Messy Play for Toddlers: Alphabet Soup -and- Why it's time to rename some of your programs

by - December 15, 2018

I was inspired by this post from, but wanted to make it a little more accessible for younger kids who would inevitably be putting the toys in their mouth. In her example, she used small boat toys, which would be awesome for older toddlers. I also considered doing small plastic fish toys, but at the end of the day I went with the numbers and letters because they weren't a choking hazard.

My tiny boy didn't hesitate to dive right in.


Babies and toddlers love to get their hands dirty, but no one likes to clean up a mess.  Come play at the Library and leave the mess behind! Remember to dress for mess. Bringing another outfit is encouraged.

  • under-bed storage containers. 
  • 4 boxes of your favorite Jell-O per container
  • Bath toys - I recommend not getting the squirty kind that have a hole in the bottom, because that is a recipe for MOLD. I used foam letters/numbers, bought for $4 or $5 at Target.
  • A surface that you don't mind getting messy - either a linoleum floor that is easy to mop, or a tarp.
  • A way to boil and transport a lot of water - I wound up buying a $15 electric kettle.
  • Wet wipes and paper towels to help parents with cleanup.

This requires overnight preparation. 

I used four boxes of Jell-O per container, then laid the letters on top and let it sit overnight. I tried to keep everything as food-safe and clean as possible, because something will inevitably go in the mouth with this age group.


Dive right in!


Initial set up was about $60, but that included reusable supplies. A second round of this program would only cost the $15 or so for 12 boxes of Jell-O.


I have had this program on the calendar for the past six months and this is the first time anyone came, and I had a large crowd.


For the first six months, the program was titled "Sensory Playtime." I had the -exact- same program in mind. No one signed up.

However, "Messy Play Morning" drew a nice crowd.

I think "sensory" sounds a bit like educator or librarian lingo, whereas "messy play" sounds like something fun I'd like to do.

Take some time to reevaluate the titles of your less successful programs.

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