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Messy Summer Fun! 17 Indoor and Outdoor Activities on the Cheap

Summer is here, and you know what that means, right? Long, unstructured days punctuated by “I'm bored” and “There’s nothing to do,” which really means kids are tired of doing all of the same things and they crave new activities they can feel excited about. This is the perfect opportunity for messy fun to swoop in for the emotional rescue this summer. After all, what could be more festive than a little bit of parent-approved pandemonium? So never fear, because the key to milking the most fun out of any summer is including more messy fun in the mix.

This summer, why not try a new messy activity each week? Here are 17 messy activities that will keep your kids smiling outdoors or indoors, without breaking the bank.

1. Take aim, color. Mark off a square play arena outdoors with five-foot-tall bamboo garden stakes and blue painter’s masking tape. Fill squirt guns or squirt bottles with non-toxic watercolor paints, don clear swim goggles, and let the kids ‘decorate’ each other dressed in white T-shirts and leggings or sweats. The only rule is no one leaves the field until all the paint is spent!

Take a whack at it. Fill a piñata two-thirds of the way full with cooked, well-drained spaghetti, then add small plastic toys, foil-wrapped granola bars, and plastic-wrapped candies. To extend the fun, hang the piñata on a pull cord threaded through an eye hook so you can pull it up and down as kids swing at it with a bat or broom handle. Secure a tarp underneath with duct tape (indoors) or camping stakes (outdoors) for easy cleanup.

Egg-centric art. Break the tops off real eggs and pour the yolks and whites into Tupperware to make quiche or a soufflé later. Keeping empty shells in the carton, fill each with acrylic paints of various colors. Outside, or in the garage or basement, hang a large canvas against a sturdy wall or fence and let the kids take aim and fire until they create a masterpiece. Use plastic drop cloths to catch the spatter as needed.

Franken-beauty. Make natural facial masks out of banana, avocado, or cocoa. Sit your kids around a large table and have each take turns applying masks to each other’s faces. Have some hand mirrors handy, so the kids can see what all the squeals are about.

Construction junction. Supply your kids with lots of sheets, blankets, and pillows for fort construction. If you can mount a few Hula Hoops strategically around the room, they come in handy. You might also supply bandanas and bungee cords. Inspect the results for hazards. Keep food and drink separate.

Reach for the foam. Play messy Twister in the yard by mixing foam shaving cream and food coloring. Wear clothing that can get stained. If one of the kids is worried about clothing stains, use white shaving cream instead.

Pudding slide. Make about a gallon (about four litres) of chocolate pudding. Drop large spoonfuls of pudding onto a Slip & Slide. Have the kids take a running start down a low-grade slope. To make the slide slipperier, sprinkle it with water from a sprinkler or set the hose sprayer to mist. Add more pudding or water, as needed.

Slimeball. Find an online recipe to make nontoxic slime and let kids prepare it, then play a game of hide the bouncy ball in the slime. Use a blindfold and a timer to see who can find their toys the fastest. Enjoy the groans.

Picasso footsie. Roll out a long sheet of paper and pour puddles of acrylic paint at one end. Have each child step in one color per foot and walk across the paper. Switch to the other side of the paper to balance out the look. Trim and hang the art on a fence or wall to dry.

Pasta fling. Cook one box of spaghetti per participant. Get some large buckets and fill them two-thirds of the way with water. Add enough flour to thicken the water, then add the cooked spaghetti. The only rules are: use your own spaghetti, no bucket-dumping, and no touching - just throwing. Put the kids in the square play arena and get the heck out of the way!

Mud puddle fun. On a sturdy table at playing height, fill a small kiddie pool with dirt and just enough water to make mud. Add digging and pouring toys for an hour of industry for young kids.

Messy fun for a large family

Trashion runway. Don’t discard your reusable recyclables. Spread them out evenly in tarps with plenty of clear tape, masking tape, painter’s tape, and duct tape. Pair kids up into design teams. Give a time limit, like one hour. The assignment is to design a runway-worthy fashion for each team out of only the trash that’s been supplied. Have a runway show afterward to display the results.

Musical silly string. Put half the group in the middle of a plastic tarp. Encircle them with the other half of the group. Turn on the music. Have the inside group move in one direction and the outside group move in the other direction while spraying the inside group with silly string. When the music is turned off, switch groups.

Duck-Duck-Dump. Have kids sit in a circle for a game of Duck-Duck-Goose. But first, hand them a cup of water and a half-cup of flour to pour over each goose’s head.

The opposite of tiny bubbles. Make bubble mix with 10 cups of regular dish soap and five gallons (about four litres) of water. Let it sit overnight. Do not agitate the solution as you pour it into a small wading pool slightly larger than a Hula Hoop in diameter. Have one child don a pair of clear goggles and stand in the middle of the pool without splashing. Let two kids lower a Hula Hoop over the child and then pull it straight up into a giant bubble.

Three-legged color run. Set up a start and a finish line for a short jaunt. Tie the legs of two kids together and have them wear clear swim goggles and white play clothing. Have your other kids stand on the sidelines and throw color from bags of nontoxic Holi colors (the type used for Color Runs, available to purchase online). Repeat until everyone has run. The most colorful pair wins.

Sloppy volley. Divide children into two groups. Put a line across the centre of your play arena. Everyone has to stay on their own side and wear swim goggles. Place a table of supplies within reach of the backcourt on each side. On the table, supply large bowls of chilled mashed potatoes, Jell-O, pudding, and cooked oatmeal. Tint food with food coloring if clothing can be stained. On your mark, get set, food fight!

Making messy work for you

Remember, the key to setting up an unforgettable messy activity isn’t about imitating the trendiest Pinspirations. The key is to let kids make a mess and have fun doing it.

These tips will save your sanity:

  • If you can’t go outside, consider using a well-ventilated garage, shed, or basement. Some activities work better indoors than others, and some won’t work.
  • Check out the house painting supply section of your local store for inexpensive items to protect your space.
  • Have a designated photographer who may not be slimed, spaghettied, or painted (make it you).
  • After a messy activity, hand out messy food, too, like popsicles or ice cream.
  • If you don’t want kids to get stained or dirty, you can still make a mess. Use smocks, shower caps, and bandanas to cover up.
  • The sky’s the limit when it comes to making messes. Use your imagination; then consider safety precautions, as needed. 

Like most parents, Christina’s first instinct is not to necessarily choose the messiest activity, but her desire to let kids have fun usually prevails. 



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