My toddler and I love messy play, but I want to minimize clean up as much as possible. The less time I spend mopping (yes, let’s all pretend I mop), the more time we can play!
We love playing with slime, play dough, oobleck, play snow, paints, and plain old mud.
- Keep it contained.Put the kiddo in a bathtub indoors, or a kiddie pool outside. Or just be outside where a mess won’t matter.
- Use washable container for the mess. I use random plastic containers that are dishwasher safe, like my deviled egg carrier I have never once used. I empty out our play material as much as possible, then toss it into the dishwasher. Tupperware lids, cookie sheets, and large reusable containers are all helpful. Even catering dishes.
- Put something on the floor to catch the mess, preferably something machine washable. I use really old sheets, or cheap shower curtain liners to catch the mess. For something like oobleck, I let it dry on the sheet, then shake it out into the trash before throwing it in the wash. Shower curtain liners are machine washable too! I use one for finger painting, then throw it in the wash on gentle with 2-3 towels. This is a great way to reuse a shower curtain liner that isn’t gross, but you’re replacing for aesthetic reasons, or because those stupid little holes at the top keep tearing for no reason and now it won’t stay up!
A few other tips for messy play:
1. If you have pets, try to use materials that are safe for them to eat. I doubt it’s a great idea for a dog to have a cornstarch feast, but at least you don’t have to worry if they snack on a bit.
2. If I ask my toddler if he wants to play with slime or something, he invariably says no, because that’s a toddler’s favorite word. I’ve had way more success laying out an activity, then just letting him dig in.
3. To extend play, bring out additional play items as the kiddo’s interest fades. For example, if you’ve got plain old play dough out, and your kid starts to wander off, lay some plastic straws or chopsticks down with it. After another 20 minutes or so, some zoo animals make an appearance, etc. Nacho and I played with play dough for 2 hours yesterday, using this method.
4. Some messy items can be reused! If you let oobleck dry out, you can just add water again next time you need to use it (let it dry thoroughly to avoid mold). I make homemade play dough and store it in the fridge for months at a time. Homemade gak can last a couple days in the fridge as well. Mud is eternal, and there’s an endless supply right off my back porch.
Messy play is so entertaining for kids, and my son has been a fan since we introduced it. There are so many variations, and recipes available, you can be creative and use what you have available. This is also some of the cheapest entertainment available, so you know that makes me happy!