9 “Mildly Messy” Activities for Young Children

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I’m a pediatric speech-language pathologist who works with babies, toddlers, and their families. One common theme I hear while I’m at work is that parents have difficulty keeping their children occupied at home, especially over the summer.

While I’m a big fan of messy activities (my kids are making mud pies in the driveway as I write this), I know how stressful it can be for parents, and myself included, if not in the mood.

So, I’ve compiled a list of nine of my favorite educational and sensory activities (from least to most messy) that you can do with items you might already have lying around your house. The best part is, you can do all of these activities outside.

1. Magnetic Cookie Sheet

Ever get tired of playing with magnets just on the refrigerator? It’s really fun for kids to find out that magnets really can stick to so many other surfaces. That metal baby gate on your stairs, your front door, or that cookie sheet in the cabinet they are playing in anyway are all excellent surfaces to play with magnets to keep the wonder alive.

2. Sidewalk Chalk

Sidewalk chalk is fairly inexpensive and it’s all over the stores right now. There’s the obvious “draw in your driveway” activity, but when this loses its sparkle, try drawing pictures using different colors on black construction paper. This is an especially fun activity to do when you’re stuck inside on a rainy day.

3. Bubbles

Almost every child I’ve ever met loves bubbles. It’s really the staple activity of anyone who works in early intervention (and has diffused many a tantrum). To bring more communication into this activity, I like to ask the child to repeat words like “pop” as they pop the bubbles. They can ask for you to “open” them or for you to blow “more” bubbles. Use different body parts to pop the bubbles, “Who can pop a bubble with their elbow? With their feet?”

4. “Painting” with Water

When you don’t want to get paint out and deal with the mess, grab a cup of water and a paintbrush and let your kids go to town “painting” the walkway up to your house or even plain pieces of construction paper. My kids enjoy both options. On an especially hot day, the water dries so quickly that this can turn into endless fun!

5. Soap Suds/Water Bin

My twins’ favorite sensory activity is a small bin full of soap suds. I dump out the water and leave the bubbles, hand them some small cups and spoons, and they go to town scooping and pouring. Sometimes they even bring in some of their other pretend play toys, such as having a tea party or feeding their dolls the suds. Plain water or water bubbles are other options for this same bin. If doing this activity inside, I just lay a tablecloth down on the kitchen floor to help contain the mess.

6. Pasta/Rice Sensory Bin

Along the same lines of the soap suds bin, fill a plastic bin of any size with pasta or even rice. If you have a younger child, consider using some larger pasta, like manicotti, rigatoni, or large shells. Provide them with measuring cups or spoons for scooping. Hide puzzle pieces or farm animals for them to find. There are so many options!

7. Planting Seeds

One of the best activities we did this year was plant a garden. If planting a full garden isn’t your jam, consider grabbing a small package of bean seeds and potting soil at your local store. Take one of those red Solo cups from your college days, throw some dirt and a seed in. Water it every other day and watch it grow. Beans grow quickly and children are amazed as they watch the plant grow and change each day.

8. Washing Rocks

During the summer, one of my kids’ favorite activities is digging rocks up in the yard and washing them in a puddle that they create themselves. Never underestimate the draw of some simple fun.

9. Playing in a Mud Puddle

If you’re feeling really crazy, take that water fun to the next level and just let your kids splash and play in that mud. Sure it’s a huge mess, but spray them down with a hose before going inside. Water provides deep sensory input and can be very calming for children.

Messy activities can be anxiety-provoking for parents, but giving children that freedom to make a mess is the best part of childhood, right?

What do you do to help your children learn to play by themselves or with their siblings over the summer?

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Charity is originally from CT, but grew up in New Hampshire. She returned to CT in 2000 for college, and currently resides in Monroe with her husband (married in 2011) and three children (A son born in 2012 and identical twin daughters born in 2017). Charity works part time as a Speech-Language Pathologist for the CT Birth to Three system. She thinks it's the best of both worlds because she gets to work in a job she loves (and needs to pay off those hefty grad school loans!) and be home a few days a week with her children. Charity enjoys theatre, and brings her son often. This past year, she discovered her gifts as an intuitive medium. You can visit her personal website at: www.charityferrisintuitivemedium.mypixieset.com.

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