One Full Minivan

Navigating parenthood one carpool lane at a time.

Mess-Free Art Activities


Mess-Free – But Fun-Filled – Art Activities for Your Little Ones


I am a neat freak. No two ways about it. I’m all for experiential play and learning and I recognize the value in messy activities for young children. (And by the way, it isn’t just me who values these things – type the importance of messy play into google and see what comes up!)

Unfortunately, I just can’t stomach watching messy play in my home. Foam involved? Not at my house. Finger-painting? Uh-uh. Tie-dye? Save it for summer camp. Sand? On the playground only.

However, like I said, I do want my kids to have the kinds of tactile experiences that will allow them to explore the world around them – touch, smell and taste included – and not just sight and sound.

So I’ve become quite creative at finding activities which give my kids the freedom to explore and learn, but keep my house and yard CLEAN.

Here are my top ten picks:

  1. Water ‘Painting’

Clever companies like Melissa and Doug have caught on to the fact that parents don’t always want to scrub paint off their carpets or have their children ruin their clothes every time an art project is undertaken. So they’ve created ‘water painting’ pads that allow kids to ‘magically’ create colorful pieces, without the spills or stains. Genius.

2. Playdough

I’ve spoken to some parents who aren’t into playdough because they think it’s too messy. True, little bits are bound to get lost, harden and become rock-like crumbs… but it’s actually quite easy to work with (home-made or store bought) playdough without causing havoc.

First, cover the area you are working in with newspaper, cardboard or a throw-away tablecloth. Keep the kids’ work on this surface only. It can be on the floor or a table. At the end of the activity, simply pick up the temporary surface and throw it away or recycle it. Whatever miniscule amounts of dough that have escaped can be vacuumed. The end!

In fact, this trick can be used for almost any messier activity as well – drawing, painting, stamps, etc. We have the dining room table covered 99% of the time (save for when we have guests over to eat), so it’s always ready to handle the kids’ art projects.

   3. Beading

No matter the child’s age, there’s a beading activity available: with large beads or small, in different colors, shapes, materials and even ‘melty’ beads. Where do these beads go? On different types of strings, strands or even boards, to create myriad different objects… It may not immediately seem obvious as an artistic, experiential venture to you, but it really is a fantastic activity for your kids!

     4. Magnets

Once relegated to the refrigerator, magnets are hot right now! They are everywhere! From Magnatiles to magnet discovery kits to magnetic puzzles and puzzle books to ‘magic’ magnet drawing boards, children learn to match, stick, move and build in a way that they simply can’t with any other material.

  5. Stickers

When I was a kid there were stickers that stuck to things. Sure, we had googly eye stickers, felt stickers, and even scented stickers – but that was it. They stuck, they didn’t do anything else.

Now kids have a lot more options. They have reusable stickers, wall decals, complete the picture stickers, complete-the-story-ultimate-collection-sticker books, mosaic projects and so many more involved, challenging and success-oriented (while also imagination-inspiring) sticker activities! And many of them won’t ruin your furniture!

6. Felt

I’ll be honest, we don’t actually have any felt board scene creation sets or storybook felt sets at the moment, mostly because in addition to being a neat freak, I really, really, really hate it when we lose pieces to anything. And I know we’d lose some of the small pieces that come with these sets. That said… For the normal parent, family and child, they are wonderful – especially for young children who can imagine a scene, but can’t yet put pen-to-paper to create them. Not to mention that such activities promote artistic development, linguistic development and other pre-reading skills in an interactive, fun way!

7. Lite Brite

Lite Brite – yes, it still exists. Yes, it’s still awesome.

8. Dry Erase (Wipe-off)

My kids love dry erase markers and the books and cards we use them with possibly even more than regular markers and crayons. Why? Because they aren’t yet old enough to make art that comes out how they want it to the first, second or hundredth try, and with dry erase they don’t have to. They just wipe away and try again.

There is such variety of activities with dry erase technology these days, allowing for writing and drawing practice and matching activities, or even as a way to mark what you’ve found in look and find books. The best part for you, of course, will be that you can clean off any surface that accidentally gets drawn on (well, maybe not walls? Not sure about that. Luckily I haven’t had to find out yet).

9. Floam

What is floam you ask? Read up! And then decide whether you want to purchase or take a stab at making your own (there are various recipes to try, such as this one or that one). Either way, your kids will love it, and clean up is easy!

10. Origami

Granted, you probably can’t expect your two year old to create a monarch butterfly or starship on his or her own, but there are origami projects available geared at young kids (often with a lot of parental help). The creation of something out of ‘nothing’ (just paper) will astonish your little ones, and possibly even keep them entertained for a number of minutes!

You can purchase an age-appropriate kit, or just read/watch up on tutorials available all over the web (such as this or that or the other).


On the other hand… Don’t be fooled!! The following activities are NOT mess-free (and often not even as washable) as some would have you believe. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying not to engage in these activities – we do, and they’re great! Just don’t think you are going to have an easy time with clean up…

  • Chalk – granted, this is an outdoor activity (usually), but it does stick to feet, shoes and clothing, getting swept into the house en masse, not to mention some brands (not naming any, but let’s just say it was publicized as ‘most washable’) have actually dyed our bathtub, not to mention made a mess of our children, their clothes and our walls!
  • Stamps – because kids really love to keep stamps on paper only and never stamp themselves, their clothes, your furniture, carpets or walls. Really.
  • Water beads – because kids really love to keep whatever they’re playing with ONLY in the container they’ve come from… and they don’t ever squish and break things. Yeah.
  • Plasticine  – the only plasticine we’ve ever used in our house actually dyed our nearly pore-free enamel dining room table.
  • Magic Scratch Paper – imagine tiny bits of black crayon EVERYWHERE. Not to mention it comes with an incredibly sharp little stick!
  • Mess-free Sand – Um, more like really, really sticky sand that you’ll never get off your clothes.



What are your favorite – or least favorite – art activities? Why? Share with us below!

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