Last updated on Feb 10th, 2021 at 12:38 pm

Toddlers learn so much from messy play. While they’re busy squashing and squelching, pouring and pushing, they’re carrying out an endless stream of experiments to find out about their world. This is why it keeps them occupied for so long – give your baby some toy trucks and he’ll be busy for 10 minutes, but give him some trucks and a tray of rice to drive them through and he’ll come up with new ways to play all afternoon.

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Fun with food

When your baby is young, he’ll put everything in his mouth, so wait until he stops gnawing and nibbling on whatever’s within reach before getting out the play dough. This will happen at different ages with different children, and you’re the best judge when it comes to knowing whether your child is ready. Even then, make sure all the dough and paint, goo and gloop you give him to play with is edible. Although you won’t want him having more than a small bite, because of the food colouring, sugar or salt content, there’s no need to worry if he’s curious and has a quick taste.

Rice Krispies

If your child is still getting to grips with how this funny thing called gravity works, there is no better medium for his experiments than a tub of Rice Krispies. Pushing toys into the rice will help him learn that things don’t disappear just because he can’t see them. Add beakers and bowls, a scoop and a cardboard tube, or nothing at all, and let him discover the satisfying crunch a tiny puff of rice makes when crushed between a little finger and thumb. It’s easy to vacuum up, too!

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Little ones respond far better to being told what to do, rather than what not to do. Try saying, “Keep the Rice Krispies in the tub”, rather than “Try not to spill them out of the tub”.


Jelly play dough

This makes scented, soft dough in ice cream colours. Make up a few batches using different flavoured jellies and use it to cut out “cookies”, bake “cakes” or set up an “ice cream stall”.

You will Need:

  • 175g flour
  • 85g salt
  • Half a sachet of jelly crystals
  • 1 tbsp cream of tartar
  • 225ml water
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil


  1. Place all the dry ingredients into a saucepan and mix.
  2. Pour in the water and oil and mix until there are no lumps.
  3. Place over a low heat, stirring continuously. Keep scraping the dough from the bottom of the pan as it forms. This will take 3-4 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
  5. Knead for 3 minutes on a chopping board.

Use the supermarket’s house brand products to keep these recipes low cost.

Jelly Play Dough

Rainbow spaghetti

A tub of these wriggly worms makes for great fine motor skills practise, and the sensory experience is unlike any other! Pull a worm to see how much it stretches. Chop it up with a toy knife. Use tongs to try and pick it up. Pull individual strands out and lay them on a piece of paper to make interesting shapes – leave these overnight to dry and he’ll enjoy snapping them too.

You will Need:

  • 500g spaghetti
  • Sealable freezer bags
  • Different coloured food colouring


  1. Cook the spaghetti according to the instructions on the packet. Drain into a colander and rinse under cold running water until cool.
  2. Divide the spaghetti into as many freezer bags as you want colours.
  3. Add a few drops of food colouring into each bag – a little goes a long way. Seal each bag and move the spaghetti around inside (your toddler will enjoy helping you do this).
  4. Leave for 10 minutes to absorb the colour, then tip all the spaghetti into a large tub.

Plan messy play at a time when your child isn’t hungry. He’ll be far less likely to eat what he’s playing with if it hasn’t been long since he had a meal or snack.

Rainbow spaghetti for messy play