I could not talk about messy play without mentioning mortars and pestles.   This has to be one of my favorite messy tools for indoor play.

Children love pounding and mashing.  

This harnesses the natural childhood schema of transforming – changing the state of a material. The repetitive actions of schematic play allow children to construct meaning in what they are doing.

91 Curiosity Table Mortar Sally

In my own classroom, I have noticed a deep satisfaction when children pound and grind found items.

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This gray mortar and pestle set is one of the most common that I find at garage sales and thrift shops.

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Types of mortar

I have found wooden ones for just $7 at the local Asian market.  These are my favorite as they can withstand enthused smashing!


I will warn you – the children can break the marble, ceramic and Molcajete mortar & pestle sets.  I buy these at thrift stores and garage sales because they do tend to break.  Wood and metal are more resilient to the pounding.


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I love this simple slab of rock with a round rock for a DIY mortar and pestle.

Check with your local landscaping business for donations. Every year the landscaping store near my school always supplied me with 5 rock slabs and 10 big Mexican pebble rocks for pounding.


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One of my favorite loose parts are flowers and petals.

The children will crush the flowers to be used in the atelier (art studio) for art making.

My secret.  Partner with a local florist.  Ask to be given the flowers that are no longer sellable.  You will have an endless supply.


  • Do check with your florist to see if they purchase flowers grown with toxic pesticides.  This is especially important for children who are likely to taste the flowers.
  • Check for any children who may have allergies to flowers and herbs.


  • Some grocery stores carry edible flowers and I will ask for those to be donated.
  • Ask your families and neighbors for cutting from their gardens.  I have had many donations over the years.

We smash the flowers and herbs both fresh and dried.


Jenni, a colleague and member of the Fairy Dust team – purchased a large four-cup capacity Mortar and Pestle set for outdoor play.

Without prompting, one of her students started crushing sidewalk chalk into mud.


Do you provide children with crushing and smashing experiences?  Have you used a mortar and pestle in your classroom or playground?

 Click here for my favorite Messy Play in the first issue of Methods Magazine.