What are the best sensory play idea for kids? Sensory play is an incredible tool for learning in early childhood. This curated list of sensory activities from Busy Toddler is filled with ideas for quick and easy set-ups using supplies from around the house.
Sensory play is all the rage right now, and for good reason.
But these activities are not a fad.
Sensory play is not the latest trend and they’re not doing choreographed dances on TikTok. Sensory play and activities have been a backbone of early childhood for generations – but only recently have they received the mainstream hubbub and fancy accolades that they deserve.
While it may seem like sensory play is popping up all over your social media feeds, these little gems of childhood didn’t just suddenly come onto the scene. Sensory play has been a cornerstone of day cares, preschools, and rec-centers for decades.
But now it’s time for parents to harness the power and magical learning capabilities from sensory activities into the home setting.
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What is sensory play?
Sensory play is an umbrella term for a child playing with materials in their surroundings. Sensory bins are a subcategory of sensory play – and the terms are often interchangeable.
The goal is for a child to have the chance to explore, engage, and manipulate with real world items. This may be outside sensory play or indoors – what’s important is children interacting with their environment.
Outside, we might think of sensory play as play in mud, dirt, water, or sand. In the home setting, we can encourage sensory play using sensory bins or other spaces (like a bathtub) to contain the sensory materials.
But even with the plethora of sensory activity ideas abounding online, finding the right sensory ideas for your child, your home, and your level of messy play tolerance is crucial. This won’t be the same for everyone – although there are some absolute stand outs in the sensory category that may just be perfection for your family.
RELATED: If you’d like to see the breadth of my entire sensory collection, check out this page of sensory activities for kids.
Why are sensory activities important?
I have a WHOLE post on why sensory is so important that I would love for you to check out, but briefly: sensory play is not just messy play for the sake of messy play. You can read my post “Why is Sensory Play Important” here.
Sensory play activities are serious and significant learning in childhood. This is an opportunity like no other for a child to learn science, math, problem solving, critical thinking, fine motor, imaginary play, and communication skills (just to name a few).
RELATED: Don’t miss my article on the why sensory play is important to kids.
The list of the best sensory play ideas for children
Today, let’s break down some of the indoor best sensory play ideas for children. These are the best of the best, the 10/10, the constant repeat winners.
The joy of sensory play is that it spans the ages: bins that work for toddlers will also work for 3rd graders. I call sensory play “the great equalizer” because only with a sensory bin can a 12 month old and a 12 year old truly play side by side.
The activities listed here are my absolute go-to ideas.
These are the sensory play ideas I turn to over and over again. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel constantly on sensory ideas: a few good tricks in our back parenting pockets can make a huge difference.
RELATED: How do you keep sensory play from being a messy disaster? Read this post.
Rainbow Rice Sensory Bin
Nothing makes a more beautiful sensory experience than rainbow rice. It’s shockingly easy to make and lasts 3-5 years when stored tight. How many other toys last YEARS of play?
Pom Pom Soup
Love pom pom balls? Try adding water. I’m not kidding! This is a unique spin on a sensory classic – but don’t worry, the pom pom balls dry up perfectly at the end.
Toy Washing Station
YES, water is a sensory moment! Seems almost too easy, am I right? Have your kids wash their toys in water and bubbles for one of the simplest (and cleanest) sensory bins around.
Bubble Foam Sensory
This is what happens when you mix bath soap and water in a blender or with a mixer. I’m not kidding: this is life changing stuff. You only need soap and water (coloring optional).
Mud is sensory (is your mind blown?). While mud kitchens might be all the rage right now, you don’t have to buy a fancy one for kids to have fun. Try this DIY version.
Water Pouring Station
I know we’ve gone over this, but let’s review. Water is sensory. And nothing is more engaging for kids than learning to pour in this A+ activity.
Oatmeal Sensory Bin
When my son was 3 years old, we tried oatmeal as a sensory bin base. He was floored and declared it the best sensory activity he’d ever done.
It’s corn starch and water. It doesn’t stain. It won’t get all over your couch. It’s perfect (and a non-Newtonian substance that behaves as both a solid and a liquid). Oobleck is a must try.
This is my kids’ favorite material: kinetic sand. It’s fluffy sand that doesn’t get in eyes or spread all over the place. It’s store bought – I’m not fancy enough to make this!
While some people have frozen meals in their freezers to divert disaster, I keep colorful ice cubes. It makes my life so much better knowing I can pull together some epic sensory fun in seconds.
Frequently Asked Questions
Sensory play might get messy. Part of letting kids explore a space is accepting they may explore it with all their self. What we can control is our preparation for this mess. Before starting a sensory activity, make sure you’ve set yourself up for success: have a towel by the child, be near a water source, form a plan for how to get the child (and the materials) clean at the end. Sensory play messes are nearly unavoidable – it doesn’t have disaster.
Sensory play provides children with a rich opportunity for growth and development in multiple areas: motor skills, imaginary play, math, science, and life skills.
Sensory play can begin at birth – a bath is a sensory experience! For other activities, consider what is safest for your child and what they can safely interact with. Always start with taste safe materials that are not choking hazards.
Susie Allison, M. Ed
Susie Allison is the creator of Busy Toddler and has more than 2 million followers on Instagram. A former teacher and early childhood education advocate, Susie’s parenting book “Busy Toddler’s Guide to Actual Parenting” is available on Amazon.
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