Messy Play Without the Messy Cleanup

Messy Play Without the Messy Clean Up

Sarah Andrade


The most frequent comment I hear when I talk about the importance of messy play is “I don’t have time to clean it all up” or “my husband would never let that mess in our home!” I’ve learned over time many tricks to keeping the house in order (or at least looking like it is) during and after messy play that I’d like to share with you!

Compile Your Essentials

For most activities in my house, we use a large sheet or a shower curtain (dollarama sells them for $2). I love using the sheets for painting, because the sheet begins to tell its own story the longer you use it! I have an organizer I store in my basement (so it is out of sight) that carries paint brushes, trays for paint, cups, sifters, basters, rollers, anything we could use for our play. I like to keep a lot of materials on hand, this way I can follow the lead of my littles…if one day they ask to do alphabet soup, I have everything on hand and we can dive in that day (usually). I also store a large tote that we can use for sensory activities, you can pick one up for under $10 and they clean up and store easily! Keeping a pack of baby wipes with our materials is also helpful for the accidents that happen (like a little experimenting with splashing goo, as it hits your wall, instead of cringing you can quickly wipe it away!)


Large sheet to go under activity

Large bin

Variety of tools for children to explore (not all at once!)

Baby wipes

Set Up

If I am setting something up specifically for my infant, I usually plan the day before so I can quickly set it up. If I am setting something up with my preschooler, I often invite her to help me set it up. This way, she can lead the invitation to play which in turn engages her for a longer portion of time. If I am setting up an activity without my littles, I try to do this during our morning nap time so I don’t feel rushed.

We do most of our play in our kitchen as we have a large empty space very close to the sink. If you try messy play in your kitchen and you end up feeling more stressed about the mess than enjoying the activity, find a new space. Messy play outside is a great place to start!


Before beginning, go over guidelines with your littles.

The guidelines in our house are;

-We keep our bodies and materials on the sheet while exploring

-When we are done, we let mom know (this helps them to remember the first guideline)

-Keep the materials in the bin/on the paper

During Exploration, Let them Explore!

Once you have everything set up for your activity, try to keep an open mind, I like using the mantra “process not product, process not product!”

It is easy to quickly jump in on their play with “don’t dump the rice on the floor” or “don’t splash your paint brush, but instead use positive language like “please keep the rice in the bin” or “if we were outside I would love to see how the paint would splatter on the paper, but because we are inside perhaps we can use another technique that won’t make the paint fly…what else can we do?!”

Enjoy your time with you littles! I love the small chats we have over a bin of cloud dough, day dreams of fairies coming to play, or how squishy the dough is between our fingers.

Plan Clean Up Before You Begin

Depending on the activity I like to have a bath ready (towels out, toys in, all I need to do is add the children and water).

Keep a small broom or dustbuster nearby for quick clean up!

I usually pile all my materials on top of the sheet we used, and leave it to clean during a nap or once the children are engaged in the playroom.

Lastly and most important, HAVE FUN WITH IT! Sensory play should be fun for your children but also for you! It is a time for you to explore with your littles and learn something new about yourself or your littles.

#exploringsenses #sensoryplay #children #messyplay #cleanup

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