41 Awesome Messy Play Recipes for Children With Sensory Processing Difficulties
Messy play provides a lot of fun and enjoyment for sensory-seeking children. It is one of many fun activities we can do with our child in our home, that also supports brain development, hand function and tool use.
While some children actively seek tactile inputs and LOVE getting messy, others are sensitive to touch and unusual textures, and might be a bit hesitant about messy play. If this is the case, we can offer support by demonstrating an activity first so our child can see how the substance “works” before deciding whether to touch it themselves. We should also keep wipes, water and/or a towel close by so if they do engage they can clean their hands as soon as they want or need to.
While we obviously want to encourage our children, we should never force them into an activity they feel distressed about. If the activities below will be too much for a child, they can also get benefits (and stay cleaner!) by playing with dry items – see our Dry Messy Play page for more.
It is also important to be mindful that many sensory-seeking children are drawn to putting things into their mouths, and as such we should make sure that the objects we give them to play with are non-toxic and safe. Lots of the recipes we share below are safe if ingested. Many food items also provide great messy play opportunities.
Messy play allows for hand strengthening and developing hand-eye coordination. It provides a lot of sensory input and is a fun place for learning and developing gross and fine motor skills.
There is a strong cause and effect with messy play so children with limited fine motor skills can still make a big impact. This is great for learning and enjoyment.
Many children with different abilities have trouble with their sense of touch: either feeling too much (hypersensitivity, which can lead to tactile defensiveness) or not feeling enough (hyposensitivity, which leads to sensory seeking behaviours). 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. 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.
Feeling different textures is also good for stimulating brain development. Physical movements like two handed play and crossing the hands to the other side of the body during play, also helps brain development and body awareness.
Preparation is everything! Choose a place in the home or garden for messy play activities – ideally somewhere easy to clear up. You’ll need a surface to play on: tuff spot trays are brilliant for minimising mess, but you can also use trays or containers you already have in the home, or a easy to wipe playmat or table. You’ll also need water, wipes and a towel available nearby for washing hands. Decide what material you are going to play with in advance: some activities take a little while to put together, and you also might want to consider how to make them extra motivating for your child.
Choose a time to play where you are able to join in. Messy play should be an active experience that the child initiates in some way through imitation. If a child is nervous or unsure they might want to watch someone interact with the materials first, so you need to be prepared to get stuck in! Playing together with your child also means you can watch for ways to enhance or extend their play.
Before play, it’s really nice to massage, squeeze or brush your child’s fingers, hands and forearms. This alerts their system and brings awareness to the whole upper limb. A quick finger, hand or wrist stretch can also help them feel and manipulate the messy play substance more effectively.
Ideas for play: if your child is able, 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 or a potato masher to squish. You can use other things from around the home as tools to further develop motor skills, like paintbrushes, rolling pins, biscuit cutters, cutlery, containers, cups or sponges.
You can also put different objects into the substance for the child to play with. This is motivating and helps build fine motor and visual perception skills. Good options include cars, plastic animals or figurines, or you can tailor it to a specialist interest. Try dropping some items inside the substance for your child to find. Start with bigger objects so they hardly have to touch the messy play mixture; as they get more confident, hide or make the items smaller so your child has to get their hands in the mixture.
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 yoghurt can offer a novel way to entertain your child.
Mixing different textures can enhance the sensory experience of messy play. For example, adding rice to play-dough offers a very different sensation to the way the items feel alone. This gives more for our child’s system to interpret, and offers a small but safe step away from what is known and familiar.
US blog Lemon Lime Adventures has compiled a list of over 41 messy play ideas – from slime, to dough, to shaving foam – and activities you’ll want to keep for outside! We were so impressed with this resource that we’ve shared it for you below.
To extend the activity, try following the messy play recipes with your child as this will introduce much of its own sensory inputs and fine motor skills.
- Soapy Slime Fun
- Lego Slime
- Simple Slime Experiments
- Glitter Slime
- Pumpkin Slime
- Ice Cream Playdough
- Rainbow Cloud Dough
- Fizzing PlayDough
- Electric Dough
- Fizzing Lego Bath Bombs
- Baby Play with Goop
- Melting Goo
- Dinosaurs in Sticky Mud
- Pumpkin Spice Oobleck
- Powder Tempera Paint Recipe
Painting Recipes for Fun
- Earth Day Finger Painting
- Homemade Bath Paint
- Homemade Paint and Squeeze Bottle Painting
- Bubble Painting
- Cotton Ball Painting
- Rock Painting
- Fizzing Rubber Band Painting
- Mud Paint Recipes
- Ice Cream in a Bag
- Cornflour Painting
- Ice Play
- Slime Cupcakes
- Jelly Lego Dig
Shaving Cream Play Ideas
- Shaving Cream Ideas
- Scented Shaving Cream
- C is for Clouds
- Polka Dot Shaving Cream Paintings
- Shaving Cream Play Pool
Outdoor Messy Play Recipes
- Colored Sand Recipe
- Bubble Sensory Play
- Experiment with Baking Soda
- Summer Sensory Play Recipe
- Rainbow Explosions
- Pop Rocks and Balloons Experiment
- Erupting Watermelons
- Foaming Paint