Thursday, 15 March 2012

40 Ways to do Sensory Play

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Sensory Play Ideas for Preschoolers

You know the educational and developmental benefits of sensory play and you know your kiddos will love all the endless messy exploration and learning - but sometimes you just need a little inspiration right? Sensory Play is our favourite way to spend and afternoon, so I thought I'd share with you some fun ways to explore...

1. Playdough - you can read about the benefits here, super simple and cheap to make (you can find our favourite recipe at the end of this post) with endless colour and scent options - you can literally tailor it to whatever your child is into. Check out our Play with Playdough Pinboard for inspiration

Sensory Play Ideas for Preschoolers
Shaving Foam Bath Paint

2. Shaving foam - great for mark making and messy play. Use straight from the can, mix with food colouring like we did with these bathpaints, or equal parts PVA glue to make cloud paint

3. Dried beans or seeds - lovely to sink your hands into and ideal for pouring and scooping. You could try lentils, green split peas or broad beans like we did in our Small World Farm

4. Bubbles - I find the easiest way to do this is to put a tiny amount of water in a deep container, a load of washing up liquid/ dish soap and let the kids make the bubbles - the kiddos enjoyed whisking and squeezy bottles in the past - a sponge saturated with soap and squeezed into submission would be fun too!

5. Mud - I'm pretty sure there is no way around this, especially if you have little boys. Set up a mudpie kitchen in the garden, plant seeds or use soil as a filler in a diggers and dumpers tub

Rainbow Goop

6. Goop, gak, flubber, oobleck, slime - whatever you call it, you have got to try it! Mix equal parts of cornflour and water to make this amazing non-Newtonian fluid- untouched it is a liquid, but when manipulated it turns to solid form We mixed ours with food colours to make this Rainbow Goop and Glow in the Dark Paint

7. Paint - try printing with toys, homemade puffy paint, stamping with fruit or just hand them a roll of paper and enjoy the process

8. Cotton wool - a lovely early sensory experience for babies (under supervision of course), check out our bathtime sensory tub for little ones and add water  to turn it into a fun science lesson for older kids

9. Water - easier to do outdoors in the Summer but if you're not blessed with outside space or sunshine set up on an old shower curtain or oilcloth with a thick towel on the top. Set out plenty of containers for pouring, baby dolls for bathing or do a sink/ float experiment with household objects and  plastic toys

10. Waterbeads - you've probably seen these little gems on pretty much every playblog around the world (except here, of course!) We have some on order since finding them online and I Vin can't wait to get his hands stuck in. In the meantime check out how Nurturestore and The Imagination Tree played with theirs

11. Shredded paper - chances are you've not seen the play possibilities in you paper shreddings, but your kiddos will. We used green shreddings as grass in our We're Going on a Bear Hunt playtime, you could bury plastic eggs in amongst the shreddings to make an easter tub or use them for some cutting practise


12. Ice - another free option, just a little set-up beforehand - use cubes to build igloos, freeze small toys to excavate, add food colouring or create a snowscene

DIY Instruments
13. Instruments - a simple music basket is easy to put together, but will provide hours of fun. Ours contains a mix of shop-bought and homemade instruments - empty tin cans for banging, shakers made from Kinder Eggs and dried rice, beans and marbles, party blowers, a balloon stretched over a canister to make a drum, elastic band 'guitar' - start with the quintessential pots and pans drumkit and see where yours and their imagination takes you

14. Fairy Lights - great for exploring sight and introducing concepts like light, dark, shadow, twinkling etc. My little one isn't keen on total darkness but playing by fairy light seems to capture his imagination. String them up above the bed and lie down pretending to stargaze, hang them around a fort to make a cosy reading nook, fill a transparent storage crate for a DIY light-table or use card with holes punched in to make a luminary (again supervision is strongly advised, especially in younger children)

Spaghetti Messy Play

15. Spaghetti - kids are going to play with their food, it's practically a rite of passage no? The least you can do is make it more fun. We mixed cooked and cooled spaghetti with vegetable oil and food colouring, then hid plastic dinosaurs in amongst the strands in our Slimey Squiggly Spaghetti Playtime
16. Go on a sound-walk - talk a walk in the woods and listen our for bird calls, or down a busy street hunting for car noises, dogs barking and sirens. One of our favourites is to head to the East-End of London where there are lots of markets and listen out for the traders promoting their goods.

17. Listen in a shell - remember how captivating it was as a child hearing the sound of the sea inside a seashell? If you don't have any shells to hand experiment with cups, plastic bowls and toys to see if you can hear the sea

18. Listen to an audio-book - you can usually pick them up at the library or there are hundreds of stories on Youtube (The Tiger Who Came to Tea is one of our favourites). Better yet have your kids record their own - use your iPhone or a dictaphone to record them reading their favourite books ('We're Going on a Bear Hunt' is a great choice, they can make sound effects too!)

Tactile Exploration 

19. Explore different textures like we did with these Tactile Exploration Cards

20. Search your kitchen for different scents - the spice cupboard is a good place to start - some of our favourites are ginger, cinnamon, vanilla extract and vinegar. For older kids you can turn this into a Montessori inspired matching game using two different scents in identical bottles and have them match the smells.

21. Make perfumes - we used flower petals, pink handwash, glitter, water, and food colouring in our Valentines Day Perfumes. For boys you could challenge them to mix up a disgusting concoction or make a baking soda and vinegar explosion.

Jelly Sensory Play

22. Play with jelly - cold, slimey, squishy, cheap and colourful fun. Bury plastic toys in it before it sets like we did with this Number Jelly or add sweets like these Jelly Snakes to create an all round sensory experience. Have your older kid help you make the jelly and discuss the different properties of the mixture at different stages of the process.

23. Coffee - I love this one, it's one of my favourite scents, readily available and it is not something you would expect kiddos to enjoy playing with. We used whole beans in our Barista Sensory Tub, ground coffee to do mark making or used grounds in our coffee playdough.

Homemade Moon Sand

24. Moon Sand - I've also seen this referred to as cloud dough on some blogs. Much cheaper and easier clean up than the shop-bought stuff we have been playing with our batch since we first made it back in November. Since then we have used it to Dig for Dinosaurs, on our Construction Site Small World and in a Seaside Sensory Tub.

25. Sand - if you don't have an outdoor space for a big sandpit you can still enjoy sand on a smaller scale indoors - either in a sensory tub, using a plastic under the bed storage box or mixing with water for some pretend play cooking.

26. Water Xylophone - I bet this is another one you remember as a kid right? Line up your glasses filled with different amounts of water, then use a spoon or drumstick to play like a xylophone. Add food colouring to the glasses for an extra sensory element (I have seen some gorgeous rainbow coloured xylophones on Pinterest)

Sensory Baths
27. Sensory Baths are quite the new craze of the blogging world. You can make a themed bathtime (there are a lot of  rainbow themed St Patrick's Day Baths floating round the blogosphere lately) or just run with what you have on hand - ours include food colouring in the water, bubbles, cooking extract or essential oils and some plastic toys. You can see our Underwater Sensory Bath here and check out Growing a Jewelled Rose's Holiday Themed Baths too.
28. Glitter - some people love it, some people hate it. I think it's a great sensory material - the sparkles capture a young child's imagination, when dried it has a tactile element too. If you're not up for liberal amounts of glitter glue you could try some glitter crayons, they work best on dark coloured paper and we have even coloured on sandpaper too!

Jack O'Lantern Sensory Bag

29. Sensory Bags - this is a good mess free option and perfect for when you need a few minutes to answer the phone or cook dinner. Fill up a ziploc bag with something squishy or oozy and tape it shut. Shaving foam and a drop of paint is a good one for learning about colour mixing. We also used orange hair gel, lentils and foam cut outs to make these Jack O'Lantern Sensory Bags or clear handwash, glitter and silver stars in this sparkly sensory bag.

30. Pick flowers - (with permission of course!) little girls especially love flowers and I totally get why. They are beautiful to look at and learn colours, smell lovely and feel soft under your fingers. Maybe try pressing some of your favourites to make a collage or use them in a flower petal sensory tub

31. Walk barefoot - one of my most favourite things about Summer is to walk barefoot in grass. There is actually a lot of evidence to suggest it is good for kids - from the sensory learning opportunities to developing balance, coordination and those little foot muscles. Sand, mud and grass are good places to explore and climbing trees barefoot is the kind of childhood rite of passage I think we hould all be striving for in our kiddo's lives.

Exploring Light with Preschoolers
Exploring Light & Dark

32. Play with torches - I don't know a preschooler who isn't overjoyed when handed a torch in a dark room! You could go exploring in a dark cave, make Shadow Puppets or experiment with metallic objects like we did when we played in the dark

33. Get in the kitchen - I talked recently about the learning opportunities involved in baking including maths, science and language development. Whether you are baking cupcakes or mixing up a pot of soup there are fewer ways to incorporate all of the senses in one playtime. Baking bread is a great choice - kneading the dough and the smell of it rising in the oven are just added perks!

Sensory Play for Toddlers
Chalk Drawings

34. Play with chalk - somedays I cannot entice my son near a crayon or a pencil but I can always get him interested when there is a stick of chalk involved. Writing and drawing on a blackboard is great for mark making practise but taking it outside is even more fun.

35. Explore textiles by putting together a tray tub or bag full of satin ribbons, felt, corduroy, velvet, jute, lace and whatever other bits and piece you can find. Old clothes like ripped jeans and stained t-shirts can be cut into strips and shapes and you probably have a few bits of ribbon saved from a gift somewhere (I have an entire shoebox full!) This is a great early sensory experience for younger kids too, just make sure that none of your ribbons are long enough to wrap around a little neck.

36. Bubble wrap - so addictive to pop no? My son loves a small sheet of bubble wrap pasted to a strip of carboard to pop away at on car journeys. Another favourite is walking barefoot along a long strip - you could practise walking very lightly trying not to pop the bubbles or jump up and down trying to pop the most!

Sensory Tubs for Early Years and Preschool
Cloud Themed Sensory Tub

37. Packing foam - along the same lines as bubble wrap styrofoam balls, packing peanuts and polystyrene boxes are great fun and cheap. We used polystyrene blocks to build towers with and packing peanuts in our cloud sensory tub

38. Learn letters, or numbers or sight-words or whatever stage your child is at. Getting a hands on approach to learning new things is a great way to anchor new information in the brain (for adults as much as kids). Make a set of Montessori sandpaper letters or raid your craft stash like we did with our tactile letters

Sensory Development in Early Years
Tissue Paper Suncatchers

39. Use tissue and contact paper to make suncatchers perfect to hang in a sunny window and enjoy the shadows they create

40. Check out this Sensory Activities for Kids Pinboard where I pin along with Mama Smiles, Crayon Freckles, Rockabye Butterfly and some other great kid bloggers!

So there you go, I'm pretty sure it's not an exhaustive list but did I get all your favourite sensory activities?


  1. Wonderful post! I don't see a Pin button. So many great ideas!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Wow, lots of great ideas! Pinning! :) And becoming a new follower too. :)

  4. Thank you, THANK you! These are all great ideas (and pretty photos too). Going to pass these on to friends & teachers I work with.

  5. I wanted to pop back in & invite you to join my weekly Pinteresting Party:

    It opens every Saturday and stays open until Friday at noon (est). Hope to see you there.

  6. Thanks for all these great ideas. Tactile activities are so important for kids.

  7. What a fantastic list of sensory play ideas!
    I am going to refer to this when planning activities for my 'Mini Create and Make' sessions! Lisa Butler ( Let's Create and Make )

  8. Have pinned this. A great list and perfect for when your brain is doing that thing where it won't recall things for you at the drop of a hat, lol :)

  9. This is such a great list. It's funny how quickly I forget about some of these simple and fun activities. Thanks for the reminder!

  10. Wowee, that's a whole lot of fabulous ideas! I've pinned it too - a great resource for people to dip into :)

  11. What a great list and will be returning to this with T and J.

    Thank you for linking to Tuesday Tots

  12. Thank you so much for this post!!! I have a son with Sensory Processing Disorder and we are always looking for new sensory tools to help make progress.

  13. I just came back from a visit to Londen and bought the water beads in a churchyard little market, I think it was on piccadilly! The little chinese man even had the cubes! Might have been st. James-church...
    Here in Holland they are everywhere , could send you some if you want.

  14. Thank you so much for this post, quite a few ideas I have not attempted yet, with my students or with my own child! :)

  15. What a wonderful list! Both of my children struggled with Sensory Processing Disorder when they were younger. One thing that both of them loved was fingerpainting with pudding. Neiter of them liked anything that left a residue on their hands, but with the promise of being able to lick off their hands when they were done really encouraged them to embrace it!

  16. This is wonderful! My almost-3-year-old is a sensory seeker and has a disease where his body reacts to most foods. It's hard to find sensory activities that don't involve food! I'm really excited to try many of the things on your list!

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  20. WOW great ideas you share about these. I think these toddler games is the best games ever for toddler.

  21. thank you for publishing something like this my 2 and a half year old son has sensory issues so bad it interferes with his eating and the way he plays.... activities like these help me and him get through the day

  22. I love these ideas, I will try these with my toddler during these cold winter months at home. Thanks for sharing these ideas and for promoting the family friendly lifestyle! I also blog about kid's, families, and ideas for fun together at if you are interested.

    Thanks for all you do, you are an inspiration. Take care!


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