Pirate Play Messy Play Kit Guide

Pirate Play Messy Play Kit Guide


Ready to dig into your Pirate Play 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:
Treasure Hunt 
Fizzing Treasure Chests 
Sunken Treasure Bowl 
Additional Resources 
More Messy Play Kits 

Treasure Hunt:

1. Place fabric seaweed in a large container (bathtub, bucket, large mixing bowl, kiddie pool) and mix in the coins and gems.

2. Adults: Create a treasure map for your child! Hide the treasure container in another room or outside, and create a personalize treasure map using the template provided. Add in details about your home as the obstacles they will have to cross, such as the dining room, or the stairs, or the door to the porch. Help your child read the map to find where the treasure is!

Note: For older children, have your child help you create the map. After you both hide the treasure, return to the beginning and create the map together, recalling by memory the obstacles in the way. If this is too challenging, walk along the path as you draw in the obstacles.


Pirate Play Messy Play Kit - Spaghetti Treasure Hunt Pirate Play Messy Play Kit - Spaghetti Treasure Hunt

3. Once you find the treasure seaweed, dig in with your hands and collect all the treasures!

4. Try replacing the treasures, adding water, and collecting them again. Does the seaweed feel different this time? Was it easier or harder to find the treasures?


What are they learning?

  • Spatial Ability: Young children have a hard time thinking about things that aren't directly in front of them, especially when it comes to moving through space. Any time you use directional language (such as "above," "below," "next to," "behind," and so on) you're helping them learn how to navigate a visual world. Creating a map of your house may be difficult, but as long as you work within your child's ability you'll be building your child's spatial abilities. This article from Parenting Science contains more information about spatial ability in children.
  • Fine motor control: When they pinch the gems and coins, they are improving their fine motor control, which will help them hold a pencil or use scissors properly when they're older.
  • Problem-solving: They have to figure out how to get to the seaweed and find the treasure!
  • Impulse control: While they may want to run right over to the treasure to play, you can help them practice impulse control by reminding them to stay with you and create the map. Don't push it too far if they lose interest, but having them wait a few more seconds will help them learn to control their impulses.

Fizzing Treasure Chests:

1. Mix the baking soda with the small packet of gelatin mix and two tablespoons of water.

Pirate Play Messy Play Kit - Fizzing Treasure Chests

2. Pour into the plastic containers and hide the coins and jewels inside the baking soda mixture. If you use traditional ice cube trays, the final result looks more like a real treasure chest!

Pirate Play Messy Play Kit - Fizzing Treasure Chests Pirate Play Messy Play Kit - Fizzing Treasure Chests

3. Place plastic containers in freezer until solid.

Pirate Play Messy Play Kit - Fizzing Treasure Chests

4. When they are frozen solid, remove the "treasure chests" from the containers and place them on a surface with an edge, like a baking tray or the bathtub.

Pirate Play Messy Play Kit - Fizzing Treasure Chests

5. Dissolve the citric acid in 1/2 cup of warm water.

6. Use the pipette to drip water slowly onto the treasure chests. Watch them fizz and open to reveal the hidden treasures! You can even drop the treasure chests into the bowl of citric acid for a really fizzy experiment!

Pirate Play Messy Play Kit - Fizzing Treasure Chests Pirate Play Messy Play Kit - Fizzing Treasure Chests Pirate Play Messy Play Kit - Fizzing Treasure Chests

7. Touch the melting treasure chests- it’s safe to feel. What does it feel like? The baking soda and citric acid cause an endothermic chemical reaction, which means the temperature will decrease while it’s reacting. If you touch the treasure chest when it’s fizzing, it will feel cold! If you wait a few minutes after it stops reacting, it will become room temperature again.

 Tip: Baking soda is also a great cleaning agent. If you open the treasure chests in the bathtub, scrub the baking soda around a bit before you wash it down the drain!


What are they learning?

  • Cause and effect: They get a big reaction from the baking soda when they squeeze the citric acid onto it. This is a fundamental cognitive skill.
  • Fine motor control and hand-eye coordination: Squeezing a pipette is hard! It uses a lot of muscles and coordination to get the citric acid in the right spot.
  • Patience: They have to wait for the treasure chests to freeze completely before continuing the activity. That can be hard for little ones, but is great practice! Try hypothesizing with them about what the treasure chests will look like when they're frozen, or reading the rest of the directions and asking them what they think will happen (which will help them develop forethought and planning skills!).
  • Pretending: You aren't making real treasure chests, of course, and the coins are gems aren't real either. Pretending is an important part of creative representation, which is used by adults to solve problems, think creatively, and interact with others.

Sunken Treasure Bowl:

1. Pour the bag of cornmeal into the bottom of a large bowl.

2. Add the coins and jewels and any other pirate treasures you may have, and bury them in the cornmeal.

Pirate Play Messy Play Kit - Sunken Treasure Bowl

3. Fill the bowl with water.

4. Use scissors to cut the tip of the pipette off and empty the liquid watercolor into the water.

Pirate Play Messy Play Kit - Sunken Treasure Bowl Pirate Play Messy Play Kit - Sunken Treasure Bowl

5. Dig in! Reach into the bowl and scoop out each treasure from the cornmeal.

Pirate Play Messy Play Kit - Sunken Treasure Bowl

Is it hard to reach into a bowl of liquid that you can’t see through? As the cornmeal stirs up into the water, it gets even harder to see through.

What are they learning?
  • Overcoming fear/anxiety: Some children are hesitant to reach into something when they can’t see inside. They have to overcome any anxiety or emotional block they have in order to do this activity.
  • Math: They practice number sense and counting as they count the number of objects buried in the cornmeal and count as they uncover them. Did we collect them all?
  • Fine motor control: As they squeeze the pipette of liquid watercolor into the water and dig through the cornmeal, they build the muscles necessary to properly hold a pencil.
  • Density: Why does the cornmeal stay on the bottom of the bowl? Why does a small bit of it mix into the water and then settle back down?

More Pirate Play!

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

  • How did pirates navigate the seas? Using compasses and cardinal directions, of course! Learn about cardinal directions with hands-on activities from the Gift of Curiosity. Note- if this is too hard for your children, modify it by labeling parts of the room with signs reading "North," "South," "East," and "West" and have them practice following simple directions such as "take two steps north." You could even make a treasure hunt this way!
  • Make your own hardtack! Pirates would eat these hard crackers because of the long shelf-life. Make sure you soak it in liquid before you eat it! This recipe from Speech Snacks is sure to be fun.
  • Try imagining life onboard a ship. Imagine the motion of a ship- the rocking back and forth. Practice this by rolling side to side on a yoga ball if you have one, or something similar. Could you handle that motion all the time? Imagine having to pack all your food for months and months into your bedroom- without being able to get anything else from the kitchen! What would you bring? Pirates often developed scurvy, a disease that results from lack of Vitamin C (which can be found in fresh fruits). Make sure you bring plenty of lemons and limes with you to prevent scurvy!
  • Play more fun games to improve your child's spatial abilities with ideas from this article from Parenting Science!

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