Messy Sensory Play for Beginners

My three year old goes through phases of being interested in messy sensory play. Sometimes I can set it up and he’ll play for hours, sometimes I’ll set it up and he’ll play for two minutes. Trouble is I never know which it’s going to be and far be it from me to stop him from doing something he might really enjoy just because it might be a two minute day.

However that does mean I am loathe to go to masses of effort to set it all up just in case. It also means I like things that are cheap to make (and if possible things that can be kept to play with another time).

My sister has a daughter who at 2.5 has never really shown much interest in sensory play. However just recently she has become obsessed with all the creams in the house, scooping them, squidging them and generally enjoying making a mess. This got me thinking that maybe it’s time to try her with some sensory activities, that might be cheaper than the body lotions and creams she’s suddenly taken an interest in.

So this is a round up of some really simple and where possible, cheap recipes for the parent’s first foray into messy play. And a couple of words of advice from a mum who found messy play difficult to get in to.

  1. Firstly I would suggest sourcing something to play on/in. We have a Tuff Tray and stand now, but we started with cheap under bed storage boxes and still find these incredibly useful. They are wide enough and shallow enough to provide space to play in, and can be easily moved to where they need to be. In this gorgeous weather, I’d totally be doing this outside, but in the winter an under bed storage box can go in the kitchen. Or wherever.
  2. When we first started messy play I would also put down a plastic dust sheet (we got ours from Homebase, but you can get them at any DIY store). It’s a option, but actually I found most things easy enough to clean off tiles, so I stopped using it. Carpet might be a different matter though!
  3. Sometimes I get Oscar involved in the actual making of whatever we’re doing (he loved making the Moon Sand), other times it’s better if I make it then call him over. You know your child, and your patience, best.
  4. Once they’re playing, be prepared for them to access the activity in surprising ways. Encourage them by all means, but if they run off and grab a train and start painting with that instead of the brushes you lovingly provided, so be it.
  5. But the best advice I think I can give is to be brave. There is little that wont clean up easily and quickly and what’s a bit of clean up to hours of focused play? And a bit of peace and quiet?

Click on the pictures for the recipes.


We love Moon Sand and while I dyed it blue here, you don’t need to at all. Also I love this because it lasts for ever. Just scoop it into an airtight container when they finished and it’s good for weeks.


Painting scared the bejaysus out of me, in our tiny house, but this Shaving Foam paint was one of our absolute winners. Oscar adored it and while it did take a bit of mixing the colours, it was totally worth it. He played for HOURS!


I love this simple recipe from The Imagination Tree and we’re planing to do this one this afternoon. Simple hardly describes it and I think it would speak to my nieces love of creams!

Slime-Dough-2-Ingredients (2)

How gorgeous does this Slime from Powerful Mothering look. Goooooooooo! Chia Seeds are available in every supermarket now and I love how this makes a simple goopy mass. It takes a bit of planning but hardly any work!

clean mud

Another super simple recipe from Growing a Jeweled Rose. I buy my Bicarb in big boxes online now and have a load waiting to be used. I’m planning this for a summer activity and if it’s in the garden it’ll need no cleaning up!

Rainbow Slime (1)

Now I know this one is a bit more complicated (but even the amazing Allison over at Learn Play Imagine says you don’t have to colour it.) but look at it!!!! I want to play with this forget the boy! However, before you start, liquid starch is really difficult to get hold of in the UK. You can, it’s just difficult and can be expensive.

Soooooo I found this amazing post by Fun at Home with Kids on how to make Slime the UK way, using a kind of detergent from Aldi.

Laundry Detergent Slime3

As we have no Aldi near us I cant test this myself yet. However the detergent and white PVA is cheap as chips so as soon as I find some I’ll be testing it out.

I hope you see something in here you think, “yeah I could have a go at that”. Go on be brave.

Let me know how it goes!




Advice From The Heart

1,2,3 it’s magic….

I know I often write about stuff I’m having a problem with but this week I thought I’d let you know something that’s really working for me at the moment (as always the caveat when it comes to children is AT THE MOMENT!!)

So as a quick update I had my Health Visitor visit, for his 2 Year Check. Hmmm. How can I say this? Well it wasn’t horrendous, but it wasn’t all that helpful either. First off she was late and I mean really late. An hour. By the time she arrived he was both annoyed that I wouldn’t let him in the garden (I didn’t think I’d be able to get him back in if I did) and knackered. Going well so far. She sat and listened to my concerns about his speech, with lots of yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah after everything I said, which I guess she felt indicated she was listening, but to me sounded the complete opposite. She did say she’d refer him for a hearing test to be on the safe side, and gave me some leaflets on speech development (the most useful of which told me to get more eye contact with him, which I have been trying to do). She said she couldn’t refer him to a speech therapist until he was 27 months (he’s currently 25 months) but would if he was still at this level by then. And that was about it. She didn’t weigh or measure him (I have to go to the surgery to get that done) and in fact didn’t interact with him at all. I mentioned the tantrums and she told me (no joke) to ‘just ignore the bad behaviour and praise the good’. Really? No shit Sherlock. Thanks for that nugget. And that was that, as she rushed to get to her next (late) appointment. And I worried about this? Fuck me! Sorry, but really?

Anyway the next day I decided to take a walk up to my local childrens centre. We used to visit regularly and participated in two courses there before Oscar turned one. I also met my wonderful friend Emma there. We haven’t been back since his courses finished. I don’t know, it just felt so much part of his babyhood I didn’t think to revisit it. But the HV left me their brochure and turns out they run a course to help develop speech! So rather than phone, I got Oscar in his buggy and walked the 1.5 miles to the centre (on the way he fell asleep, far too early, but it did mean when I arrived I could talk to the Support Workers in peace!) It was so nice to see them. They remembered both of us and the administrator remembered both of our names AND our surname when she booked him on to their Chatterbox course starting in September – that woman should go on Britain’s got Talent for her memory recall!! Course booking out of the way, they actually took the time to ask me how it was going. I mentioned the tantrums, and they didn’t dismiss me with stupid platitudes. It was nice. I asked about a book the HV mentioned as I wondered if they had it in their library of parenting books. They seemed surprised at the book I asked for as it’s not one they recommend (I wont name it here in case it’s your favourite toddler book – to each their own). They did suggest another one called 123 Magic. Kate told me how she’d used it’s principles to great effect with her son, counting down each time she needed him to do something. Sounded good.

As it happened I was unable to find the book in the library, so picked up Jo Frost’s Confident Toddler Care instead (flicked through, still sitting on the table unread). The only page I did see, listed what she believes are the touchstones for toddler care and included Communicating Clearly. That along with the stuff Kate mentioned got me thinking. Do I communicate well enough or clearly enough with Oscar. So I decided to give my own version of the 123 thing a try.

And do you know it only bloody works!

I get down to his level (if practical), tell him what we’re doing, if there are options I offer them to him, then I count him down. THEN I DO WHAT I SAID! I follow through.

“We’re going upstairs to have a bath now Oscar. You can either walk up the stairs or mama can carry you up. But whatever you decide we’re doing it in 1, 2, 3” (and I show him the 123 fingers)

I’m not asking him, I’m telling him and if at three he isn’t walking up the stairs, I tell him I’m carrying him. Within a week I’m finding I am getting to three less and less. And the tantrums? Well he might be a bit shouty, but he doesn’t wriggle and fight me the way he did. It’s amazing. His speech is no better, but his comprehension seems to be coming on and I think that’s down to my clearer communication. Yesterday he even came up to me, for the first time ever and ‘told’ me he needed a clean nappy. I was so proud.

I know some of you might be reading this and saying “well duh Lisa, of course that’s how you do it”. And if so I hate you all for not telling me sooner 😉 ! I thought about being sad that I wasn’t communicating clearly enough before, but what would that achieve? Instead I’m loving that taking an idea from here and a tip from there and squidging them together has produced something that works for us. For now.

Always, for now.

I’ll let you know how it goes!




You are invited…..

So as of tomorrow it will be only three weeks til my beautiful baby boy turns 2 and officially becomes a toddler. I don’t want to think I’m wishing his life away, but I can’t wait! He’s so much more fun the older he gets. I’m not saying his babyhood was boring, and god knows it was great when he couldn’t run away at the drop of the hat, but it just wasn’t this much fun. He never looked sideways at me, shrugged, smiled and started doing the hokey cokey when he was baby now did he?

Anyway this isn’t a post about that. About whether the baby phase is better than the toddler phase or vice versa. As I said my son is about to turn 2. And children’s birthdays bring with them that potentially stress inducing ritual – the children’s party!

I’m sure parents of older children, who have been through this and come out the other side are either laughing wryly or shuddering. And despite being new to this game, I think I can see why. But I”ll come back to that.

So OK, my experience of throwing parties, before I had Oscar, involved providing large amounts of booze, a couple of pizzas, some chips and dips and always a big bowl of M&Ms. OK we sometimes threw in rude word scrabble (any word could be used as long as you could justify why it was rude – ‘THOSE’ anyone?) and the chocolate mini roll challenge (how many can you fit in your mouth at once?), but basically if you provided enough booze and combined it with the right people that was enough.

I know this isn’t going to cut the mustard with children (although I think my son may already be in training for the mini roll challenge). And that’s fine. But what is?

How many??

How many??

So last year when all Oscar and all his little friends turned one, we bucked the trend of a quiet family only affair and had a party for him. But it wasn’t a local party with his little friends. Nope this was totally a party for us as a family. We went to Plymouth (our home town), hired a church hall for 30 and invited everyone we knew. Family, friends, children, the lot. We invited more people to that party than we did to our wedding. And just like our wedding, we had pasties and cake. A gorgeous cake made by my friend Michelle.

Isn't it gorgeous?

Isn’t it gorgeous?

We filled the hall with children’s toys (leant to us by the church hall for free) and basically turned it into a Toddler Group for the afternoon. Rather than party bags we gave each child a helium balloon (that had also had served the purpose of decorating the hall) to take away with them, and a piece of cake. And everyone seemed to have an awesome time. I got to see and talk to my friends I don’t see very often and Oscar got to run around like a loon. What more could we ask for?

Yup it was grand. But it was big! And organising something like that from 300 miles away wasn’t the easiest deal, so a while ago we decided not to have a party this year. We are instead going to have a family day out on his actual birthday and then take Oscar and his bessie mate Isabelle and her parents out for tea the weekend after. It still celebrates him turning 2 and the passing of another year, just in a slightly less public way. And I was fine with that. Its just all his little friends (who didn’t have parties last year) are now having parties. And we’re getting invited here there and everywhere. And that’s lovely. But I started to question whether I wasn’t a bit mean not to reciprocate. But then that begs the question, who would I be throwing the party for? Would crowds of 2 year olds start gathering in toddler groups around the area, dissing my name? Would they buggery. They couldn’t care less. As long as someone, somewhere is making with the cheddars and occasional chocolate pirate biscuit, every day’s a party day to them. So I realised I was worrying more about what the adults thought than the children.

And that made me think – is that how it is? Do we invest in hiring ‘exciting’ venues, themeing, various entertainment and spending a fortune on party bags for our children? Or is it, and this may be a controversial question, but is it for other parents? God I hope not. Maybe Pintrest has just too much to answer for, but I hate the idea that a child’s birthday could be used for point scoring among the local parent community. And that’s before you’ve even started to talk about presents! So far this year we have bought Oscar four presents. Three of them are second hand. It wont bother him whether it comes out of a box or not. I’m sure there will come a time when he will dictate that this is no longer acceptable, but until then, I’m buggered if I’m going to be dictated to by some sort of internal mummy bitch!

So after giving myself something of a talking to I decided my initial plan was and still is a blinder and one I’m really happy with. Maybe next year I’ll throw him and his mates a party. And if I do it’ll be one he’ll enjoy (whatever that is when he turns three!) Maybe I’ll do a proper retro one. With pass the parcel. And I wont be putting a prize in every layer that I can tell you. Where did that even come from? Are our children so delicate they can’t learn that not every one wins all the time? Or maybe I’m missing the point and it’s to keep them sitting long enough to finish the game? I don’t know. One thing I plan (and I’ll probably eat my words here) but I plan to forgo party bags completely. The balloon/cake combo went down so well I might give that another go. Maybe his balloon/cake combo will become like my big bowl of M&Ms, not his party without them!



Come back in a year and I’ll let you know how it goes.