Messy Play Ideas for 3 Year Old

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Do you believe that being messy is happy?  As a mother of a 3 – year old boy and as an Educator working with a toddler, I want my son to explore their environment using their senses by conducting messy play. Children are naturally curious. All we have to do as parents are guide and support them. Yes! Sometimes I want them to get messy, so life will not be boring. In doing this kind of activity, there is no right or wrong. It allows them to communicate, discover in different ways, solve simple problems and it is a great experience for them to see something great without pressuring them. It includes different activities that will surely help them to improve in different ways. The materials used in a messy play has a very important role in the life of a child.  It is important that the materials you choose for your child encourages imagination, teaches children how to share, increase and boost self-confidence and give fun as well as promoting life skills necessary for children’s development. The idea of messy play is to use different materials that can contribute to learning to the kids.  It is such a good bonding between the parents and the kids while doing the messy play. When we allow them to do messy play, we give them chance to explore materials fully without any boundaries.

What is a messy play?

Messy play is allowing our children to explore and experience different activities in a messy way. Yeah heard it right! We parents don’t like a mess, but for the sake of our kids, we are ready to embrace mess knowing that it will help them grow. Messy play is great for children’s development.   It is not focused on producing something specific, so it gives the children the freedom to explore lots of possibilities. Giving them such activities helps them be independent and explore something new.  According to an article “All about…Messy Play”, it involves the used of their senses in the process of exploration especially the sense of touch. It offers plenty of opportunity to mold and manipulate the materials and it does not focus on making or producing something. [1] During messy play, your child will discover and develop different skills.  We know that children learn through play. The more senses that a child uses in play, the more they’re going to learn. Many of us provide early years children with messy play experiences regularly, but have you ever wondered why it is so important? Will you allow your child to do messy play?

Why is messy play important for 3 year old?

Aside from the fun that kids might get in a messy play, parents are encouraged also to discuss the benefits of doing a messy play. Children learn through experimentation and discovery. Allowing your child to explore different materials posters creativity and social development.  It enhances a child’s vocabulary, introduces them to concepts such as experimentation and measurement, improves their coordination, gives them much-needed sensory input, encourages problem-solving, and helps regulate emotions and behaviors. Findings from case study apparently show messy play activities including general play, play with soft and wet materials inspires the creativity and imagination of preschool children. [2]We cannot deny the fact that messy play has a big impact on the learnings of the kids. Evidence drawn from the data analysis of a research conducted by Leannes Cassey, viewed that messy play as beneficial to child development. Practitioners identified messy play as being extremely important on physical, social and emotional domains, while teachers identified messy play as being extremely important on language development. [3]Messy play is also enjoyable; we have only to look at children freely exploring water and paint to see their enjoyment. Part of this is that we parents can also enjoy the fun while bonding with our kids. Opening new milestone in the lives of our child were about to begin. Let us unzip the underlying skills beneath the little brain of our child by doing the messy play. What are you waiting for, let’s all get messy!

Messy play ideas for 3-year-old

Young children learn so much from messy play. As a mother of a 3-year-old boy and as an educator dealing with toddlers, here are my suggested messy play ideas that will encourage your child to start exploring new things and discover new skills.

Some of the materials use in the following messy play are available in Amazon. Always keep your child under close supervision. All these suggestions are intended for parent and child to play together. Ready to get your hands dirty? Roll up your sleeves — and let’s try this.

Types of Messy play


Some kids did not enjoy so much in messy play. There are some hypersensitive kids who afraid to try unpleasant textures, colors, smells etc. Unfortunately, this type of messy play can hinder our child’s development, because we have to limit the objects that we have to give to them. For example, if they don’t want to touch a certain object using their hands we can allow them to use utensils or hand gloves. You can do this type of messy play in the comfort zone of your home.

2. Wet

It is a type of messy play that used soft and wet objects. In doing this activity you have to show your kids that you are also enjoying the experience so that they will not resist and become sensitive to a certain object. It is usually an outdoor activity. This is the actual messy play. My son really loved doing this  – playing with muds, sand, paints etc.

16 Favorite messy play ideal for 3 year old

1.         Finger-painting

Little fingers? Big result! My son loves finger painting. In this type of messy play, my son was able to show and develop his artistic side. In doing this, I’m not giving him any instruction. I just let him move his tiny fingers over the canvas. This is one of the messiest plays on the list. Parents’ supervision is a must in this activity. Don’t forget to cover your table with used newspaper or plastic table cover.

2.         Sand play

I love playing sand with my son. I allow him to play sand freely. Let them build sandcastles, mountains, and buildings. Let them be creative in their own way. Another excitement is when you buy colorful sand for them.

Sand Kit with Inflatable Tray
Give them time to enjoy this sand kit. It will help them develop their imagination of building something using sands.

3.         Alphabet squish

I used this type of play when I teach my kid the ABC alphabet. It is very fun and at the same time educational. You can use lotion or shaving cream in shaping the letters. Don’t hesitate to use this it will probably bring enjoyment to the kids.

4.         Spaghetti/pasta play

In this activity we allow the children to mix and identify the different textures and colors. It enhances their imaginations by letting them create different shapes or objects using the spaghetti pasta. You can use edible real pasta or would you consider this colorful noodle rope in Amazon.

5.         Under the Sea Sensory Jelly Adventure

It is a very interesting not so messy play, where we brought aquatic creatures to our children. Aside from the fact that it will bring joy to our children it also educational wherein we familiarize them with different objects seen under the sea. You can do this activity in the bathtub or in an inflatable pool.

6.         Paper Pulp

Recycled used papers by shredding them into pieces. Mold them in different objects. Used colorful papers to make it more attractive. These feathery papers enhance the ability of the child to identify different textures.

Crinkle Shredded Paper
This shredded paper can help your child identify different textures and colors. Let them play and enjoy in a cloud like texture of this pulp paper.

7.         Mud kitchen

Seriously, this one is the messiest play on the list. Children love to do what their mama’s doing. Let them cook and enjoy doing their dishes in their mud kitchen. Make sure to do it outside as it will bring so much mess. Let them cook their own version of pizza pie.

I suggest you prepare a mud mixing table; it is available on amazon.

8.         Balloon Painting

This activity is one of the favorite activities of my 3-year-old son. I’m not giving him any instruction in doing his painting, I want him to come up with an object or image that stimulates his senses. In this activity, we develop the child’s creativity. We give them the chance to be imaginative also.

9.         Yarn and glue creations

This activity can develop the fine motor skills of the child. Let see what crafts they can form using the yarn and glue. They can create the necklace, lacing cards, spider web, etc.

10.       Bubbles at bath time

Let them imagine that they are jumping and reaching the clouds by providing them bubbles at bath time. Aside from the fun that the kid might get in this activity, it helps nourished and hydrate their skin. Add some plastic cups and spoons for scooping the bubbles.

Baby Bath Bubble Toy
This is not just a bubble maker but it is also a funny bath toy that gives a wonderful bath time during messy play.

11.       Window Painting with Shaving Foam

It’s really a mess, right? But allowing them to do this give the chance to them to fully discover their interest when it comes to the objects they want to create or paint.

12.       Water painting

Even toddlers and preschoolers can give these a try. Let kids create and experiment without any restrictions.  It is an endless possibility, we do not know what may they produce magically. Use a water based paints in doing this activity.

13.       Colourful Melting Ice Cubes

It provides messy play fun good for summer. It allows young children to explore different colors. It provides messy play that is cooling and captivating.

[amazon box=”B07MG7PSHJ” title=” Reusable Colorful Ice Cubes” description=”It is a ready to use iced cubes that you can used in doing messy play. It contain different colors that you can mix and match.”]

14.       Playdough

Playdough is one of the common materials used in a messy play. Let them enjoy molding different objects and shapes by pressing and squeezing. This activity helps them develop their hand and eye movement.

15.       Find the animals

Use animal figurines in this activity. It’s a good bonding experience for the parents and child. Hide the animals in the sand, let the child retrieve them. Naming the animals is another challenge.

Realistic Looking Safari Animal Figures
It is very helpful in teaching kids  different animals.

16.       Painting with Cars and Trucks

I know that cars are always available in the toy kingdom of our son. Cars are not just cars. We can use that in our messy play. Let your child change the colors of their trucks and cars by allowing them to paint. It is very fun and at the same time, it will bring so much excitement to your kid. In terms of washable painting material, I suggest KYAYOLA.

Tips for keeping messy play contained and clean up

In doing messy play things were about to get crazy. I understand messy play can get a little bit tiring, especially at home, and this can put you off creating messy experiences. So these are my suggestions that will help you contain your messy play.

1.      Pick the right place for your messy activity

Before I prepare all the materials needed in a messy play, I consider first the place that we will be using in conducting the messy play. If you will use water, soaps or creams, I suggest to use your comfort rooms or your bath tubs.  Always remember that messy play doesn’t have to be so messy. It’s easy to rinse away all the mess if you choose the right place for your messy activity.

You may consider using this sensory table for toddlers in doing your child’s messy play.

2.      Keep Messy Play Simple

There are lots of simple messy play ideas mentioned above. There are some hypersensitive kids that get irritated in unusual textures, shapes and smell.

3.      Use Washable Art Supplies

Every time I buy art supplies, I always consider its description if it is washable or not. Use wrapping paper or old wallpaper to paint on it as it won’t let the paint get through when it’s too wet. One of the best washable paint that my kid loves to use is available on amazon. Check this out . , Sand Kit with Inflatable Tray, Double-Basin Table & Sensory Table, Baby Bath Bubble Toy and Crayola Washable Kids Paint.

I’m a mother of two sons and proudly encourage you to do messy play. This is also a great time to bond with your child and create fun memories that will last a lifetime. So, what are you waiting for? Enjoy getting messy!

[1] Duffy, Bernadette. “All about… messy play.” The Early Years Foundation Stage Primary National Strategy (2007).

[2] Yin, Lee Ching, et al. “Messy play: Creativity and imagination amount preschool children.” Interdisciplinary Behavior and Social Sciences (2015): 299-306.

[3] Casey, L. (2018). Let’s Get Messy! A Study Investigating Pre-school Practitioners and Primary School Infant Teacher Perceptions on the Benefits and Barriers of Using Messy play.

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Tiffany Biondi

Tiffany Biondi

Mother of 4 kids, Tiffany is a certified childcarer and during her free time, she write posts in thebabychoice to share her hands on experience and knowledge.