll just share my knowledge with you lovely minions who appreciate my pearls of wisdom.

all messy play cover

Messy play is one of my favorite things for so many reasons:

  1. It absorbs my toddler, Nacho, in a way few things can. That sentence makes it sounds like the Blob is ingesting him, but you get what I mean.
  2. Messy play is even entertaining for young babies. I know when Nacho was small, I was definitely at a loss for things to do with him. You can only coo at a wiggling burrito so much!
  3. It’s CHEAP. Having a kid is expensive, especially when yours eats like a linebacker after the big championship game (the Wonderbowl? The Supershow? You know, that sports thing that happens too often for some reason).  The most basic form of messy play is a mud pit, which is free! The other recipes I use are generally pretty cheap, which is always great.

There are lots of variations of messy play, and honestly, just a quick browse on pinterest will overwhelm you with options. Well, I have sorted through tons of those links, and picked out my favorites. I look for recipes that are cheap, easy to clean up, and allergen free (no wheat for my poor guy). Several of these are also taste safe for younger ones.

  1. Slime – You will need a fiber supplement with Psyllium as the active ingredient, food coloring, water, and a microwave safe bowl. I love this recipe because you only use 1 tablespoon of the fiber stuff and 1 cup of water. Whisk this together with a little food coloring, then microwave for 5 minutes. Here is the link to the original post I used that has lots of Q&A if you need more details.
  2. Oobleck – Mix 1 cup water, 2 cups cornstarch, and some food coloring. I like to make one big white batch, then separate it into small containers to add color. I usually don’t measure anything, and just kind of mix it around until I get a good consistency. Oobleck can be reused if you spread it thin, and let it dry thoroughly. Just add water again and remix it. I usually reuse it within a couple days, and just once. There are tons of variations on this basic recipe all over the magical internets, but I stick to the basic one.

    dry slime

    Dried out oobleck

  3. Tub Paint – You can use shaving cream mixed with a tiny bit of food coloring, or this recipe (this is a tiny batch): 1 tbsp constarch, a couple squirts dish soap, and a tiny bit of food coloring. As with the oobleck, I make a big batch of white, then separate it to add colors. With the soap one, the tub turns into a Giganto-bubble bath after, which entertains Nacho for another good stretch of time.
  4.  Finger paint – When my son was younger, I made his from scratch so they would be taste safe. I used this recipe, and it worked great! We still have Nacho’s original artwork, and it looks great, 2 years later. Now, I tend to buy the store-bought ones when they’re on sale. I should probably get back to making them, though…
  5. Play dough – Since Nacho is allergic to wheat, and playtime shouldn’t lead to him covered in hives, I used rice flour instead of regular flour. That’s not as cheap as most recipes though, so I would use regular flour if you can. I have totally lost the original recipe I used, but there are infinite variations online. If you don’t have time to cook it, you can use cornstarch and hair conditioner, mixed with a bit of food coloring.
  6. Play foam – this is a huge hit in our house, and one we usually keep in the tub. I use a couple squirts of dish soap, a small drop of food coloring, and about 1/4 cup of water. You do need a mixer of some kind for this. I use my hand mixer with whisk attachment and it whips the mixture up into foam in no time. I actually keep my hand mixer in the bathroom now.
  7. Foam dough – This is cornstarch mixed with shaving cream. When I made it, it was somewhat brittle, but some kids will probably enjoy it. I’ll probably try it again with Nacho in the future.
  8. Mud – regular old mud is one of Nacho’s favorite things. I just make sure to hose him off outside before we head in for his bath.
  9. Play sand – Sand is really cheap at Home Depot, and stores like that. It is just insanely heavy. Again, a huge hit! We bought one bag last year, for I think $5, and his sand table (which I got for free!) is still pretty full. If you store it outside, put a cover over it when it’s not being used. We just store our play pool upside down on top as a giant lid!
  10. Jello – Yes, just regular old Jell-o. I buy the store brand, so it’s less than $0.50 per batch. Just follow the package instructions! Easy peasy. I usually make it after he goes to bed, so it’s ready the next day for play time.
  11. Play snow – This is literally baking soda mixed with water, and that’s all. I kind of just mix amounts until I have a consistency I like. (Man, this is a professional blog, will you look at this? Don’t get too jelly of my amazing, super-helpful writing.) One thing about play snow, you will see recipes all over that call for conditioner or other random ingredients, but seriously, all you need is baking soda and water. You can also play with this in the tub and dump vinegar on it to make crazy amounts of foam!
  12. Bean tray – Beans are so much fun for kids to play with, but man, they can get everywhere. I use pinto beans because they’re the cheapest of all the beans, and they’re large enough to be easy to find. No lentils for this activity! I have a big, cheap catering pan I store the beans in with a few scoops, so it’s all ready to go when I need a distraction.
  13. Water – I’m including this because you HAVE to take precautions with water. Not just safety, but holy potato can kids make a mess with it. We played mixing colored water in the tub, and I’m so glad I didn’t try it elsewhere. I also stop up the sink and fill it a little so Nacho can play Pond. Give him a few animals (or toys that desperately need a bath!), and he’s entertained for 20 minutes. Long enough for me to shower (in eyesight of him), or put laundry away.
  14. Bubbles – Nacho is obsessed with bubbles, whether in the bath or blown, so when I bring them out, we go through a million of them. If we use them indoors, I put towels down to prevent the floor getting slippery. We made bubble snakes outside, which was great until the dog began eating them. Okay, that was funny too, but then he got an upset stomach, so don’t let your dog eat bubbles. It’s not pretty. I used one of Nacho’s socks on the bubble maker instead of the wash cloth in the tutorial, and it worked great.
  15. Colored ice cubes – Just make colored water, and dump it into ice cube trays. You can use yogurt cups, or other containers to get weird shapes, but make sure the container is freezer safe. There’s a blue stain in my freezer for totally unrelated reasons. Totally. I usually let these warm up a little before handing them off to Nacho so I don’t have to worry about them sticking to his skin or tongue. I have a Batman ice cube tray (YOU CAN’T HAVE IT), and he loves to fit the bats back into the tray.

I wrote about how to reduce the clean up work the other day, so here’s the link if you missed it.

General Tips:

  1. I buy my food coloring on Amazon, and it’s far cheaper than the grocery store. If I find something even cheaper than that, I will update you all.
  2. To extend a kiddo’s interest in a particular mess, add fun things to it gradually. For example, if Nacho has play dough, he’ll start to lose interest after 20 or 30 minutes. I just hand him something additional to go with it, like dry pasta, and that adds a new level of interest. Googly eyes make an appearance later, then cookie cutters, etc.
  3. Save and wash yogurt cups for scooping, or to hold multiple colors of paints/slime/various goops.
  4. Look around at what you have available, and utilize your resources. Kids will find a way to play with almost anything. Do you have dozens of wine corks around for no particular reason? Not because you’re a parent, surely. Well let the kiddo play with them, and now you’re being resourceful!
  5. Don’t have a plan for HOW the kid will play with stuff. I mean, other than “Don’t throw it at the cat”. Just let them do whatever comes to mind rather than demonstrating how they “should” play with whatever it is. If they seem a little lost or hesitant, by all means get down there and play around, but otherwise let them at it.
  6. With my toddler, I don’t ask if he wants to play with something. That’s get a guaranteed “NO”. I just set stuff up and show it to him, then he digs in.
  7. Start buying industrial shipments of cornstarch. Why does it only come in tiny boxes at the store???
  8. I save random plastic containers and lids to use with all of these. Coffee can lids make great pretend plates, little segmented trays are great for paints or pouring activities. Ice cube trays are wonderfully versatile. Of course, if your kid is young enough to worry about choking on things, be very careful what you hand them.
  9. Random items to extend play: straws or chop sticks (for a more eco-friendly version), googly eyes, dried pasta, various plastic containers and trays, milk tops, large beads or buttons, toy dinosaurs, army men, bugs, animals, other figures that are washable, balls, cars (that are easy to clean), Mardi Gras beads, nature materials like pine cones, shells, sticks, acorns, etc, cutlery, like butter knives or spoons, baking pans, like muffin tins or bundt cake pans, cookie cutters, random craft supplies like gems or feathers, and weird kitchen tools, like a garlic press, potato masher, rolling pin, those odd gadgets that accumulate and you forget what they do.
  10. Above all, have fun! There’s a ton of info here, so just pick and choose a couple things to test out if this is new ground. If you’ve been doing messy play with the kiddos for awhile, hopefully there are some useful tips in here, and maybe you have some of your own! I would love to learn something new, so drop me a comment with your sage advice.

Wow, that is a lot of text. My brain feels so light and empty now! I mean, it usually feels that way until I have some coffee. And then also after I have coffee. And most of the time. You can see why I prefer play things that are simple to set up and clean up!

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June 3, 2016. Tags: , , , , , , . Baby Stuff, Kid Stuff, Thriftiness is Cool.

2 Comments

  1. Harold Ploegstra replied:

    You are too generous with giving these ideas away for free! Put them in a book! Have it printed and it will be a best seller and you can send us lots of money!

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