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Keeping the Mess Contained

Childhood Development and Enrichment with Sensory Play

The biggest barrier that I encounter to messy play is … well, the mess. Every day I hear from parents, teachers, and caregivers who love the idea of sensory play for their kids, but who feel apprehensive about the messiness. After all, for many people “messy" is almost a dirty word! But there are ways to keep the mess contained without losing any of the fun or enrichment! Here are a few ways to share messy play with your kids while keeping things under control:

1. Set a physical boundary

Create a clearly defined area for your messy play. This will not only make it easier for you to clean up afterward, but it also helps your kiddo understand where they're allowed to indulge in the messiness. Some options for easier cleanup are:

  • The bathtub – this allows you to wash the little ones off right in the same space after the session is over. 
  • A tarp or drop cloth – these are readily available from your local hardware store or from big box stores. Many varieties are both economical and reusable.
  • An empty kiddie pool – if you have the outdoor space and cooperative weather, a kiddie pool can be the perfect place for messy play! The sides are excellent at keeping the contents contained, and the material is usually simple to rinse and wipe down afterward. 
  • A plastic bin – You can find plastic bins in an array of sizes from many retailers. One advantage of a plastic bin is that when play is done, you can pop the lid on and move the bin to a more convenient cleanup location.
  • A cardboard box – Try using an old shoe box or a shipping box to contain the messy play. You can even use the shipping box from your Messy Play order!

Play clothes make clean up easy

2. Wear old clothes

    Bring back the concept of play clothes! Have a set or two of clothes for yourself and your kiddoes that are especially intended for getting messy. Some good options include: 

    • Old clothes – Use ones that are stained or otherwise too worn for regular use. 
    • Tee shirts and sweatpants - Consider using hand-me-downs or checking your local thrift store.
    • None at all - For some bathtub-based play, your child could wear their birthday suit. No clothes to get dirty in this case!

    3. Plan ahead for clean-up 

      Having a plan and materials in place will save you time and stress both for accidental spillover during playtime and for clean-up when you're done! Here are some helpful cleanup materials to have on hand: 

      • A bucket of water – Small buckets are inexpensive and can often be found near the cleaning supplies in a store. Or use a large mixing bowl as a bucket stand-in. 
      • Towels – Most of us have plenty of towels, but if not, they can be another great thrift store find! Or check your hardware or auto store for shop towels, which are small, reusable towels that come in big multi-packs.
      • Wipes – For smaller messes (like hands and faces), baby wipes can be so easy! 
      • Help from your child – Including your kiddo in the cleanup builds a sense of responsibility and pride in them. And with direction, they can be a big help! 

      I understand that the messiness of messy play can seem a little threatening. But with a little planning and a few precautions, you'll be able to contain the mess while expanding your child's horizons!

      How to keep the mess contained during messy play


      I’M ROBIN, 



      I'm a preschool teacher whose love for play-based learning knows no bounds. I created Messy Play Kits to help support parents in this  endeavor at home: I offer products, classes and education that encourage development through play.

      Messy Play Kits & Activities 

      are designed to engage and sharpen your child's skills








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