Surviving Messy Play

messy play

Almost every child loves a bit of messy play. They love freedom to explore without the usual limits and boundaries. The freedom to quite simply make a mess!

Children are active learners. They will undoubtably gain more from experimenting. Messy play is particularly valuable because it stimulates many of their senses at once. They can feel, smell, see, and sometimes even taste the consequences of their play.

But what about the adults? The grown-ups who are told frequently that messy play is invaluable in their child’s development?

I have spoken to many parents for whom the thought of a messy play sessions makes them run cold!

If this describes you, then read on. This survival guide is especially for you. You need not fear messy play sessions. With a little bit of thought and forward planning, the kids can have the fun and freedom they crave, whilst the adults can manage the mess without limiting it. Everyone’s a winner!


This might seem like an obvious one, but I think its worth covering.

Avoid starting messy play if your child is likely to be due a snack or a nap before you are done. You know what kids (and adults for that matter) are like when they get tired and hungry. Add paint, glue, glitter or shaving foam to that mix and it’s enough to put you off messy play for life!

Plan ahead and you should be set for success.


Keep your messy play to one area. Perhaps the dining table or kitchen worktop. Put down a plastic sheet on the floor and over your table. This could be a wipe clean table cloth, a plastic sheet or even a shower curtain. 

If the weather is on your side, why not have a messy play session outside and save your furniture completely?

Jumping in muddy Puddles

What to Use?

Make sure whatever paint, glue, shaving foam, food colouring etc you choose to use is washable. If it’s not, then you will need to take steps to protect your floor, your furniture, your clothes. Everything. If you don’t, you may have a lasting reminder of your mistake!

What to Wear?

You have probably already thought to put the kids in old clothes, potentially even with an apron on. But if your kids, like mine, are particularly adept at making a mess, you may want to consider going a step further. My kids have painted many a masterpiece in nothing but their underwear! Its a win-win situation! I have very little washing to do after the event, and the kids messy play session is extended when I dunk them in the bath afterwards. Everyone is happy.

It may also be worth thinking about what you are wearing. I’m not suggesting you paint with your kids in your underwear, but don’t put on your best frock.

Cleaning Up

When you are setting up your messy play activities, have a think about how you will clean it up when the kids are done. Can everything be dumped in the kitchen sink and cleaned from there? Or will you need the vacuum or a dustpan and brush? If you think you might, I’d get it out of the cupboard before the mess starts to avoid hand prints on your door handles. I always keep a roll of kitchen roll handy for the inevitable spills. 

Roll With It

I recently organised a messy play date for my kids and their friends. Their mum commented on how brave I was letting the kids get so messy. That really surprised me…I had never considered myself brave before! My philosophy for messy play is to use your head and simply to roll with it. You never know, you might even have fun!