Sensory play at our place

One of the things I gradually discovered as a new Mama is the joy (and to be honest, the horrors) of sensory play (also known as messy play). This kind of play is so important for young children, especially toddlers as they learn so much through the senses (primarily taste and touch) at their age.

Some examples of sensory play include playing with shredded paper, sand, mud, shaving foam, blowing bubbles, moulding with and sticking objects into play dough – you get the idea.

Now, if you’re someone like me who functions properly only with a “Clean Desk, Clean Mind” type mentality, has a To-Do List a mile long and must deal regularly with poop and crying and something cooking often at the same time, the whole idea of messy play and the prospect of cleaning up thereafter may well make you shudder. It’s been a journey for me, learning from the children and letting go.

Wait – did I say letting go? (Insert self-delusionary laughter)

Anyway, here are some things I’ve discovered:

The JOY on those little faces when they can dig their hands in and if there’s mess involved! The things they learn! Why not swallow our adult inhibitions about spills and “dirt” so that our children can enjoy healthy play and artistic pursuits?

The good news is that the mess of sensory play can be somewhat contained by setting up such activities in the bathroom, kitchen or in a deep tray placed on a large mat or sheet. Lots of messy fun can happen outdoors too.

Sensory play doesn’t have to be expensive, contrived or complicated. If you have little time or resources to construct opportunities for sensory play with store-bought items, including “informal” sensory play in your interactions with your child is just as effective.

In fact, a myriad of sensory activities can happen in the kitchen if we allow our children to explore and learn alongside us as we prepare meals instead of keeping them out. (In my experience, this is far easier and less stressful compared to shutting a toddler out of the kitchen and then worrying about her getting into trouble while she’s out of sight, unsupervised.) Simply splashing in the the bath tub with scoops and boats also counts as a sensory activity! I love that such endeavours are a natural part of our day and have intrinsic value in terms of learning through play.

Here are some activities our children enjoy which I consider equivalent to sensory play. Some take time to organise, put together and clean up, others are simply normal on-goings that happen in the course of an ordinary day. Many overlap with creative play and/or outdoor play.

Playing with sand at the beach.

Playing with sand at the beach

Playing with sand at home. Oh, but how did sand get on our car? And other gunk??

Sand play

Playing with homemade cloud dough. Far less messy but just as interesting as sand. (Recipe here.)

Sensory play with cloud dough

Moulding and sticking objects into homemade white clay dough. (Recipe here.)

Sensory play with salt dough

Making “shark teeth necklaces” using homemade clay dough. A great activity for shark lovers.

Shark teeth necklace

Making and painting Christmas tree decorations using homemade salt dough. (Recipe here.)

Salt dough ornaments

Making handprint keepsakes using homemade salt dough. This one was more for me. Mmmm. (Recipe here.)

Handprint keepsake

Creating with homemade play dough. (Recipe here.)

Homemade play dough

Rebatching candles. Name initials!

Candle initial

Writing words in shaving foam. A lovely alternative to pen and paper.

Writing in shaving foam

Experimenting with chalk pastels.

Chalk pastels

Printing and painting using sponges.

Sponge painting

Leaf painting.

Leaf painting

Messing about with finger paint.

Finger painting

Someone surprised me with his own version of “nail polish” for 3 year olds using poster paints.

Finger painting

Painting with straws.

Straw painting

Playing with sticks. Don’t mess with this 4 year old!

Playing with sticks

Creating a structure using sticks and stones.

Sensory play with sticks and stones

Playing with mud.

Digging in mud

Mud in our veggie garden.

Playing with mud

Making a leaf collage using leaves from the park.

Leaf collage

Going barefoot.

Going barefoot

Papa was moving bricks out of the garden and they pitched in. Barefoot again.

Moving bricks

Playing with water coloured with food colouring. A few sponges and a syringe encourage exploration.

Water play

Making swirls with water in the kitchen sink while I prep lunch.

Water play

Washing the chopping board. Do you know, he wanted to.

Water play with a chopping board

Scooping up fruit peels in the sink and collecting them for composting.

Sensory play with fruit peels

Washing veggies.

Washing veggies

Peeling hard boiled eggs at breakfast time and experimenting to see if they float or sink.

Sensory play with egg shells

Removing stems from shitake mushrooms before I slice them.

Sensory play with Shitake mushrooms

Scooping seeds out of honeydew melons.

Sensory play scooping out melon seeds

Grating carrots.

Grating carrots

Peeling garlic. Wonderful how a two year old finds this fascinating.

Peeling garlic

Harvesting brinjals from the veggie patch. These weren’t good to eat anymore.


Baking. You can’t go wrong with this carrot cake. Really. (Recipe here.)


Making and decorating gingerbread men. (Recipe here.)

Decorating gingerbread man

Moulding alphabets using cookie dough. Any cookie dough.


Making homemade pizzas.

Homemade pizza

What does a cucumber eye mask feel like?

Cucumber eye mask

Constructing a tower using marshmallows. Why not?

Sensory play marshmallow tower

Constructing a fruit tower.

Fruit tower

Marinating chicken with garlic and herbs. Work that garlic under the skin, my boy.

Marinating chicken

Catching rice weevils. Hmmm… Not my idea.

Weevils in rice

Washing rice.

Washing rice

Writing alphabets in rice. Okay, rice is a favourite. We always have it.

Tracing alphabets in rice

Pouring and scooping dried beans.

Sensory play with beans

Do you have other ideas for sensory play? Do feel free share your thoughts or a link in the Comments!


  • Alison
    August 20, 2014 3:14 am

    Your kids sure do have a lot of fun!
    I don’t mind the kids making a mess, though I do wish we lived in a house instead of an apartment – that way, I can send them outside and they can play to their heart’s content.
    Alison recently posted…Exactly Where I Need To BeMy Profile

  • Jin Ai
    August 20, 2014 1:37 pm

    Your kids have a cool mom! Yes, having an outdoor space to play really helps – both mama and kiddos 🙂

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