Nature Messy Play Kit Guide

Nature Messy Play Kit Guide

Nature Kit


Ready to dig into your Nature 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:
String Painting Butterflies
Growing Beans
Ocean Sensory Bottle
Splatter Paint Constellations
Additional Resources
More Messy Play Kits

String Painting Butterflies

1. Place one piece of art paper on the art tray. Fold it in half like a book, and open it back up.

2. Open the tops of each color of paint in the paint pots.

String Painting Butterflies 1

3. Dip one piece of string into one color of paint, the place it on one side of your paper “book,” curving it around on the paper. Leave about 2 inches of string hanging off the side of the paper, and fold the paper over on itself, trapping the string inside.

String Painting Butterflies 2   String Painting Butterflies 3


4. Place one hand on top of the paper, putting some pressure on it, and use your other hand to pull the string out.

5. Open the paper back up and see what design the string left! Do you notice how the paper has similar designs on both sides since it was folded over?

String Painting Butterflies 4

6. Repeat with other colors, experimenting with different designs of the string on the paper and see what happens! Can you make it shaped like a butterfly, with each wing on one side of the paper?

7. Repeat with the other pieces of paper and string.

String Painting Butterflies 5  String Painting Butterflies 6


Clean Up: any extra paint can be saved for another project. Let the papers dry and hang them up to display!


What are they learning?

  • Bilateral coordination: children have to use both hands to do this project, which helps build a connection between both sides of their body. This is an important skill in development, as it is related to overall movement and coordination (walking, biking, tying shoelaces). 
  • Creativity and experimentation: this is such a fun and open-ended project. By experimenting with the layout of the string and the colors, you can make al sorts of fun shapes! It’s also fun to interrupt what the designs look like: a butterfly, or maybe kissing fish, or a face…. 

Growing Beans

1. Open the top of the container full of cotton balls, and add water to the container so that the cotton balls are fully soaked.

2. Place the lima beans in the container and squish them down so they’re under the first layer of cotton balls. You want them to have access to the water but not be too deep.

3. Place the container in the sun. Refill the water every few days and check on them. After about 10-14 days, you should see them starting to sprout!

4. Watch as they grow. Did all the beans sprout at the same time? Was there any difference between the beans that were closer to the window and those that were further away, or the beans that were on top versus the ones a little below?

Clean Up:  you can let the beans grow in the contain as long as you’d like to continue watching them. When they seem to be outgrowing the container, you can transfer them outside or to a larger container, or toss them in the compost if you don’t want to continue caring for them.

What are they learning?

  • Long-lasting project: this project lasts a few weeks, which is different from most Messy Play activities. It’s great for building patience and an extended interest in a single activity. To keep interest, try having a notepad next to the beans for documenting observations. Draw a photo of what the beans look like when you plant them, and draw or write down any changes you notice over time. On day 3, the beans started to look wet and open, on day 7 you could see a tiny sprout inside, on day 10 the sprout was above the cotton balls…. 
  • Science: it’s fascinating to watch the beans grow, especially since you can see the sprout growing up and the roots growing down. This is the perk of growing them in cotton balls in a clear container as opposed to in the ground. Talk to your child about the various parts of the plant and what they do, and compare this to plants found in your backyard or garden or a nearby park.

Ocean Sensory Bottle

1. Open the sealed sensory bottle of oil, and add water until the bottle is full to the neck.

2. Use scissors to cut off the top of the pipette of liquid watercolor and empty the blue color into the bottle.

3. Empty the bag of sequins into the bottle.

4. Optional but recommended: Wipe the threads on the top of the bottle and the cap so they are clean and dry, and use glue (not included in the kit) to seal the lid shut. Super glue or hot glue work best, and put glue on both the bottle itself and the lid to make the best seal. Let the bottle sit until the glue has dried.

5. Shake the bottle up and watch what happens! The oil and water will mix together and the glitter and sequins will swirl all around. If you set the bottle down again, the oil and water will separate again back into the different segments. You can mix it up again and again and it will always separate out again.

 Ocean Sensory Bottle-1     Ocean Sensory Bottle- settling1   Ocean Sensory Bottle- settling    

What are they learning?

  • Science: Why does the oil always separate from the water, and why does it always go to the top? Oil is less dense than water, meaning it will always float on top. (Think about how this plays out in the natural world too- oil spills always float to the top of the water. What sorts of problems can this cause when it happens?)
  • Emotion regulation: the bottle is relaxing to watch, so use it as a method of calming down when you’re upset! Take the bottle to a private space (the couch, your bed, the stairs) and watch the glitter swirl as you take deep breaths to calm down. Do you feel better now? Children learn many things from imitating adults’ behavior, so model using the bottle for calming in your daily life and you’ll notice them to start to incorporate it as well. Teaching children concrete methods of emotional regulation, like using an object as a timer or a reminder to take deep breaths, helps them take control of their emotions and learn how to manage them. Everyone feels happy, upset, angry, and sad; it’s important to acknowledge these emotions and learn how to deal with them appropriately. Using a timer like this can help children learn what to do with strong emotions (both positive and negative) and empowers them to take control of their own body.

Splatter Paint Constellations

1. This project can be a bit messy; you may want to protect your work surface with a drop cloth or newspaper.

2. Place one sheet of black paper on top of your work surface.

3. Dip the toothbrush in the paint and run your thumb across the bristles to spray the paint onto the black paper. You can also shake the brush over the paper to make larger drops.

4. Continue to spray the black paper with paint until you’re satisfied. You can try intentionally to make shapes you’re familiar with, or you can splatter paint randomly and see what you discover later!

5. Repeat with the rest of the pieces of paper. Try different techniques to see which is more fun, and which results you like best!

6. When it’s dry, use the chalk to connect the “stars” into constellations. Can you find the Big Dipper? Orion? The Southern Cross? Can you make up other fun shapes and names for new constellations on your paper? 



    Winter Wonderland Messy Play Kit Guide - splatter paint constellations  Winter Wonderland Messy Play Kit Guide - splatter paint constellations  

    Winter Wonderland Messy Play Kit Guide - splatter paint constellations    Winter Wonderland Messy Play Kit Guide - splatter paint constellations

Clean up: the paint is washable, so you can wipe it off of any surfaces it gets onto.


What are they learning?

  • Fine motor control: They’re building fine motor control as they use the toothbrush and later the chalk. It takes a good amount of control to spray the brush towards the paper! 
  • Creativity: They can be creative and build their sense of humor as they connect the dots and invent bizarre names for their new constellations! 
  • Real life connection: Take your child outside after dark and look at the stars in your night sky. Borrow a book from the library or print some pictures from the internet so you can try to identify specific constellations. If there’s a meteor shower coming up, that’s a great way to keep their interest! Connect those experiences back to this activity, or vice versa, to help them solidify their knowledge and learn to connect projects and activities to real-life experiences.When you travel, look at the sky from the places you visit. Do you see more stars from your vacation place or from home? In the city or the mountains? Can you always find the same constellations?

More Nature Play!

There are so many ways to continue playing with and learning about nature. Here are some of my favorites.

  • Make your own windchime! Here are 20 different ways you can make a wind chime at home from Growing a Jeweled Rose.
  • 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!
  • "A Natural Choice: Learning Outdoors" is a short article by Lisa Hansel for NAEYC's Young Children Magazine includes links to other great articles that can be very informative about the benefits for young children of getting outside in nature! 
  • 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."
  • 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.


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