Sensory activities are important for a number of reasons. They stimulate connections in the brain, help to develop language skills, and teach important concepts. Most of all, they are a great way to have fun.
Here’s a quick rundown of the benefits of sensory activities for kids, answers to the most frequently asked questions about sensory play, and 30 examples you can recreate at home.
- Sensory play promotes language development and builds nerve connections in the brain.
- These activities encourage problem-solving, self-regulation, and can help with anxiety.
- Sensory games also build social skills and can be adapted for different age groups.
- Examples include ice play, edible water beads, and sensory bubble foam.
Benefits of Sensory Activities for Kids
These are some of the benefits of sensory play for kids.
- Sensory play promotes language development: While you’re playing a sensory game with your child, you may be talking about hot and cold, hard and soft, light and heavy, and more. Later, when you encourage your child to talk about what they’re experiencing, they will have the language to convey their thoughts and feeling (1).
- Sensory play helps build nerve connections in the brain: By stimulating the senses through sensory activities, you are effectively teaching the brain to recognize, understand, and respond to them (2).
- Sensory activities encourage problem-solving: When your child engages in sensory games, they are learning about cause and effect. They will also learn ways to change their actions to achieve the desired result.
- Sensory play can help self-regulation: Many sensory activities are designed to help a child slow down, be aware of what their senses are telling them, and respond accordingly (3).
- Sensory games may help with anxiety: Some sensory games involve items that induce calming, for example, lavender. Others encourage children to slow down in an almost meditative way. Both can help calm an anxious child (4).
- Sensory activities build social skills: Even the most basic sensory activity encourages a child to listen to what their body is telling them and share that information with others. This teaches how to take turns speaking, understand non-verbal clues, and other important social skills.
We asked a whole range of caregivers about their favorite sensory activities for kids.
These are the top 30.
Sensory Activities for Toddlers
These sensory activities for toddlers are safe for curious little beings who like to put things in their mouths, noses, or anywhere else playthings are not meant to go.
Ice Ice Baby
Nothing could be more simple than this. Put ice cubes, or irregular pieces of ice, into a Ziploc bag and ensure it’s tightly sealed. Place it on a flat surface and let your child enjoy squeezing the bag, moving the ice around, and discovering what happens as the ice melts.
To The Moon Sand And Back
Grab a big bowl, and fill it halfway with flour. Pour in some baby oil, and let your child mix it with their hands. The oil and flour will mix to a slightly clumpy sand texture your child can enjoy building with or playing in.
There are no precise measurements for the oil and flour. If the sand is too sticky, add more flour, and if it isn’t clumping, slowly add more baby oil.
Edible “Water Beads”
Boil about 2.5 cups of water and add a cup of tapioca pearls. Cook for five to seven minutes. (You want then to be soft but not quite mushy.) Drain the cooked pearls and cool in ice water. Put the pearls in a Ziploc bag with a few drops of food coloring.
Repeat this process to make up batches of different colors.
We especially enjoy putting these in a big bowl or bin of water and throwing in some pots and pans, ladles, wooden spoons, etc., and letting the kids “cook” up some exciting dishes. I should warn you, they may expect you to eat their finished creations.
Simple to set up, the base for this sensory activity is a big bin of dry rice.
Take a couple of lemons, oranges, limes, or any other citrus fruit that are in season. Cut the fruit into halves, slices, and wedges to give a variety of shapes. Drop the fruit into the rice, along with some strawberries.
Kids can taste the fruit, and you can discuss the differences between sweet and sour.
Peek-A-Boo Sensory Board
This DIY sensory board uses the lids from packages of baby wipes to create “doors.” Each lid, when closed, conceals a different material.
In this example, samples of carpet and linoleum were used, but you could use anything that offers a range of textures such as faux fur, sandpaper, bubble wrap, or silk.
You can recreate this sensory activity for toddlers using playdough. Add food coloring and essential oils to make it a multi-sensory experience.
Give your child a rough ball of dough and a handful of sunflower seeds. Look at a photo of a real sunflower together. Then have your child recreate the bloom by squishing the dough into a rough circle and poking the sunflower seeds into it.
You can practice counting with the seeds and estimating by asking your child how many seeds they think will fit in the dough.
This is an entirely edible sensory activity, as long as your child has clean hands to begin with, of course!
Make a large bowl of blue Jello, then cut it into rough cubes. Place the cubes in your sensory bin, and add a generous handful of candy fish. You can also add other candy sea creatures if you can find them.
Encourage your child to squish the Jello through their fingers and enjoy helping the fish swim in the ocean.
You can use the fish for counting practice, or place some cups into the ocean and have your child sort the fish into these cup “caves” according to color.
A big tub of water is always fun! And this unusual idea gives it a fun twist and helps teach about buoyancy, the concepts of wet and dry, and the behavior of frogs.
Cut out some lily pad shapes from craft foam and give them to your kids, along with some lightweight plastic color frogs. Have them “jump” the fogs from lilypad to lily pad, swim, and have fun in the water.
For an additional twist, you can drop ice cubes of different colors into the water.
A gloriously messy sensory activity, this is best done outside or in the bathtub.
Go around the kitchen with your child and collect some cookies cutters, cake trays, ice cube trays, plastic tubs, lids, etc.
Place the items in your tub. Next, drop a spoonful of baking soda into each, along with a drop or two of food coloring. Finally, give your toddler a bowl of vinegar and an eyedropper, or fill a squeeze bottle with vinegar, and let them loose.,
When the vinegar hits the baking soda, the chemical reaction will cause bubbles to fizz up. This is a good activity for teaching colors and shapes.
Don’t Eat This Pasta
Simple, disgusting, and fun, this pasta activity is always a hit.
Cook up some pasta and drop it into a big bowl. Let your child get in there with their fingers, or even better, their toes.
If you cook up a big batch of pasta, you can scoop out small portions after each minute of cooking time, so you have different textures. You can also cook the pasta in food coloring to add an additional twist.
Sensory Activities for Preschoolers
Once your kids are slightly older, consider these fun sensory activities.
Sensory Bubble Foam
Playing with shaving cream is a popular sensory activity, but synthetic fragrances and other chemical ingredients can irritate a child’s sensitive skin.
An excellent alternative is to make your own bubble foam.
Add 1/4 cup of sensitive skin or tear-free bubble bath to 1/2 cup of water. Beat the liquid with a mixer, blender, or whisk until it begins to form soft peaks, and you’re good to go. You can also add food coloring and essential oils to provide further sensory stimulation.
Under The Sea
Simple sensory games such as this are open-ended and allow your child to experience imaginative play.
Partially fill a sensory bin with water and add a couple of drops of color to make it blue. Give your child a pile of stones, seashells, sand, and plastic sea creatures, and let them explore. You can discuss how the rocks, shells, and sand look and feel different when wet than when dry.
Oatmeal Sensory Bin
Pour oatmeal or cut oats into a sensory bin, add kitchen utensils, bowls, and other safe kitchen items and let your kids explore.
Add a cinnamon stick to make it smell like apple pie. Or add items like pom-poms in different colors and have your child rummage through the oatmeal with tongs, picking up the pom-poms and sorting them according to size and color.
We All Scream For Ice-Cream
Make up some cookie dough that’s not too firm, and add a little vanilla extract for that authentic ice cream smell.
Then drop the dough, some ice cream scoops, playdough molds, cookie cutters, etc. into the bin. Add some pom-poms, toy or candy fruits, ice-cream sprinkles, and paper “ice-cream cones” for open-ended sensory play.
Squeeze some water-soluble finger paints into an ice-cube tray and add a little water. Leave the ice cube trays in the freezer until the ice cubes are firm enough to stand a popsicle stick in. Return the cubes to the freezer until solid.
Take the paint-cubes out of the tray, lay out some paper, and let the kids enjoy.
You can use the ice cube tray as a stand for your child to leave each paintsicle in when they’re not using it.
This sensory activity is a little challenging to set up unless you have access to turf or the space to grow some grass.
Instead, you can spread some cress seeds on damp kitchen towels and leave them to grow. It will only take a couple of days until you have cress tall enough to take the place of the grass.
Now you can let the kids play in the cress “jungle” with animals or vehicles.
Herb & Spice Play Dough
Make up a big batch of playdough and separate it into several smaller chunks.
Then add a different herb or spice to each piece and knead it, ensuring it is well worked in before giving it to your little one.
Play with the doughs together, discussing the different smells, and ask your child questions such as “What food does this smell remind you of?” and “Can you guess what this will smell like just from looking at the color?”
When Life Gives You Lemons
Throw some plastic cups, bowls, spoons, and other utensils into a big bin of warm water and add several halved lemons. Let your child explore how the lemons look and feel before, during, and after they squeeze them.
You can also add some baking soda for a fizzy reaction and some other citrus fruits for contrast and variety.
This is a three-part sensory play activity for preschoolers.
You’ll need a plastic box, playdough or clay, a variety of plastic animals or bugs, and flour.
Roughly roll out some playdough or clay until it’s the size of your plastic box. Put the clay into the base of your box and press various plastic bugs, animals, or dinosaurs into it. Next, cover the animals with a layer of flour, pressing down so it’s well compacted.
Now let the kids “excavate” their animals using plastic tools, toy vehicles, or their hands. Once they’ve uncovered the items, have them remove the animals and investigate the fossil impressions left behind — just like a real fossil hunter.
Finally, put the animals in a big bowl of soapy water, and let the kids enjoy scrubbing them clean.
Partially fill your sensory bin with water and throw in some scrubbing brushes and cloths.
Add some carrots (complete with the leafy greens), other roots vegetables, and even some lettuce. Encourage your child to wash the carrots and bite both the body of the vegetable and the leaves.
You can also, under close supervision, give your child a plastic knife and let them chop the carrots.
Sensory Activities for Kids
Kids are never too old for sensory activities.
Combine larger pieces of ice, ice cubes, and ice shavings in a deep tray with water beads and flour. Let your child explore the different textures and temperatures in the tray.
Adding plastic toys (like Arctic animals or figures from the movie “Frozen”) will also give your child the opportunity to enjoy plenty of imaginative play.
Slime has made a huge comeback in popularity. It’s an excellent base for sensory play, especially if you make different colors and scents or add items such as glitter, beads, etc.
This slime is especially popular because of the addition of lavender. Lavender is naturally soothing and is shown to reduce anxiety, so it makes this slime a form of calming therapy.
Cut a ring out of some thick cardboard and wrap it in string. Then give your child a variety of flowers and greenery to thread through the strings to create a garland.
Using different colors and a mix of fresh, fake, and dried flowers will provide plenty of textures and fragrances for the perfect sensory play experience.
Mix up two sachets of gelatin and add an extra 1.5 cups of cold water. Add a cup of flour, 3 cups of corn starch, and 3/4 cup of chia seeds. Leave the mix in the fridge overnight to ensure the gelatin sets.
Give the sludge to the kids, and let them explore it, discovering how the consistency changes as they play with it. This one is especially enjoyable as the mixture warms in your hands as you play.
Make up some cupcake batter with your child, add some lavender, and bake as usual. Wait until the cupcakes have cooled, and mix up your frosting, also adding lavender and purple coloring.
Lavender is edible, so you can safely enjoy these cupcakes.
Buggy Hand Soap
Not only is this a fun sensory activity, but it also encourages kids to wash their hands. Score!
You’ll need some clear, or at least relatively see-through liquid soap, a pump dispenser, a bowl, a funnel, plastic bugs, and beads.
Pour some liquid soap into a bowl. Give your kids the bugs and beads and ask them to describe how they feel, how they move, how squishy they are, etc. Then have them drop the bugs and beads into the soap and mix them around with their hands.
When you’re finished, use the funnel to pour the soap back into the bottle, and let the kids poke the beads and bugs in as well.
Now you have a fun bottle of soap that is also a sensory bottle because it’s fun to twist and turn the soap bottle and see how the bugs and beads move.
If the mixing part is too much, just undo the lid of a pump dispenser of soap and let the kids poke the bugs and beads in without the hand-mixing step.
Have your kids pour some water into a tall glass or vase, and then let them add some oil. Wait until the oil settles on top, and then give the kiddos some heart-shaped ice cubes. If you don’t have heart shapes, that’s okay; any ice cubes will do.
Ask the kids what they think the ice will do — float or sink. Let them drop the ice in and discover that it doesn’t float as it does in plain water. You can also let them drop other items into the mix, asking the “will it float?” question each time.
Slo-Mo Sensory Bottle
Pour one part clear hair gel and six parts warm water into your sensory bottle. (Any clear bottle or tall jar will work.) Twist and turn the bottle gently to mix the two, then set it aside to cool.
When the mix is cold, add a scoop of glitter and several two-stud Lego bricks, being sure to poke the bricks into the gel. Turn them so any air bubbles will escape. If your bricks move too slowly, add more warm water, and if they move too quickly, add more hair gel.
Now you have a hypnotic, slow-motion sensory bottle that is excellent for calming boisterous behavior or heightened emotions.
This is a two-for-one sensory activity, and both parts are pretty messy, so you may want to do this outside.
Sit with a pumpkin (mini pumpkins are best for this), and encourage your kids to get their hands deep into the pumpkin’s belly to scoop out the insides. Pour everything they scoop out into a Ziploc bag, and have them spend some time squishing and squeezing.
When the novelty of the pumpkin-guts-squish-bag has worn off, scoop some baking soda and roughly six drops of dish soap into the hollowed-out pumpkin. Pour in a mixture of food coloring and vinegar and enjoy watching the pumpkin volcano erupt.
The example in this picture is quite elaborate, but you can make a miniature version in your garden or even inside.
Gather six or more shallow trays, or if you wish to use dry materials, you can use cereal boxes cut in half. Into each tray or box, pour a different material. We’ve used dry pasta, lentils, bubble bath, ice, stones, and other items we found around the house and garden.
Encourage your child to walk along the “stepping stones,” and talk about how each texture feels under their feet. You can also do this blindfolded and have your kids guess what they’re standing on. If you do, hold their hands to keep them stable.
FAQs About Sensory Activities
Lots of people have similar questions about sensory activities. Here are the answers to the ones we hear most often.
A Feast For The Senses
Many of the things we do on a day-to-day basis are sensory activities; we just don’t recognize them as such.
But these fun sensory games and activities will encourage children to take notice of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings of the things they are playing with.