Messy Play for Outdoor Sensory Fun


Summertime is officially here! This means kids will be playing outside more and, naturally, getting dirty and messy during that play. It is important to encourage kids to not shy away from the dirt and to explore it in unique and different ways in order to increase their sensory systems in a variety of ways. This is also a great time to move all those messy art projects from inside the house to outside to the yard, the park, driveway, or alley. This will give them more space to play and create and you less of a mess to clean up (sounds pretty nice, especially after being stuck inside so much lately).  These are some easy and fun ideas for messy play for kids to increase their sensory integration through visual, tactile, proprioceptive, and sometimes, olfactory sensory input.

Messy Play Ideas

  • Shaving cream or whipped cream
  • Sand: kinetic sand or regular sand
  • Tactile bins with rice, beans, pasta, beads, etc.
  • Homemade play dough or slime
  • Chalk
  • Bubble bath or soap
  • Water table or water beads
  • Water balloons
  • Balloon splatter painting
  • Finger painting (use feet and toes as well)
  • Homemade “snow”
  • Oobleck
  • Paint with a variety of objects (marshmallows, rocks, leaves, splatter with a brush, colored ice cubes)

These activities can all be completed outside and cleaned up with a hose and some paper towel! For painting and art activities introducing different media also adds an element of sensory input. Let the kids try painting on cardboard, the driveway, bubble wrap, aluminum foil, and any other materials you can think of!

These are also great ways to introduce other tools to use for play to improve fine motor skills. Sensory bins are a great way to encourage utensil use (spoons, forks, cups) and to work on scooping and dumping skills with spoons and cups and shovels. Kids can also use tools or their fingers to work on pre-writing skills and practice writing shapes and letters.

To increase engagement and work on direction following and math skills have your child work with you to make the homemade recipes. Homemade play dough, slime, oobleck, snow, and paint are fun ways to make what you are going to play with and introduce kids to measuring and mixing ingredients to make something new! There are many different recipes all over the Internet that mostly use household ingredients to create these fun new things! To get you started here are a few!


2 cups flour

¾ cup salt

4 teaspoons cream of tartar

2 cups lukewarm water

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Food coloring

Try making it scented with essential oils!


2/3 cup of Elmer’s glue

½ teaspoon Baking Soda

¼ cup water

2/3 cups shaving cream

5 tablespoons contact lens solution

Food Coloring

Puffy Paint


Shaving cream

Food coloring


½ cup of white hair conditioner

3 cups of baking soda

Have fun!!


By Jenny Zapinski, MSOT, OTR/L

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