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Sensory play is something I did with my older kids, but I don’t know if I knew I was doing it. It’s all the rage now, and for good reason: kids love exploring things with all five senses, and sensory play is all about touch. There are so many things you’re probably constantly telling little kids not to touch, so it’s a relief to give them something they can touch to their hearts’ content.
I have to credit my foray into more serious sensory play to Busy Toddler. She gives lots of ideas and parameters to control the mess while also letting your kids enjoy themselves and promote learning.
Even very young babies can enjoy sensory play! Anything involving water is a party for the senses, so even a bubble bath is sensory play. And you can incorporate favorite toys into many of these sensory play ideas, such as washing LEGO, or letting Paw Patrol characters play in the mud, or letting a water-proof doll take a bath in water beads.
Easy Sensory Play Ideas for Kids of All Ages
I’ve divided these sensory play ideas into ideas for babies and toddlers and then for older kids. The only difference is that the ideas for babies and toddlers are all safe for them to eat (although I wouldn’t encourage eating, as many of them will NOT taste good!).
FOR BABIES AND TODDLERS
This may seem too simple, but water in any form is sensory play! If you let a preschooler play with water in the sink while you cook dinner or you let them help you water the plants and get themselves wet, that is a great way to stimulate their senses. The opportunities are endless—just have towels on hand!
Bubbles in the tub
Add an extra component to water by putting them in a bubble bath. I love this homemade bubble bath (and have found you can get away with using only about 1/4 cup dish soap).
Bubbles in a bin (or kiddie pool outside)
If you want to do bubbles outside, you can make a mini bubble bath in a plastic bin or in a kiddie pool. Kids can get in themselves or wash their plastic toys! (And just plan on them getting in, even if they say they’re not going to. I have a 100% rate of wet kids when we have water in a container outside.)
The popsicle bath is another Busy Toddler idea. Now you have touch AND taste in one!
You can make a huge batch of Jell-o and let babies and toddlers go to town with it. If they eat some, no big deal. You could also do this in much smaller batches by portioning it out!
A mom of a baby introduced me to deer corn for sensory play. It’s safe if baby accidentally swallows a few, and it has a great feel to it. She puts it in a kiddie pool inside for her kids.
You can make edible fingerpaint that kids of all ages will enjoy, but that allows babies and toddlers to paint safely.
Edible play dough
Play-doh is another fun activity, but it’s not good for babies to eat, so you can make edible play dough at home!
Homemade sensory bags
These sensory bags are so fun and inexpensive, and they’re great even for babies that aren’t sitting up yet.
Taste safe slime
There is nothing not to love about slime, and this version is safe to taste.
If you have a bunch of oats (or baby cereal), you can dump it in a bin and use that as a base for sensory play.
Taste safe goop
If slime isn’t your thing, what about goop? Similar idea, but a different texture.
FOR PRESCHOOLERS and BIG KIDS
Almost as easy as just doing water, but add dirt. We recently got a used play kitchen for a few dollars at the thrift store and now keep it in the backyard as a “mud kitchen.” Kids who come over to play love making all kinds of things with mud.
You can also just use white rice, but colored rice is even more fun (and you can do different themes, like red and green for a Christmas sensory play bin).
These water beads are fairly inexpensive, and they last forever. You only need about a tablespoon or two at a time to have a TON of water beads once they absorb all the water.
We recently discovered moon sand, and my kids loved it! It’s similar to kinetic sand, but a little different. Kids will love rolling cars through it.
One of my girls would make slime every day if I let her. I love this recipe that only has three ingredients. I keep a big bottle of glue on hand just for this.
Kinetic sand is always a big hit at our house. It’s not cheap, but if you store it well, it lasts a long time.
If you have a paper shredder, you can collect the shredded paper to put in a kiddie pool inside for a rainy day.
Have you ever done sensory play with your kids? Let us know your favorite ways to do it in the comments!