Welcome to the Messy Play page for wheelchairs users with mild or no learning difficulty.

This page is for Busy Butterflies who spend much time in their wheelchairs for play, work and mobility and who have mild or no learning difficulties.

This page provides ideas and information on how to play with messy play for your Busy Butterflies.

Messy play is a lot of fun but is also great for your child’s development.  

  • 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. Therefore, messy play can be used to try to help any child who doesn’t like to eat different textures. 

  • 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 also allows for hand strengthening, fine motor development and hand/ eye coordination work (see appropriate links for more details) 

  • Messy play is a controlled way to encourage tactile sensitive children to get used to different sensations. This can allow them to tolerate more of their everyday textures.

  • 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. 

Paint is an easy way for your child to have messy play fun!

What kind of messy play for your child? 

  • If your child is less good with different textures it is likely that dry messy play is easier to tolerate than wet messy play.  

  • It is important if your child isn’t keen on different textures not to force them to put their hands in the substance. Try to coax them to use implements instead until they feel confident enough to use their hands.

  • ALWAYS have wipes, a bowl of water or a towel available so they can clean their hands as soon as they want or need to. 

  • 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 playdough. 

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

  • 2 handed play is good for brain development,  as is crossing the middle of the body with your child’s hands so try and incorporate these if possible. 

There are so many fun activities that incorporate messy play!

What can you do with messy play? 

  • The most straight forward way to play is just to help your child put their hands in the substance and help them feel around.

  • If they have tight hands then a finger, hand and 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 that they get the most out of the activity. 

  • 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. 

  • Take the opportunity to work their finger skills by asking them to manipulate the smaller objects, draw pictures with their fingers in the substance, or build or mould where possible to make the most of these activities. 

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

  1. Dried pasta. If they still don’t want to touch this, use buckets and spades or kitchen implements to scoop between different pots.  

  2. Dried rice or lentils  

  3. Little lego 

  4. Dried cereal such as Cherrios, Rice Crispies or they could even break up Weetabix and get them to make it into powder.

  5. Dried sand 

  6. Dried flour/ sugar or salt or a bowl of breadcrumbs – all for slightly different textures. Brown sugar stacks well and makes great sandcastles. 

  7. Cotton balls 

  8. Slightly cooked pasta

  9. Slightly wet sand

  10. Playdough, salt dough (salt, flour, water and oil), cloud dough (flour and oil), oobleck (corn-starch and oil) for slightly different textures, (baking soda and conditioner) fake snow.

  11. Edible paint – (flour, salt, water and food colouring).

  12.  Cooked pasta – as above. Could use glitter or mix with other textures like sand to make the texture different.

  13.  Scented playdough or playdough in a plastic bag can be great for those who don’t want their hands too dirty. See our ‘Our Home’ videos for details of both of these, and some other great play dough activities.

  14. Introduce wet messy play by putting shaving foam or water 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.

  15. Whipped cream for young children who may eat it.

  16.  Shaving foam. Slap your hand against the tray to make mini mountains. Make a track for cars to drive around or draw shapes and pictures with their fingers.

  17. Yogurt and even yogurt with pieces in it. Die the yogurt and then it can be used as paint. 

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

  19. 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).

  20. Add objects such as sand or wet Rice Crispies into your wet messy play for children who struggle with lumpy soft food. 

  21. 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. You can add die to the water before freezing them to make it more interesting. 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.

  22. Use food colouring in water and freeze to make ice pens! 

  23. Use frozen veg in a sensory bin. 

  24. Use ice cream for extra delicious messy play.

How to dye sensory materials

This link gives a wide variety of ‘how’to dye’ ideas including oats, chickpeas, epsom salts, barley, dried beans, dried hay, corn kernals, dried pasta, rice noodles, cloud dough, puffed wheat cereal, wet spaghetti, rice, salt, shredded coconut, sand, shredded paper, water beads, baking soda, egg shells.   


40 awesome messy play recipes

Here are 40 recipes for making all kinds of messy play – from slime, dough and oobleck to shaving cream, edible recipes and ones you want to keep for outside.   

Try making the messy play with your child as this will introduce much of its own sensory inputs and fine motor skills. 


More helpful Busy Butterfly resources

Here are a selection of suitable Our Home videos

Salt Dough

Sensory salt dough is a fun way for children to messy play.

Thank you for visiting Gympanzees’ website. All information provided by Gympanzees is of general nature and for educational / entertainment purposes. It is up to you as the parent or family member to judge what is appropriate and safe for your child. No information provided by Gympanzees should replace any professional information and advice that you have been given and speak to your therapist or doctor if you are unsure of anything. Should you use any of the information provided by Gympanzees, you do so at your own risk and hold Gympanzees harmless from any and all losses, liabilities, injuries or damages resulting from any and all claims.