Messy Play: Tips for Playing and Clean Up

Messy play is just what it sounds like: letting kids dive into something messy and play away. Messy play lets kids be creative, explore with their senses, and experiment. 

Messy play can sound intimidating if you aren't a fan of messes or haven't done it before. It took me a while to get comfortable with the idea but now that I am, I embrace it and encourage it. Today, I'm sharing a few tips for managing messy play, embracing the mess, and cleaning up.

This Twin Life is sharing a few tips for managing messy play, embracing the mess, and cleaning up.

 1) Prep: Your Space, Yourself, Your Kids
Get in a messy mindset. If my plan is to make a mess, I'm going to expect a mess. I want a mess and I know what I'm getting into! If we are doing something with paint, food coloring, or other messy material that can ruin clothes, the kids just wear diapers, underwear, or play clothes. I explain what we are doing and set clear expectations for where we are being messy (usually on a blanket or at the table if we are inside). As young toddlers, it's their job to test boundaries so I am always giving reminders for how we play safely (materials like rice stay in the bin, nothing goes in our mouths, etc.). 

I set up our space to get messy. I almost always do inside messy play in the kitchen. Everything in there is washable. We have a gate in the kitchen so I close everyone in! I always use a giant picnic blanket if we are in the house. This way, I can just scoop up the blanket when we're done and the mess is usually contained to just that spot. If it was a dry mess, like rice, I pour the spilled rice back into the container. If it's a wet mess like paint, I throw the blanket in the wash. The blanket also acts as a great visual for the kids to see where we are being messy.

This Twin Life is sharing a few tips for managing messy play, embracing the mess, and cleaning up.

2) Kids Can Clean Up Too
I clean up after messy play but my kids clean up too. They can put messy toys into a bin to be washed. They can use baby wipes or a damp microfiber cloth to clean messes like paint. They help rinse paintbrushes, cups, and bowls.

3) Take the Mess to the Tub
If we have a really messy activity, I follow up with a bath which is basically a new activity. Sometimes they take a bath and do some water play while cleaning off the mess and sometimes they take a shower and rinse off the containers, cups, brushes and other tools. This is especially great for rainy or cold days when we aren't going out because it takes up another big chunk of the day!

4) Pick a Good Time
Pick a time during the day to engage in messy play that works for you and your kids. Mornings after breakfast work well for us. I wouldn't start a messy activity if we have to be somewhere because it's hard enough for us to get out the door on time with nothing to clean up. I like the kids to have plenty of time and not feel like we have to clean up until they're done playing. After afternoon naps, one or both kids tend to be a little grumpier and less flexible than they are in the morning so it's not the best time for us to do messy activities. You know your kids so you can figure out what works best for your family.

5) Keep it Simple
My kids are just as happy painting with two colors as they are with 8. They are happy scooping rice with a scoop and cup and they're happy when I make them an extravagently themed sensory bin. They are thrilled with an empty sandbox, two cups, and bucket of water. I enjoy making themed bins and arts and crafts projects but I know it's not for everyone so just do what makes your kids happy (which is probably something very simple!). 


Dinosaur oobleck!

A post shared by Jess (@thistwinlife) on

If you don't like messy things, try messy play that's not actually messy. Water play is easily cleaned up or can be done outside and by adding soap or bubbles, it becomes messy but clean!

This Twin Life is sharing a few tips for managing messy play, embracing the mess, and cleaning up.

 I'd love to hear your best messy play tips!


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