3 non-messy play ideas for toddlers

3 non-messy play ideas for toddlers

I’ll be honest: I hate messy play. Slime, gunge, anything like that – I’m out.

I force myself to let my 3 year old get messy every now and then, because I think it’s good for her, and can teach her all sorts of things… but 90% of the time, I’m all about non-messy play! My anxiety can’t take it when I see her sticky hands grabbing at my furniture, or something gross being flicked onto my patio, or gunk being rubbed into her hair… yuck!

We recently bought a Tuff Tray, which really lends itself well to messy play, but I’m finding it brilliant for non-messy play too. There’s so much to do with it! Here are 3 non-messy play ideas for toddlers, which can all work on the Tuff Tray, or elsewhere!

Small toy animals frozen in ice

1. Playing with ice

My toddler and I love playing with ice.

I love it because it’s pretty non-messy – she gets wet hands, and there might be the odd spillage onto our dining table, but it’s only water. You literally don’t even need to wipe it up if you don’t get around to it, and it will dry on its own. The perfect kind of play – play that tidies itself!

She loves it because it’s a novelty – it’s cold, and slippery, and feels totally different to any of her toys.

Plus, there’s so much you can do with ice!

If you’re feeling lazy (no judgement here!), just dump a few ice cubes into a bowl, add a few spoons, forks etc., and let your kid explore. What seems unexciting to us can often be super inspiring for a child.

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, try freezing toy animals in ice cubes for your child to rescue, or using some felt tip pens to do ice cube drawing! The amount of mess created is pretty much nothing – just a tray to wipe over afterwards!

A felt pen drawing with an ice cube smearing the pen.

2. Playing with grass

We love taking our Tuff Tray in the garden, and plonking it down in the grass. If you don’t have a Tuff Tray, just use a big mat instead!

We grab handfuls of grass, dump it on the tray, and start playing. It’s amazing the creative ideas that come out of a 3 year old’s brain. We’ll use the grass to make ‘pies’. We’ll arrange it into long lines. We’ll put it over our legs like a blanket. We’ll use a small bucket to make grass ‘sandcastles’. We’ll see how many different types of leaf or flower we can find in the grass. Such a simple activity can bring so much joy to a small child!

Honestly, it occasionally feels a bit like lazy parenting – I basically just stick my daughter in the garden and let her get on with it – but this is actually the kind of parenting that I think is the most beneficial to her! She has a real chance to explore the world around her, without me dictating what she should be doing, and she loves it. We constantly talk about what she’s up to, and what she could explore next, and we have a brilliant time together.

Best of all – when we’re ready to go back inside, all I need to do is brush a bit of grass off her bum, and we’re good to go!

Pipe cleaners on a Tuff Tray.

3. Pipe cleaners and pom poms

A £1 pack of pipe cleaners, and a £1 pack of pom poms (both from Poundland!) are two of my daughter’s favourite things to play with. I just dump them out onto the Tuff Tray, and she gets to work.

If you don’t have a Tuff Tray, you can either just dump them straight onto the floor, or use a dry paddling pool, if you want to keep them a bit more contained! My daughter used to sit right there in the pool, with the pom poms all around her, and it was so easy to tidy up afterwards. She very quickly learned that we needed to keep them inside the pool.

As above, there is so much a toddler can do with pom poms and pipe cleaners. Making models, lining them up, sorting them by colour, counting them… the list is endless.

This is also the sort of activity that is perfect to do with children of different ages, as they’re self-differentiating. A younger child (as long as they’re not so young that they’ll put the pom poms in their mouth!) can just enjoy feeling the pom poms, and exploring how we can bend the pipe cleaners – whereas an older child can make models, letters, etc. It’s a great activity for getting your kids to play together!

What are your favourite non-messy play ideas for toddlers?

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