For your toddler, eating dinner creates an awe-worthy mess, but not all mess is created equal. Creative sensory activities help build your tot's understanding of the world, different materials and how the two coexist. The messier the activity and the more manipulable the material, the more creatives possibilities exist.
If your toddler is too young to reliably grab a fork, then he's probably not going to get much out of a paintbrush. Ice cube paint is a perfect way to enhance his creativity through colors and scribbling, but without all the fine motor frustration. Fill an ice cube tray with water and add a few drops of food coloring to each section. Remember that dark coloring creates vibrant tones on paper, allowing that deep burgundy ice cube to paint bright red. Empty the frozen cubes into a bowl and set it on a large spread of white paper. Demonstrate how the cubes paint on the white paper and let your toddler try. Expect him to suck or simply hold the cubes before he actually gets around to painting with them.
Rainbow rice makes vacuum nuts cringe, but it also lets your toddler include texture and color in his art work. Dye several cups of white rice different colors using a zip-seal bag and food coloring. Cook the rice for 40 minutes in the oven until it feels completely dry. Show your toddler how to cover his entire paper with glue and place each color of rice in a different bowl with a plastic spoon. Let him spoon the rice over his glue-covered paper, creating scenes and mixing colors. He can also move the rice around the paper, even after it has landed, using his spoon.
Sand is undoubtedly one of the messiest materials your toddler can use, but it also allows for incredible creativity. Even if you don't have a traditional sand box, you can make your own by filling a long, shallow plastic bin with sand. Add several cups of water so the sand will hold its shape, an essential feature when your creative angel is constructing the next Great City. Provide cups, spoons and shovels so your little one can experiment with different shapes, directions and formations in the sand. Always cover the sand bin afterward, if doing the project outside, so it doesn't become a litter box for loose cats.
Dough and toddlers go together like peanut butter and jelly. Older toddlers will especially enjoy making something they eat and share with others. Make the recipe for bread dough with your toddler the night before, and let him get creative the next morning with the risen dough on a flour-covered block. Let him twist, mold and flatten the dough into various shapes. He could even create his own set of bread characters! Let him enjoy sprinkling flour over the dough as he shapes and molds his edible treat.