The kids need something to do and you’re looking for a few clever play ideas. More specifically, you need activities for kids that don’t just keep them busy but are packed with sensory experiences. That’s right, exploration is the name of the game with these imaginative ideas: Touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing all get a turn here! Scroll down to see our favorite ways to help kids make discoveries and explore with the Big 5.
Chill out with an icy activity.
You don’t need a freezing cold winter day to explore the frosty fun that ice can bring. Nope. Make your own cubes, adding a few drops of food coloring to the water. Sprinkle with sparkles or hide small waterproof toys inside. The kids can stack the cubes, paint with them or just glide then around in a plastic tub.
DIY a sensory table.
Fun activities for kids can take many shapes and forms. And a sensory table is an easy way to corral all kinds of different play. Fill the table with colorful rice, painted pasta, a muddy mix or this amazingly awesome water bead idea from Homegrown Friends. The key to sensory table play is encouraging exploration. Take a step back (while still supervising) and watch as your kid makes discoveries, explores and experiments.
Start sensory play with slime.
Okay, okay, so slime is crazy-popular. And you’ve seen it just about everywhere. Well, there’s a reason for that. It’s got textures like you wouldn’t believe and can completely catch your child’s attention, drawing them into the awesomeness of the activity for more than two seconds. Make the slime-making just that much ‘more’ by adding glitter, crafts feathers, pieces of play clay or small waterproof toys. Not sure how to make slime? Get a rad recipe here.
A rainbow, in a bottle!
Sometimes the kids don’t need activities that get them fired up. There’s something to be said for chilling out and relaxing—without using a screen to soothe. Check out the glittery, rainbowy, super-colorful calm down bottles from Little Bins for Little Hands.
Paint with sound.
Painting is a sensory exploration that usually covers sight and sometimes touch. Well, this one goes a step, or a few, farther and lets your child paint with sound and smell. Remember those popping, fizzing candies that you chugged during your own youth? This activity from Mini Monets and Mommies turns the candy into paints that make noise and give off a super-sweet smell.
Mix in some math.
Play ideas don’t need to be overly complicated or fussy. A rainbow of colorful rice is a standout sensory play activity. Add in a counting and memory/recall extension, like this one from Hands On As We Grow, and you have a recipe for learning on more than one level.
Create a shaving cream dream.
Shaving cream as a play idea? Yep. You may use the fluffy white stuff in a completely different way, but your child sees (and touches and smells) the cream as something that’s pure sensory fun. Spreading it around on a tray or in the sink is enough to keep a tot busy for an entire afternoon. Add in glitter, powdered tempera paint or even a powdered fruit drink mix to make a puffy finger paint that sparkles, shines and makes magnificent magic.
Have a playdough afternoon.
Playdough. Th original sensory play material you didn’t even know was a sensory material. If you opt for buying some from the store, it’ll be all about the touchy-feely aspect. If you make your own batch at home, add a scent or sparkles to give a couple of the other senses a workout, too. For the ultimate playdough recipe, click here.
Make something edible.
Whether you’ve got a mouthy baby or a kid who loves to snack and play, edible play time is the best time. We love this jello play idea from the fabulous Meri Cherry. If you're looking for more, this collection of edible art ideas is worth a nibble.
Use a bag to minimize the mess
For an afternoon of completely contained play (win, win!) with your little one, opt for a sensory bag. You can fill it with all sorts of neat odds and ends, sparkles and textures. For the best of the best, see our top picks here.
No time? Pick a quick activity.
Sensory play doesn’t have to involve an elaborate setup and tons of time. There are plenty of quick activities and games you can play with your kids for a sensory workout. Ideas include dancing with scarves, making a window collage with contact paper, heading outside for a nature walk and more. Dayna of Lemon Lime Adventures has a great list of 30 easy options. Take a peek here.
Use a light box.
We've never met a kid who didn't love the light. From shadows on the wall to glow sticks, kids can see and explore in so many different ways. One of our favorites is from Anna from The Imagination Tree. Her easy DIY light box is the perfect tool for your little explorers—from colored tiles to sand drawing, the possibilities are endless! Click here to see the tutorial.
Use every single sense.
Take advantage of the fact that planning a nose-centric play session is usually pretty easy and always interesting. Take a look at our ideas and sniff out what you’ll need to get started.
Sensory play that's just for babies.
Sensory play comes in all shapes and forms, but your baby will need a special set up that includes safe supplies and gear. Lucky for you we’ve got the scoop on the best ideas for sensory play with baby: Edible sensory trays, pin boards, brightly lit bottles—it’s all here.
Try seasonal sensory play.
Each season brings its own unique sights, sounds, smells, touches and tastes. Spring brings flowers, Easter, and gardens; Fall brings leaves, harvest produce, Halloween fun and more. Click here for the best spring ideas, and here for fall fun.
A snow-based play session can be a blast, especially if you live in a region that doesn’t see the flaky white stuff very often. One of our favorite projects is sensory snow, but there are other options: a snowman play dough station, melting snowman slime, erupting snow powder and more. Click here to see the whole list.
Play in quicksand
Put the water table to work.
Water tables are a great addition to play time, and it’s possible to give them a whole new meaning with just a few extra supplies. Take a peek at our favorite water table sensory play ideas here and get started. Hint: Many of these ideas don’t include water!
Keep it simple.
You love sensory play, but you don’t love how much stuff you need to make it happen. Consider setting up an activity that requires three ingredients/supplies or less. From colored cloud dough to cardboard box coloring and yup, even shaving cream painting, it’s simple to help your kids engage their senses.
What’s your favorite sensory play? Share with us in the comments below!
— Erica Loop with Gabby Cullen