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Messy Play

This is a fun, messy activity of particular developmental value to the youngest children in a setting, but will be fun for all, adults included! The activity explores children’s progress in their physical development and personal expression.

What you will need:

  • Tuff Spots, boxes and/or containers of different materials and substances. The idea is to have as many different textures, temperatures, feelings as possible. Some examples are:
    • Shaving foam.
    • Different coloured paints in puddles.
    • Scraps of paper and material with a puddle of glue.
    • Cooked cold spaghetti (try using food colouring to allow different colour options).
    • Popcorn.
    • Dry cereal.
    • Shredded tissue or crepe paper (of varying colours).
  • Jelly (made up with water, do not use jelly cubes).
  • An area that’s easy to clean, or sheets of paper or wipe-clean material to cover the floor and surfaces. If the weather is warm enough this activity could take place outside to make cleaning up easier.
  • A music player and some age-appropriate music.


Preparing the activity

  1. Place the Tuff Spot or other containers of different materials around the space.
  2. Strip the children down to nappies/pants (or clothes their parent/carer does not mind getting dirty).

Doing the activity:

  1. Let the children go wild!
  2. Observe their interactions with the different materials, focusing on their interest in/favouring certain things, as well as their mark making by standing in paint or smearing jelly. Listen for comments by the children about the experience, such as ‘oh that’s slimy’ when touching the spaghetti, or for their reactions to the music playing, such as banging on surfaces, singing or dancing. The key thing here is to allow the children to do exactly what they want (within the activity ideas) and to observe ‘from a distance’.

Tracking the activity

8-20 months/16-26 months

Expressive arts and design: Exploring and using media and materials; “Explores and experiments with a range of media through sensory exploration and using whole body. Notices and is interested in the effects of making movements which leave marks.; Begins to move to music, listen to or join in rhymes or songs.”

16-26 months

Expressive arts and design: Being Imaginative; “Expresses self through physical action and sound.”

22-36 months

Expressive arts and design: Exploring and using media and materials; “Experiments with blocks, colours and marks.; Creates sounds by banging, shaking, tapping or blowing.; Shows an interest in the way musical instruments sound.”