Messy Play for Little Ones (ages 0-5)

Be sure to let caregivers know of any potential allergens associated with these activities, and have boxes/containers ready to show them ingredients, if needed.

Program Blurb:

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.

Alphabet Soup

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 human digging in.

Supplies Needed: 

Prep Work:

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.

Program Agenda:

Welcome families, point out the bathroom and cleaning wipes, then let everyone dive in!

Program Cost:

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.

Some thoughts:

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.

Foodie Fingerpaints

Take three containers of plain or vanilla yogurt and put a few drops of yellow food coloring in one, blue in another, and red in the last.

Mix each well, and cover a table with a cheap white table cloth or a roll of large, white bulletin board paper and use it as a canvas.

Dino Dig (Or Animal Bath, or Car Wash)

Take large, plastic toys such as dinosaurs, farm animals, or cars, that are big enough not to be choking hazards, and make sure they are nice and clean. 

Make 4 boxes of chocolate yogurt and spread it haphazardly in the bottom of a large under-bed storage container, and toss your toys into it to get nice and dirty. 

In another container, have some soapy water. It's time to wash the toys!

Have a third container or large towel available to catch the cleaned toys.

Pouring Station

Get out that old trusty under-bed storage container again, and fill it a couple of inches with room temperature water. 

Place small cups inside (avoid glass or Solo cups that can break) and let the kids scoop and pour. If you're feeling adventurous, set up another container next to it and let the kids move the water from one container to another.

The floor may get pretty slippery fast.

Fruit Stampers

I have done this program a million times and I will do it another million, but caregivers have to take a very active role in this activity to prevent choking hazards from occurring. 

Take different fruits and cut them into smaller pieces that can be held more easily, while still showing the unique textures to each fruit. Make a simple paint by making watery rice cereal with a bit of food coloring, and stamp away on whatever surface you choose.