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Messy play: Opportunities for a Sensory Learning Experience

Messy Sensory Play At Home

by Samantha Hilbish, OTR/L

What is messy play? It is almost exactly what it sounds like!

Messy play is anything that provides sensory input to the body through touch, smell, and sometimes even taste. Messy play is beneficial to children as they grow. As infants, children explore their world through all their senses. Everything is new to them, so providing a variety of sensory input helps their sensory systems to develop into more mature systems.

One way to introduce messy play to infants is to put items in a zip lock bag and let the child explore the different sensations through the bag. As the child becomes more comfortable with the textures, allow them to explore the contents of the bag (A quick safety note, as young children often explore with their mouths ensure contents of the bags are not possible choking hazards).

As children age and their sensory systems evolve, it is important to continue to provide age appropriate sensory opportunities, such as writing or drawing while participating in messy play.

The great thing about messy play is that there are plenty of opportunities right within the home that do not require a lot of preparation or cost! The joy with messy play is that everyday items can provide sensory input to children; there is no need to have to purchase anything special.

In the bathroom for example, one of my personal favorite messy play activities is using shaving cream. Items can be hidden in shaving cream and can be given a bath to clean off the items that are found. For older kiddos, practicing drawing shapes or handwriting in shaving cream provides a multisensory learning opportunity.

Below are some quick objects that could easily be turned into messy play:


  • Shaving Creams
  • Shampoo and Conditioner
  • Lotion
  • Water
  • Soap
  • Toothpaste


  • Dough of any kind
  • Cornstarch and water
  • Mashing cooked foods
  • Hiding toys in foods such as pudding or Jell-O

These are just some quick and basic ideas for messy play at home; there are so many opportunities to get little hands messy!

If your child needs additional help, call us to schedule an appointment with an occupational therapist at 702-564-6712 or click here to see a list of our locations.

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