Sensory activities engage children’s senses through play, and encourage exploration, creativity, and investigation. They introduce math and scientific theories and strengthen language. Sensory play is also great for soothing anxious, agitated, overtired, or hyperactive children. Look around your home and you’ll find that ordinary items can create extraordinary sensory fun. Here’s how to use these six products:

1. Baby oil: Fill a strong Ziplock bag about halfway with baby oil; add a few drops of food coloring and a bit of water. Squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible before sealing it. Reinforce the entire bag with clear shipping tape for extra security. The food coloring will create colorful blobs and bubbles as kids squish, shake and touch the bag.

2. Pudding: First, make several differently colored ice cubes. Simply fill your ice cube trays with water and add food coloring to each section before freezing. Once the cubes are frozen, spread tapioca pudding on a rimmed cookie sheet. Put the cubes on top of the pudding and allow little ones to dig in. The ice cubes will melt and release their colors, dying the pudding. This sensory activity is messy fun for babies and toddlers.

3. Cornstarch: Mix two cups of cornstarch and one cup of water in a large bowl. Add a few drops of food coloring if desired. Let kids dig in. This stuff, known as “ooblick,” feels solid when inside the bowl, but turns to liquid when you bring a handful out of the bowl. It feels solid when you give it a quick smack, but liquid when you move your hands through it slowly. There is a lot of science at work here, but most of all, your kids will think it is really cool.

4. Ivory soap: Remove the wrapper from a bar of Ivory soap (must be this particular brand). Put the soap on a microwave safe plate. Gather the kids around the microwave; if necessary, bring in some stools so they can see the action. Microwave the soap for two minutes and watch as it expands up to 10 times its original size. After the soap cools, give the kids bowls, water, and plastic butter knives. They can chip off pieces of the soap and float it in the water.

5. Shaving cream: Shaving cream is soft, cool, wet and fluffy. Spray it on your kitchen table and let kids spread it all over the surface with their hands. Give them wet rags to wipe it up at the end of the play session. As a bonus, your table will be sparkling clean. For color, add Kool-aid. Besides engaging the sense of smell, it will also temporarily dye your children’s hands rainbow colors. (Want to avoid a Kool-aid-colored kitchen? Put on bathing suits and try this activity on a tarp or in a plastic kiddie pool in the backyard. Then, play in the sprinklers or hose down afterwards!)

6. Paper: Save different types of paper in a clear plastic storage bin. Let children crinkle, fold and rip to their hearts are content. Throw in wrapping paper, tissue paper, magazine pages and anything else you have on hand.

Don’t just sit back and watch. Get in there and explore with your child, even if you get messy. You’ll enjoy these sensory activities, too.

Sensory Bins

Create sensory bins full of different items and provide measuring cups, sifters and other tools for children to touch and explore on their own. Leave the bins out for daily stimulation, and regularly swap in new items that you find around your home. Be aware of small pieces that might be choking hazards. Get started by stocking your bins with these common goods:

  • Dry beans
  • Rice
  • Cotton balls
  • Dry pasta
  • Shredded pieces of paper

Rachael Moshman is a full-time freelance writer who has been published in a wide assortment of parenting and family magazines and websites across the US and abroad. Learn more about her at