Messy play is a popular and fun way to help your child develop and practice fine motor skills and dexterity. Here are some ideas and messy play activities that you can provide at home for your child - it is fun for you to join in too...

Sensory play with manipulative experiences prepare children for more complex manipulative skills like hand writing. Children need sensory, messy, gooey play EVERY DAY!” (Gill Connell, Moving Smart).

Messy play allows children to explore with their fingers and hands (and other parts of their body too!) so they develop an awareness of their fingers and what they can do. Participating in these activities strengthens the finger muscles for more complex things like holding and controlling pens and pencils, unscrewing lids etc.

So whether it is playdough, cornflour gloop, paint or yoghurt (when they are eating lunch), it is good for them! Here are a few recipes and ideas for messy play activities that you can do at home...

Messy Play Ideas

Microwave puff-painting

Encourage your children to be creative with this recipe, which makes a fabulous paint that 'puffs up' when cooked in the microwave.

  • 1 tablespoon self-raising flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • few drops food colouring

Mix the ingredients together using enough water to make a smooth paste. Make 3 to 4 different colours - empty yoghurt pottles are handy containers. Paint on to thick paper or cardboard, then microwave on high for about 10 seconds or until the paint is dry.

Cornflour goop

  • Slowly add 1 cup of cold water to 2 cups of cornflour in a bowl.
  • Stir until the water is absorbed by the cornflour.
  • Add food colouring if desired.

Play with goop in large containers with spoons, cups, hands, sticks, etc.

Tip: To remove goop from carpets, allow it to dry, then brush or vacuum. Goop may be re-used after it has dried out. Crumble it to a powder then restore it to the original consistency by adding water, a spoonful at a time.


  • Dissolve 1 cup of soap flakes in 2 litres of warm water.
  • Add food colouring if desired.

Allow the mixture to stand until it becomes thick and slimy. Beat with eggbeater or fork to make it froth. Put slime in a wide, open container or trough. Provide children with eggbeaters, spoons, funnels, cups, sponges, sieves, whisks, etc., for them to experiment with.

Uncooked finger paint

  • 2 cups corn flour
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 4 cups boiling water (a little more if necessary)
  • ¼ cup soap flakes (optional)

Whisk the corn flour and cold water together in a large bowl until all the corn flour is suspended. Pour in four or a little more cups of boiling water while stirring and beat until the mixture sticks together. Continue until the mixture is smooth, thick and translucent.

Add the soap flakes if desired and keep stirring. If the mixture seems too thick, you can add a little more water.

The finger-paint should pour slowly and keep its shape for a short time when moulded or patterned with fingers.

Colour can be mixed into the finger paint now.

Cooked finger paint

  • 2 cups corn flour
  • 5 cups cold water

Mix the corn flour to a smooth paste with a little cold water using a large pot. Add 5 cups of cold water and stir over low heat for about ten minutes until the mixture has thickened to a consistency that will pour slowly and keep its shape briefly when moulded or patterned with fingers.

Colour can now be added.

Play dough

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 cup water

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a saucepan and then add oil and water.

Cook slowly over a low heat until the dough comes away from the edges of the pan and it becomes difficult to move with a spoon.

Remove from heat and cool until it can be handled. Knead. Add food colouring if desired. Store in an airtight container or zip lock bag.