Skip to main content

4 Wet-and-Messy Activities That Build Your Baby's Brain

Top early childhood educator Megan Martina encourages the children in her class to explore the world. Photo by Getty Images.Twice a week, every week, the boys and girls in our infant classrooms get wet and messy.

In fact, “Wet and Messy” activities—in which babies explore, touch, and and even crawl on different materials and textures—are a core part of our infant program. There’s a reason for that: “Babies learn about the world  through their senses,” explains Megan Martina, who won a 2015 Early Childhood Educator Award. “These activities foster healthy brain development.”

We asked Martina to share some of her favorite Wet and Messy activities from our infant program with you, our families, so you can encourage your babies to explore at home. “These are great for a rainy afternoon—as long as you don’t mind getting a little messy yourself,” Martina laughs.

Best, of all, these activities don’t require a trip to the toy aisle. They use materials you likely already have on-hand.

Finger Painting1. Warm Water/Sudsy Water

Why Martina Loves It: “This one sounds so simple, and it is! Babies love to splash in the water and look at their toys under the bubbles.”

Get Wet and Messy:

  • Partly fill two plastic tubs with warm water. Place the tubs on the floor on top of a towel or blanket.
  • To one, add tear-free shampoo and swish it around until it’s good and sudsy. Encourage your baby to help you get it sudsy, too!
  • Add a few of your baby’s favorite toys to the tubs and show her how to splash around in the water. Make noises, have fun, hide the animals in the bubbles, and then rinse them in the clean water. Explore the water together!

Talk with Your Baby: What’s in the tub? Do you see all the bubbles? When you touch a bubble, what happens? The bubbles pop! Pop! Pop! Can we make bubbles with our hands? Let’s try it!

Safety Note: Never leave an infant unattended during this activity or any activity with water: Even a few inches of water can be a drowning hazard for young children. Also ensure infants do not ingest bubbles.

Touching the Earth2. Digging in the Dirt

Why Martina Loves It: “On a very cold or rainy day, this is a great way to bring the outdoors in…as long as you don’t mind a little dirt.”

Get Wet and Messy:

  • Place few shovels full of dirt or potting soil and place it in your plastic tub. **Ensure soil is free of pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers!**
  • If you’d like, hide a few plastic toys in the dirt and give her a measuring cup, funnel, or simple tool to play with. Show her how to bury and uncover the toys in the tub.
  • Depending on the season, you can take this activity a step further by adding some soil to a small pot and help your baby plant a few easy-to-grow seeds.

Talk with Your Baby: Can you feel the soil in the tub? What does it feel like? Is it cold on your fingers? Where did the lion go? Can you help me find him?

Safety Note: Ensure that soil used is free from pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. It’s also important to supervise your child during this activity to ensure they don’t put soil in their mouths. 

3. Indoor Sand Box

Why Martina Loves It: “Babies love scooping and pouring fine materials like sand; they’re just so fascinated. Plus, this really helps them develop fine-motor skills.”

Get Wet and Messy:

  • You can keep this indoor sand box at the ready: Put a shallow layer of sand in the bottom of a clear storage tub that you can keep in the garage or patio.
  • Place the tub on top of a large blanket (this one can get messy!)
  • Give her scoops, funnels, sifters, and anything else she can explore, pour, and play with.

Talk with Your Baby: I think there might be some animals hiding in the sand. Can you find them? You are digging in the sand with your hands. Now you are pouring sand on top of the elephant. You are hiding the elephant in the sand. Where did the elephant go?

Safety Note: Supervise children to ensure they don’t place sand or other fine materials in their mouths.

11.20.15_Ed Award Martina Baby Painting4. Crawl and Make a Mural

Why Martina Loves It: “Some babies are iffy about getting paint on their hands. This activity encourages them to really go for it and have fun!”

Get Wet and Messy:This project can be fun for two babies—and two parents willing to allow their tots to really make a glorious mess. Martina notes that a diaper-only dress code works best for this.

  • Tape a large piece of cardboard or paper to an old sheet or blanket on the floor.
  • Squirt a few blobs of paint on the butcher paper in different spots and show your baby how to use his fingers to spread the paint around.
  • Allow him to crawl on the paper and explore different colors. Let him use his feet, knees, and legs to create a masterpiece!
  • Give baby(ies) a bath.

Talk with Your Baby: Do you feel the paint? Is Is it slippery? Can you crawl to me? Wow, you made a green stripe! Can you make a yellow stripe?

Find a KinderCare Center

Find a Center Nearby

Looking for a great learning center? We're here to help.
Get Started