Messy activities are a perfect option for playing with toddlers because they learn so much through sensory fun. Being allowed and even encouraged to make messes is also wonderfully liberating, both for the toddlers and their parents, giving everyone involved a break from the strictures and structure of daily routines. Take a deep breath, cover everything in plastic and have the wet wipes -- or garden hose -- ready, then enjoy letting your toddler become a messy monster for a little while.
Painting offers a wide range of fun and messy options for your toddler -- you don't have to limit your activities to simply painting on a white piece of paper with a brush and watercolors. Washable tempera paints are gooey and sticky and are perfect for finger painting or making designs with sponges or feathers. Put water-thinned tempera in spray bottles and turn your toddler loose on plain T-shirts or a white sheet hung on a low clothesline outside. Imitation is another favorite toddler activity, so if you are painting the house, give your toddler child-safe paints and brushes and let her add her personal touch to a small dog or bird house.
Do Play With Your Food
Messes are fun when you're a toddler, and so is playing with your food, so why not combine the two for a can't-miss activity? Stack up cereal pieces or small crackers, then knock them down again. While you may fail to see the humor after about the first time, your toddler will become increasingly gleeful with each successive destruction of the food tower. Finger paint on graham crackers using pudding, yogurt or watered-down frosting. Not only is this fun, you can eat your messes. Messy food fun can even be healthful: Let him spread peanut butter with his fingers on carrot and celery sticks, then smoosh raisins into the peanut butter, or plant broccoli and cauliflower florets in a flat dish of ranch dressing.
Make a Mess
Toddlers don't need a lot of fancy toys or electronic gadgets to have fun. Give your toddler a roll of toilet paper and let her shred it to make pretend snow or confetti to throw. Let her help you mix a batch of homemade slime or play dough to mess with on a plastic ground cover. Make your own water table by filling a large, shallow plastic dishpan with water, then let her splatter in it or use it for mud pies. And the old standby, a big pile of autumn leaves, is still a hit for active toddlers wanting to run and jump or throw harmless things at each other.
Good Clean Fun
Cleaning up after your messy activities can even be fun for your toddler. He can splash in a sudsy sink to "clean" his paintbrushes and hands. Blowing bubbles is a perpetual source of delight at this age, inside or outside. Let him "paint" himself with shaving cream or make beards and funny hairdos out of suds in the tub, then just rinse his mess right off. And if all else fails, let him run through the hose outside -- always fun even if you haven't been playing in the mud.