14 Wet Messy Play Ideas: For Children with Physical Difficulties Who Need Lots of Sensory Input

Messy play is a brilliant opportunity for imaginative or pretend play. Making food out of play-dough for a dolls tea party, going shopping for items hidden in the messy substance or giving a baby a bath in some coloured yogurt can entertain you and your child. 

We have made a list of our favourite wet messy play ideas. They are easy to recreate at home and lots of them taste great too!

If your child seeks tactile sensory input, try to mix sensations to give them a large sensory input – for example adding rice to yogurt or putting marbles in their play-dough. 

Make sure to always have wipes, a bowl of water or a towel available so your child can clean their hands as soon as they want or need to. 

  • Feeling different textures is good for stimulating brain development as well as helping your child get used to different sensations. The part of the brain which feels what is happening in the fingers and what happens in the mouth are close to each other in the brain, so if a child gets used to a texture with their hands it is going to make it easier to tolerate this in their mouth. Try 2 handed play. This is great for brain development – as is crossing the middle of the body with your child’s hands so try and incorporate these if possible. 

  • There is a strong cause and effect with messy play so children without much independent movement can still make a big impact which is great for learning and enjoyment. 

  • Messy play allows for hand strengthening and developing hand/eye coordination. For those with reduced sensation, messy play is a lovely way to give them a lot of sensory input so can be a great place for learning and developing gross and fine motor skills. 

What can you do with messy play? 

  • The most straight forward way is just to help your child put their in the substance and help them feel around. If they have tight hands then a finger, hand or wrist stretch before the activity may help them feel the messy play more effectively. You could also wake up their hands by massaging or squeezing their finger tips, hands and lower arms so they get the most out of the activity. 
    Messy play activities with paint

  • If your child can hold objects, or with some hand over hand help, use kitchen utensils to play with the substance – using a wooden spoon to stir, a ladle or spoons to scoop some into a different container or a potato masher to squish the substance.  

  • You can also put different objects into the substance – things they need to find or things to play with e.g. cars or plastic animals/ dinosaurs/ figurines. This will also help them with fine motor and visual perception skills. Try dropping some items inside the substance and see if they can find them – start with bigger objects so they hardly have to touch the messy play mixture and then get smaller and smaller so they have to get their hands in it and manipulate the substance to find the object. 

If your child is not keen on different textures, start at the top of the list and slowly make your way down as they get happier with each one. 

  1. Play-dough or alternatives
    Make your own salt dough using salt, flour, water and oil. You could also try making Oobleck using corn-starch and oil, for a slightly different
    texture. 

  2. Edible Paint
    Make your own using flour, salt, water and food colouring.
     

  3. Scented play-dough
    This is fabulous for stimulating more senses as your child plays. 

  4. Cooked pasta
    Add glitter or mix with other textures like sand to make the texture different.

    To Introduce wetter messy play try:

  5. Shaving foam 
    Put it in a water tight zip bag for your child to manipulate. You could add some other toys into the bag which they need to identify or move around the bag to help get them used to the sensations. Or you could put it in a tray and get your child to make mini mountains. Make a track for cars to drive around or draw shapes and pictures with their fingers. 

  6. Whipped cream
    For young children who may use their mouth to feel the texture and eat it.

  7. Yogurt
    You can put toys or other textures in the yogurt or die the yogurt and then it can be used as paint.

  8. Baked beans
    Use the beans to draw pictures. Use a spoon to pick them up if getting hands in it is too hard.

  9. Bubbles
    Make bubble mixture from non-toxic soap and water or washing up liquid and water. Using bubbles to help eye hand coordination if great fun for your child as well as being beneficial (see hand/ eye coordination page).

  10. Add Additional Objects
    Putting sand or wet rice crispies into your wet messy play for children who struggle with lumpy soft food.

  11. Ice
    Playing with ice can be an extreme sensory experience. Put some ice cubes in a bowl and, on a hot day, watch them melt in the sun. Let your child handle the ice as much as they feel comfortable to. They can use a spoon to handle the ice if it is too much for them.
     

  12. Ice Pens
    Use food colouring in water and freeze to make ice pens!

  13. Frozen Veg
    Use frozen veg in a sensory bin

  14. Ice Cream
    An extra delicious messy play!

Our Home Videos

Hand Over Hand Technique

Sensory Salt Dough

Other Helpful Resources

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