Mud, Bubbles, Paint: A recipe for an (easy!) messy playdate

If you are like my husband and cringe at the thought of a ‘messy’ anything, fear not! While the littles did need a thorough bath after this messy playdate, the actual setup/cleanup is fairly simple (I wouldn’t have done it otherwise;) 

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paint in muffin tin
Splatter Painting!

Why A Messy Playdate?!

Raising kids is messy enough, why add more mess to clean up? Because there is so much to be learned through interacting with different materials! Just as kids are picking up new words, they are also developing a vocabulary for their senses. This mud is gooey/slimy/sticky, bubbles are slippery, rocks are hard. They are learning how things interact by smashing them together, throwing them, stepping on them. These are all building blocks for the basic science concepts we learn later in life, and we need experience to understand them. If you don’t believe me, just watch this clip by Neil deGrasse Tyson!

toddler splatter painting on tablecloth
  Plastic tablecloth makes a great (reusable) canvass



We had 5 ‘stations’ at the messy playdate for the kids to wander between. The stations didn’t stay separate very long, which was great! We really tried to let the kids lead the way and I had made sure there were no materials that were dangerous or couldn’t be hosed away for clean up. Bonus of multiple stations was that the kids had room to explore without too many conflicts about supplies. This age (we had 18mo-3years) is fairly independent in their play, but they did come together occasionally and have even more fun:)

Station 1: Chia Slime 

I found this idea for ‘Edible Sludge’ and experimented. Since some little ones were still in the ‘I need to taste everything’ stage I wanted to make sure all stations were safe. I happened upon this great recipe and although it was the toughest to clean (make sure to hose away before it dries;)! it was a big hit with everyone. I put it in a plastic sled I drug up from the basement and tossed in a few stretchy amphibian toys. I also added some green food coloring to make it more swamp like! My daughter really enjoyed helping me mix it up;)

Chia Slime messy playdate
Ewey gooey Chia slime


Station 2: Construction Site- 

This was the easiest! I had an unplanted dirt filled garden bed, added some gravel from our walkway and a few bits of wood we had lying around. I used a cardboard tube for a ‘tunnel’ and a half buried bowl filled with water for a ‘lake.’ Added some trucks (these ones by Green Toys are so durable, love them) and that was it!

messy playdate construction site
A muddy, messy playdate construction site!

Station 3: Natural Paintbrushes and Splatter Painting-

 I got the idea for these natural paintbrushes off of the Messy Little Monster blog and it was a hit. It worked perfectly since I had lost all of our paintbrushes;) They were also really well suited for splattering on the white plastic tablecloth I hung on our fence!

Messy Playdate For Toddlers DIY Natural Paintbrushes
A Simple DIY Blog For Busy Parents

Station 4: Foam pit-

 I got some inexpensive bubble bath and poured it in the plastic pool, then filled with the hose. The kids had a lot of fun with this, and added bonus it served as the washing up spot at the end of the day!

Station 5: Sprinkler Run-

 We had thrown this pvc sprinkler together on a hot weekend, and it was a perfect addition to the Messy Playdate! Kids were tentative at first but then *most decided they loved running through it!

PVC Sprinkler Carwash
Braving the cold sprinkler

In addition to the 5 stations the kids also had access to our Wine Barrel Sandbox and  Mud Kitchen. If you are looking for more ways to make your backyard an everyday playground check out our Backyard Playground page for our best simple ideas!

Setup and Structure:

We really tried to keep this child led. Other than showing the kids where the stations were and running interference on any conflicts the parents really got to just sit back and relax! We let them mix materials and use the stations however they chose. This did mean that the slime ended up in the sand pit, and the trucks ended up in the foam pit, but exploration was really the whole point of the day and the kids had a blast!

Watermelon is also a great snack for a messy playdate, keeps the mess rollin’ and only clean up once!

eating watermelon at a messy playdate
The best (messy) messy playdate snack!


Most of these you probably have lying around the house! 

  • Cheap Bubble Bath
  • Kids Pool
  • Chia Seeds
  • Flour
  • Food Coloring
  • Tempera Paint
  • White Plastic Tablecloth and clips/string for securing to fence
  • Pencils or sticks and rubber bands + natural materials for paintbrushes
  • Old Muffin Tin
  • Cardboard boxes or tarps to cover ground for work stations (optional)
  • Toy Trucks, gravel, dirt area, shovels
  • Plastic container for goo (I used an old plastic sled)
  • Wipes, old towels and a hose;)
  • Watermelon and snacks!

Happy mess making and please share any messy ideas you have in the comments!

Mud, bubbles, paint, a recipe for an easy messy playdate

Surprisingly easy to clean up!

A quick to setup, easy to clean up Messy Playdate with friends!

8 thoughts on “Mud, Bubbles, Paint: A recipe for an (easy!) messy playdate

    1. Thank you! I love things that are inexpensive and reuseable, the tablecloth is both! I also use it as a play mat for messy activities:)

    1. Thank you! I was actually surprised at how quickly the cleanup went! Having it outside meant mostly having the kids jump in the bubble pool then drying them off with towels outside, and collecting the paint supplies. (Or maybe it was just that a group of moms can clean up a playdate faster than your average human haha:)

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