Looking for cheap activities for your kids? Creating a mess is tons of fun and affordable too. No trips to expensive toy stores needed.
Through messy play, children explore different textures and sensations, helping stimulate their senses of touch, sight, smell and hearing. It allows them to play and explore without any end goal, engaging their imagination.
Sensory play has an important role in their development, helping improve hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and problem-solving skills. Plus, it’s a great way to spend quality time with your child!
If you’re ready to roll up your sleeves, we have a few activities to encourage sensory play that your kids will absolutely love! Plus, these are super affordable and won't break the bank!
Affordable activities your kids will love for messy sensory play
While there are lots of great and expensive toys and activities you can purhase like Trolls kids gifts or a monthly Toucan Box to entertain your kids, these aren't always budget-friendly or good for those who don't have that much money to spend or commit to each month. Luckily, you don't have to spend oodles of cash to keep your kids happy and entertained. To stop boredom from setting in, there are lots of cheap messy sensory play activities that can bring them joy for hours.
This is a great activity that puts a new spin on painting, helping to improve your kids’ spatial awareness and coordination skills.
What you’ll need:
Paint (the more colours the better!)
Something to paint on, like thick paper or cardboard
A workspace with a bit of room in case paint splatters
An easel (you don’t need one, but it will be easier)
What to do:
Fill all the balloons with paint using the funnel, or get your hands dirty and let your child fill it up without one! Tie it closed when you’re done. Poke a hole in the bottom of the balloon with something sharp, like a pin or needle. With the paint dripping out, it’s time to create. Think of your balloons as the paintbrush!
Our top balloon tips: Balloons are a cheap and easy way to have some fun with kids, but they aren't always so great for the environment so keep an eye out for biodegradable balloons or those made with natural materials. There are lots more eco-friendly balloon varieties available nowadays. They can also be used to create fun balloon balls by using a Bubabloon fabric balloon cover over the top of a regular balloon to stop the balloon from popping!
Create a sensory rice bin
Sensory bins can provide your kids with hours of entertainment and stimulation. They’re also easy to vacuum up when playtime’s over, so you don’t need to worry about being left with a huge mess.
What you’ll need:
Rice (1 cup for each colour)
Measuring cups for scooping, mixing and collecting toys.
What to do:
In separate Ziplock bags, mix each cup of rice with a few drops of the desired food colour and a few drops of vinegar. Give it a good shake around so the colour is evenly spread. Open the bag and lay the rice out to dry. Once it’s dry, tip the rice into a tub or bucket and let your kids have fun! Depending on the size of the tub, you can add toys or their favourite action figurines into the rice for an extra sensory experience.
This is a classic messy play activity that kids love. It’s great for their spatial awareness and fine motor skills and shows them what happens when we mix different colours. Use this opportunity to develop your kid’s vocabulary and communication skills by chatting to them about what the paint feels like and the different colours they’re playing with.
What you’ll need:
This one is super easy! All you need is a large sheet of butcher’s paper (or paper plates) and some paint. Let your little ones dip their fingers (and hands) into the paints and get creating! It goes without saying – make sure you have enough space around you to contain the mess.
Create a jelly sea
Jelly can be used for more than just eating – it is a great medium for sensory play. The sticky, squelchiness of the jelly is a great way to encourage your child to experience how new textures not only feel, but taste!
You don’t need to stick to the sea theme – pick any colour and use any toys you want.
What you’ll need:
Large plastic tub or container
Some aquatic-themed toys (or toys of your choosing!).
What to do:
After you make the jelly according to the packet instructions, pour it into the play container and add the toys. Then, let the jelly set. Once the jelly is ready, your kids can have fun ‘fishing’ the toys out of the jelly sea.
You can also make up jelly in different containers using a variety of colours. Tip all the different colours into a large, flat container and let your kids explore their sense of touch by squishing it all together. Talk to them about the different colours they are playing with, and what the jelly feels like between their fingers.
Painting with toy cars
Toy cars can add a new twist to painting, offering up a little variety, while also helping improve hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. Collect different types of toy cars and substitute them for the paint brush. Let your child dip them in paint and have fun experimenting with a variety of wheel patterns and colours across their paper. You can even supersize the painting and lay out some butcher’s paper, so your child can zoom across it with larger cars, or other remote controlled toys like trucks.
Top tip: If you don't want to ruin your child's precious toy cars, then search for some in charity shops to use for messy play.
More ideas for messy sensory play your kids may enjoy
There are so many fun and easy DIY activities you can do with kids at home that they'll love. Here are a few more ideas that are cheap and fun:
Playdough fun: Playdough is a classic sensory activity that kids love. You can make your own playdough using flour, salt, water, and food colouring, or you can purchase it pre-made. Encourage your kids to use different tools, such as rolling pins, cookie cutters, and plastic knives to explore the texture and shape of the playdough.
Oobleck: Oobleck is a non-Newtonian fluid that can be made by mixing cornstarch and water. Kids can explore the unique properties of this substance by squeezing it, pouring it, and making designs with it.
Mud kitchen: Set up a mud kitchen outside using a plastic tub or container filled with mud, and provide your kids with various kitchen utensils such as spoons, cups, and bowls. They can use the mud to make pies, cakes, and other creations.
Water beads: Water beads are small beads that expand when soaked in water. They provide a unique sensory experience for kids as they can squish and squirt the beads between their fingers.
Cloud dough: Cloud dough is a sensory material that can be made by mixing flour and baby oil. Kids can use their hands to shape and mold the dough, and it can also be used with different tools like cookie cutters.
Edible finger painting: You can make your own paint by mixing food colouring with cornstarch or flour and let your kids finger paint on a piece of paper or even on a baking sheet and then eat it.
Sensory bin with beans or corn: Fill a bin or tub with beans or corn and let your kids explore the different textures and sounds. You can also add different items to the bin like plastic animals, cars, or small toys.
What are the benefits of sensory play for children?
Sensory play is an important aspect of child development, as it allows children to explore and engage with their environment through their senses. There are many benefits of sensory play, including:
- Cognitive development: Sensory play helps children develop their cognitive skills, such as problem-solving, memory, and attention. As children engage with different textures, shapes, and materials, they are challenged to think critically and creatively.
- Language development: Sensory play can also help children develop their language skills. As children explore and play with different materials, they are exposed to new vocabulary and concepts, which can help them to express themselves more effectively.
- Physical development: Sensory play can also support children's physical development. As children engage with different textures and materials, they are developing their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
- Emotional development: Sensory play can also help children develop their emotional intelligence. As children engage with different materials and textures, they are able to explore and express their emotions in a safe and controlled environment.
- Creativity: Sensory play allows children to be creative, experimenting with different materials, and using them in new ways. It encourages children to think outside the box and to come up with new ideas.
Sensory play can be particularly beneficial for children with special needs, such as autism or ADHD. It can help to improve their social and communication skills, as well as their ability to focus and pay attention. Sensory activities can also help children with autism or ADHD to develop their fine and gross motor skills, as well as their sense of touch, smell, and taste.
To adapt sensory play for children with special needs, it is important to consider their individual needs and abilities. For example, some children with autism may prefer to engage in solitary activities, while others may prefer to engage in group activities. Similarly, some children with ADHD may prefer activities that are more stimulating, while others may prefer activities that are more calming.
The final word on affordable messy play and sensory play for children
These are some fun and affordable activities that can encourage messy play and sensory exploration for children. Activities include balloon painting, creating a sensory rice bin, finger painting, creating a jelly sea, and painting with toy cars. These activities can help improve hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and problem-solving skills. Sensory play also allows children to play and explore without any end goal, engaging their imagination. It's a great way to spend quality time with your child and have fun at the same time. Remember to use eco-friendly materials when possible.
If you’re still not entirely onboard with the mess, there are plenty of less-messy toys that still promote sensory play. Think about toys that will get your kids touching and experiencing new textures, like Play-Doh, musical instruments, or sensory books. Sometimes it can be as easy as getting outside for a walk. Any toy or activity that encourages hands-on learning and gives your children the chance to engage in tactile play is ideal for sensory play!
You can also check out our article for cheap kids craft ideas under £5 as well as these 50 free and cheap things to do with kids in the school holidays for more inspiration for affordable activities.
Going on holiday? Here are some great ways to entertain your kids on holiday too!