How to Keep Messy Play Not So Messy


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Between my sick toddler and the huge “blizzard” (not so much in our neighborhood) we have been stuck inside for the past few days.

We are starting to go a little stir-crazy.

So, I’ve been hitting up Pinterest trying to come up with activities to keep W entertained and happy, despite his nose dripping like a faucet.

I have discovered that Messy Play activities are the ones that keep W the most occupied.

I have also discovered the Messy Play activities are, well, messy.

I don’t mind a little mess here or there. I did grow up with three brothers after all. I just don’t want the clean up to take more time than the actual play time itself.

Here are my favorite ways to keep messy play not so messy. 

How to Keep Messy Play NOT So Messy

How to Keep Messy Play Not So Messy

1. Wear Smocks

Should you go out and buy professional smocks so your kid doesn’t make a mess? Well, I guess you could, but it’s really not necessary. Just throw one your (or grab your spouse’s) old t-shirts on your child and call it a day.

How to Keep Messy Play Not So Messy- wear a smock

2. Go Nude

What’s even easier than wearing an old t-shirt? NO t-shirt! Strip your toddler down to their diaper and don’t worry about any laundry.

3. Keep the floor covered

Plastic, throw-away table cloths are wonderful for keeping your carpet/floors protected from the mess. You can even use painter’s tape to tape down the edges so they don’t go anywhere when you toddler inevitably starts moving around.

4. Contain the Mess in the High Chair

Awhile back I let W play with a container of popcorn kernels. I assumed he would sit nicely scooping and pouring. Oh, I was wrong. He thought scattering them until they covered extra square inch of the living room was way more fun. So, if I want to ensure an easy clean up, I plop him right in his high chair. Throw the table cloth down, put the high chair on top, and clean up will be a breeze.

How to Keep Messy Play NOT So Messy

  • Here’s a list of over 100 play dough recipes from Kids Activities Blog. I think I want to try the Easy and Calming Play dough.

5. Contain the Mess in the Bath Tub

Some things are SO messy it’s best to keep it contained to a place that can be hosed down after. There are lots of fun ideas for painting in the bath tub or switch up your routine and give a bubble bath during the day. Add colors and toys to make it even more fun!

  • The Jenny Evolution shared the smart idea of using pool noodles in the bathtub. I have to get my hands on some of them!
  • Find a bathtub paint recipe over at The Artful Parent.

6. Contain the Mess in a Baby Pool

We had some of W’s little friends over the other day for some sensory play with water beads. Since we only have one high chair, I pulled out W’s inflatable baby pool so all three of the toddlers could sit in and play together.

  • For your toddlers that like to eat everything, cough… W… cough, here’s an amazing list of edible sensory play ideas. Rice Krispies are such a great idea!

7. Have towels Ready

I know once W decides he is done with something… he is DONE. To prevent a wet, paint-soaked toddler running around the house ruining all of your furniture, be sure to keep a towel nearby.

  • You are going to want a towel if you bring the snow inside like this idea from Umbrella Tree Cafe.

8. Use containers with Lids

I have invested in a ton of tuber ware containers– nice, wide, but shallow ones that have lids. The beauty of putting  messy play in a tuber ware container is that it can be easily stored for another messy play time. I made water beads with basil seeds. It was great getting a few play times out of one batch.

How to Keep Messy Play Not So Messy

  • Find the water bead recipe over at Fun at Home with Kids. We tried both chia seeds and basil seeds. I definitely recommending placing an order for basil seeds since they work better and don’t need to sit overnight to make. 

9. Take it Outside

Okay, this is the ideal location to have a messy play activity. Though it can be tough to get outside during the winter months. It takes an hour just to put on all the winter weather gear.  There are some fun things you can still do outside during the winter months, especially in the snow.

  • How We Learn has some great activities to do in the snow. I can’t wait to try making frozen bubbles!
  • Or, find some snow play ideas over at Queen of the Land of Twigs & Berries.

10. Try “Pretend” Messy Play

Okay, this is my favorite type of messy play because it’s really not messy at all! There are these amazing things called sensory bags that you can use again and again. Sensory bags are ziplock bags filled with shaving cream/hair gel/food coloring/small toys/glitter/etc.. It’s just like messy, sensory play without the mess!

How to Keep Messy Play Not So Messy- Sensory Bag

How to Keep Messy Play Not So Messy

For more messy play ideas, follow my Messy Play/Sensory Play for Toddlers Board on Pinterest. 


Follow Tricia The Good Mama’s board Sensory/Messy Play for Toddlers on Pinterest.


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