How to Survive Messy Play at Home Without Losing Your Mind

I’m one of those people who loves messy play, always have been. It goes back to working in a nursery and seeing how much the children got out of it (and how it kept them entertained for so long!). From a nursery nurse point of view, even the most basic messy play activity covers pretty much every area of learning and is a great way of finding out what a child can do.

Learning through play is something I’m really passionate about. I’ve always done messy play at home and I’ve always encouraged creativity and self-led discovery with the children.   It does mean that I now have children who think nothing of grabbing a bag of flour out of the cupboard to make ‘snow’ on the floor so that they can make snow angels (yes that happened…. More than once). But I love their enthusiasm to explore the world around them and make discoveries. Honestly I could go on and on about the benefits of messy play for children, but I wont.

Now, I know not everyone is quite as enthusiastic as me at the thought of getting the paint out for a toddler. And I must admit, the more children I have, the more tempting it is to just throw the paint in the bin and say the fairies took it (gosh darn those naughty fairies). Nobody wants glue on their carpet, I get that. But, despite my share of messy play disasters over the years, I determinedly carry on. So I’ve put together my messy play top tips, so you can have the benefit of learning from my mistakes, without having to clean wet Shreddies from your patio doors.


Aim for 1 on 1

If you can, just get the messy play stuff out when you only have 1 child to deal with, or wait till you have a helper so you’ve got a better adult-child ratio. My worst fails have been when I’ve tried to do a messy play activity on my own with both Mabel and Greta. This always ends in disaster,  and yet I never learn. They seem to egg each other on to do even more crazy things than they would have done individually, and before you know it they are having a spaghetti fight, or running around on a tray of wet paint, legs sliding all over the place like Bambi on ice, or rolling around on the floor having a play fight in a pile of shaving foam. Now I know this is an extremely Mumsy thing to say but, it will all end in tears (it always does!) and you wont have enough hands to deal with it when it does (but it will aparently be your fault).

Don’t over complicate things

They don’t have to make a masterpiece, they just have to have fun. And this is really important, it doesn’t have to be rainbow rice arranged to make a Monet masterpiece in a builder’s tray with 16 other elements in there somewhere too. Pinterest is lovely, I look on there every day, I marvel at the creations. But do I try to attempt any of that crap? No, because I’m a human with a life and responsibilities and I don’t have time to perfectly position grains of rice for a toddler to bulldoze through and wreck in 6.4 seconds. I think back when I just had Mabel I did once make rainbow rice, and it was lovely, so if you have the time then go for it, but nowadays it’s all about the quick and easy wins. You know what you’ve got the patience time for, so just work to that level.

Preparation is key

Get together everything you need before you start. Gather together all the old towels in the house, just incase. And baby wipes, they’ll get you out of many a sticky mess. If there’s anything in the immediate vicinity that you really don’t want getting messy then save your sanity and move it now. Think about what you’re dressing the children in, personally I don’t find that aprons really work for this type of activity, unless you have some kind of full body apron/biohazard suit. I normally put them in old clothes if I’m taking photos for the blog, or if not then I just put the heating up and let them strip off. Much easier and let’s be honest, I don’t need any more washing to do, do I?

Chill out

Once you’ve set up the activity, got everything you need and got the kids changed, then you can have a little rest. The beauty of messy play is you don’t need to (and it’s usually best if you don’t) get too involved. I just like to sit and watch. If Greta talks to me then obviously I talk back, but I don’t tell her what to do or ask lots of questions. This is the time to marvel at how clever your little munchkin is, watch how happy they are, enjoy the quiet, and take lots of photos to be smug about on Instagram. If they start trying to paint the wall or something, then gently intervene and direct them back to the tray, or whatever you’ve set up. But, don’t be the messy play police. If they are splashing water everywhere, so what? It’s just water, that’s what the extra towels are for! Paint wipes off of most surfaces, dry things can be hoovered up…… Try and relax a bit and everyone will have a nicer time.

Cleaning up – child first

Try and finish the activity as soon as you see the first signs that they have had enough. When it comes to cleaning up, start with the child. Now you’ve got 2 options here. Sometimes I go for the grab child and run method. I literally pick her up and carry her upstairs and plonk her straight in the bath. The other option is to fill a baby bath or washing up bowl with warm soapy water, and clean them where they are. This method requires lots of towels and you might get a bit wet, as they’ll most likely think this is just another part of the messy play. When you have a nice clean child, move them to a clean area, I then put on CBeebies and give her a snack and that will usually buy me 10 minutes to clear up the mess.

Put your house back together

Quickly as you can, clean up before they come back out and discover it all again! Move anything you can up out of reach and clean the main bits first, then if you’re short on time you can come back to the other bits later. Whatever you do, make sure you put the paint away, or you are most probably going to discover something like this later in the day….



So just relax, keep it simple and have fun! If you are inspired to give messy play a go then I’d love to hear about it!

Messy Play without the stress (1)

Join the fun

Dsc 9172

Get a weekly round-up and exclusive content from our home educating, slow living, everyday adventure seeking life...



  1. Maisie's mum
    March 16, 2016 / 8:17 am

    Thanks for the tips!! I might feel brave this week and do some st Patrick day related messiness! Your tray is amazing!

    • Louise
      March 16, 2016 / 10:31 am

      Oh fantastic, let me know if you do! I meant to say about the tray in the post, I will go back and edit but you can get them fairly cheap on ebay. Just search builder’s tray or tough spot x

      • Maisie's mum
        March 16, 2016 / 11:07 am

        Thanks Louise!

  2. March 16, 2016 / 10:08 am

    I worked as a nanny, play worker and in a nursery pre kids but I definitely don’t do enough of this kind of thing with my youngest daughter. Now the eldest is at school, I have no excuse!! You have inspired me! Thank you x

    • Louise
      March 16, 2016 / 10:32 am

      Brilliant! That’s what I was hoping for! Definitely let me know if you do x

  3. March 16, 2016 / 10:39 pm

    Great tips, thanks! We are lucky enough to have a massive decking area outside so messy play tends to wait until warmer weather allows us to get outdoors and play without worrying about mess.x
    Natalie Ray recently posted…Prezzybox: Review and competitionMy Profile

    • Louise
      March 16, 2016 / 10:51 pm

      Oh fab, yes it is a lot easier outside in the garden! X

  4. March 24, 2016 / 9:45 pm

    This is why I wish I had laminate floor. We have carpet. A teeny tiny kitchen that wouldn’t be big enough to play in either. I like the garden idea in the comments. I may try this as and when the weather improves!!
    Karen recently posted…5×50 Challenge Choose Active, Change Habits, Love It!My Profile

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge