Play idea: Messy play - Korihori pōrehe

Messy play gives children the opportunity to experience a wide range of sensory experiences.

Level of complianceMain audienceOther


  • All Early Learning Services 
  • Educators, Teachers and Kaiako
  • Service Managers
  • Parents, Caregivers and Whānau

Children learn through play. Below is some information about a play idea for your children.

Messy play solutions such as finger-paint, slime and gloop help children learn about different textures and materials.

Messy play can help children to

  • relax  it is a very soothing activity
  • experiment with and explore the properties of the solutions e.g. does it hold its shape or pour or run? What happens when substances combine?
  • learn about colour mixing, patterns, design, texture and rhythm
  • develop hand-eye coordination and practise pouring, measuring, mixing, scooping and beating skills

Adults can support children by

  • joining in to show them it’s okay to get messy
  • telling stories and using chants, rhythms, songs and music while playing
  • encouraging them to tell stories and sing while playing
  • not worrying about them getting messy – dress them in old clothes and aprons and be excited they are learning from being messy
  • watching younger ones to prevent them from getting the solution in their eyes
  • encourage experimentation
  • use descriptive words such as slimy, runny, soft, warm, lumpy, wet.

Providing for messy play

Make sure there’s enough room for messy play, and try and keep the messy play area away from the other equipment. Give children a flat, smooth surface to work on; low tables or water baths/troughs are ideal for group play. Children can be provided with individual trays for more individual experiences. It is good to set up a place close by for hand-washing. Lining the floor or providing messy play outside can make cleaning up easier. Rhythmic music and messy play go together nicely.

Ideas for equipment

The great thing about messy play is that little additional equipment is necessary – children use their hands and fingers, feet and bodies to experiment with. Assorted mark-makers can be introduced. Try anything that might make an interesting pattern: brushes with different strength bristles, cardboard scrapers  flat or with patterns cut into the bottom  natural materials such as leaves, twigs, stones, flower or seed heads (minus the seeds).

Try secondhand shops for Formica dining tables and cut the legs down. If you do not have access to a large table, try a large sheet of plastic on the ground.

Making gloop

  1. Slowly add one cup of cold water to two cups of cornflour in a bowl. Stir until the water is absorbed by the cornflour. Add colour if you like. Put the gloop in ice-cream or large containers with spoons, cups and other utensils.
  2. Great just with fingers on a flat surface.

Making slime

  1. Dissolve one cup of soap flakes in two litres of warm water. Add colouring if you like. Allow the mixture to stand until it becomes thick and slimy. Beat the mixture with an egg-beater to make it frothy.
  2. Put the slime in a wide, open container or trough with egg-beaters, spoons, funnels, cups, sponges, sieves and whisks for children to experiment with.
  3. Slime can be kept for several days in a covered bucket.

Note: Be sure to check first that children do not have skin allergies. Some children's skin can be sensitive to soap flakes.

Making fingerpaint

  1. In a large bowl or basin mix two cups of cornflour with one cup of cold water. While stirring this mixture slowly, pour in the boiling water. Keep pouring and stirring until the mixture turns smooth and thick. Once the mixture turns smooth and thick (add more hot water if the mixture is too thick) add half a cup of soap flakes and stir well. Split the mixture into different bowls or pots and add tempera paint into each bowl or pot, making sure each pot has a different colour.
  2. Put the mixture into small containers (such as a margarine container) and fingerpainting can start.
  3. Fingerpaint can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days.

Note: Some children’s skin can be sensitive to soap flakes. If this is the case, leave it out of the recipe.

Te Whāriki

Exploring through messy play supports learning across all the strands of Te Whāriki. In particular, messy play supports the Communication strand, where children discover and develop different ways to be creative and expressive. Messy play might also support children's development in the Exploration strand, where children gain confidence in and control of their own bodies, including active exploration with all the senses and the use of tools, materials and equipment to extend skills.

Messy play materials provide satisfying sensory experiences that can stimulate emotional well-being. Messy play experiences are often enjoyed as a group and they support the Contribution strand by providing opportunities for children to work with and alongside others.

This play idea has been developed for playgroups. Feel free to use it at other types of ECE service, but make sure you're still following the regulations and licensing criteria that apply to your service type. Parents may also find this information useful.

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