Gardening Messy Play Kit Guide

Gardening Messy Play Kit

Ready to dig into your Gardening Messy Play Kit? On this page you'll find detailed step-by-step instructions, ideas to extend the learning, and some links to other resources. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about your kit. Now go get messy!

Jump To:
Grow a Grass Creature 
Spaghetti Grass and Bugs
Clean Dirt
Additional Resources
More Messy Play Kits


Grow a Grass Creature:

1. Place the peat pellets in a bowl with 1 cup of water. They will absorb the water and expand rapidly. Add more water if necessary (you want them as full as possible) and remove and discard the outer layer of mesh.

Grow a Grass Head - Garden Kit from Messy Play Kits

2. Once the pellets are fully hydrated, add in the grass seed and use a spoon to throughly mix together.

Grow a Grass Head - Garden Kit from Messy Play Kits

3. Hold open the caterpillar fabric and carefully spoon the dirt and grass seed into it, pushing the dirt all the way to the end of the caterpillar. Note: the dirt will drip in this step.

 TIP: Placing the caterpillar inside a toilet paper roll can help here- use the tube to help hold the fabric open. a Grass Head - Garden Kit from Messy Play Kits

4. Carefully tie a knot in the end of the caterpillar as close to the dirt as possible. You want the grass seed and dirt as snug as possible inside the caterpillar.

Grow a Grass Head - Garden Kit from Messy Play Kits

5. Decorate! Use the pipe cleaners (in the decorations) to tie the caterpillar into segments, and the other decorations as you wish. Add googly eyes at the front of the caterpillar, or all over for a sillier creature. Use the glue dots to attach the decorations onto the caterpillar. 

 TIP: Note: if you have a glue gun, that will be easier than the glue dots here, but have an adult do this part with the child choosing where to place the pieces.


Grow a Grass Head - Garden Kit from Messy Play Kits

Grow a Grass Head - Garden Kit from Messy Play Kits

Grow a Grass Head - Garden Kit from Messy Play Kits

6. Place the caterpillar creature on a plate and add water. Place in a sunny spot. If you keep watering it regularly, you’ll see sprouts coming up in about one week, and the grass should last about 7 weeks!


What are they learning?

  • Fine Motor Control: Allow them to help as much as possible with stretching the caterpillar, scooping the dirt, and tying the knot. That builds their confidence and self-help skills too.
  • Creativity: They get to choose which decoration pieces to use and how, in order to create the creature of their dreams. That’s a powerful feeling!
  • Science: This is a very concrete way for children to learn about the growing process. Talk about what is happening, and why the seeds are growing. They needed dirt (nutrients), water, and sunshine.
  • Extend this learning by documenting the growing process- make a chart and document what you see every day. Measure how tall the grass is each day, and make predictions for how much it will grow overnight, or how tall it will be before it stops growing.

Spaghetti Grass and Bugs:

1. Rehydrate the colored spaghetti by covering with water and either microwaving for 5 minutes or boiling until almost soft.

2. Rinse the pasta with cold water, drain, and place pasta in large container (bathtub, bucket, large mixing bowl, kiddie pool).

3. Add in the bugs.

4. Dig through the spaghetti and collect all the bugs!

Grow a Grass Head Creature - Garden Messy Play Kit

Try adding water, and digging through to collect the bugs again. Does the spaghetti feel different this time? Was it easier or harder?

What are they learning?

  • Science (material properties): It’s interesting how the pasta arrives colored and stiff, but then becomes sticky, soft and pliable once rehydrated.
  • Hand Eye Coordination: It can be hard trying to scoop the bugs out of the spaghetti, especially once there’s water added. The bugs are slippery, and you have to pinch them carefully and maneuver them out of the spaghetti.
  • Pretend Play: If you turn your bathtub into a “small world” of bugs and insects, you open up the door to a whole new type of play. This can be challenging and fun for both children and adults- often adults have a hard time shutting off their “adult brains” and playing with children. Try asking them open-ended questions, such as “what would the world look like if you were as small as a bug?” Or make comments such as “I wonder…” Dramatic play can be very engaging, and is a great way to develop children’s sense of curiosity, creativity, problem-solving skills, and much more.

Clean Dirt:

1. Empty the bag of baking soda into a large bowl.

2. Cut the tip off the pipette of liquid watercolor and empty the contents into the bowl.

Clean Dirt - Garden Messy Play Kit

3. Mix in 1/4-1/2 cup of water. Add a little bit at a time, finding a consistency you like (similar to dirt).

Clean Dirt - Garden Messy Play Kit

4. Add the insects and dig around!

Clean Dirt - Garden Messy Play Kit

Some bugs live underground in tunnels. Can you make a tunnel in the dirt? Can you help camouflage the creatures with the dirt? Can you camouflage part of your body?

 Tip: For a full body sensory experience, play with this in the bathtub. Baking soda is a cleaning agent, so as you play you will even be cleaning the tub! (Not recommended for sensitive skin) Everything except the insects can go right down the drain when you’re done!


 Tip: Combine both the spaghetti and clean dirt in a dry bathtub. Make a “small world” full of bugs and creatures. Paint the bottom of the tub brown with the dirt, and use the spaghetti as grass on top. Move the animals around their “world” as they would normally move!


What are they learning?

  • Fine Motor Control: Anytime they are using the muscles in their hand to manipulate materials (squishing pretend dirt, building with playdough, squeezing pipettes), children are developing their fine motor skills. This will help them learn to hold a pencil properly, among other things.
  • Connection with nature: There are numerous benefits to connecting children with nature, and the website for this Messy Play Kit includes links to many articles discussing those benefits. One thing you can do with this activity is to rephrase the way you may react to bugs and insects in front of your children. Think about how your reaction may instill in them a love for, or fear of, those creatures. Do you scream when you see a spider? Shiver in disgust from a snake? Those creatures are in these kits for a reason! Model interacting with the pretend creatures to help your children develop a love for their natural world, and visit the website for more information on this topic!
  • Pretend Play: see the note from the Spaghetti Grass Activity.

More Gardening Play!

There are so many ways to continue playing with and learning about gardens and the creatures in them. Here are some of my favorites.

  • Check out my Insect Themed Activities Pinterest Board.
  • Go on a bug treasure hunt! Take a magnifying glass and go explore your neighborhood. Where could you look for bugs? How can you find them? What types do you think you'll find? Remember not to touch anything- we don't want to hurt them, just look. A good lesson on self-restraint and cooperating with nature!
  • "Creatures in the Classroom" is an article written by Alyse Hachey and Deanna Butler for NAEYC's Young Children magazine. They talk about some of the amazing things children learn from being exposed to nature and its creatures within a classroom. They also have another list of resources to explore!
  • This book excerpt definitely makes me want to read more, but even the excerpt itself is educational. Adapted from "Experiencing Nature With Young Children: Awakening Delight, Curiosity, and a Sense of Stewardship" by Alice Sterling Honig. My favorite part is when she talks about how similar plants, animals, and people are: "We all need similar things, such as food, fresh air, water, and exercise, to keep us healthy, and we depend on each other in different ways. When children experience the links between themselves and the world around them...they begin to develop a passion for helping nature thrive."
  • Why go outside? Here are five research-based reasons from the Fish and Wildlife Service. You might be surprised at how beneficial nature can be!
  • If you still aren't convinced on the benefits of getting outside, read this article from Mercury News about how outdoor play can boost attention span and other cognitive skills!
  • Once you are outside, there are a few tips that can help make your interactions more positive: Check out this link from the Bambinis blog.
  • In today's world, it's hard to do anything without our smartphones. However, when you're connecting with nature, it's important to really connect. Also remember, your actions are a model for your children! Here's more information about how to be a good digital citizen, from Children and Nature Network.



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