Sensory activities engage children’s senses through play. Such activities 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. Here are some ideas for activities using household items.

by Rachael Moshman

Baby oil

Fill a strong Ziplock bag about halfway with baby oil plus a few drops of food coloring and a bit of water. Get as much air out of the bag as possible before sealing it. Use clear shipping tape over the whole bag for extra security. The food coloring will create colorful blobs and bubbles as kids squish, shake, and touch the bag.


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, it is just really cool!

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.

Sensory bins

Create sensory bins for children to touch with everyday household items. Provide measuring cups, sifters, and other tools to encourage exploration. Good choices include: Dry beans, rice, dry pasta, cotton balls and shredded pieces of paper.

Ivory soap

Take the wrapper off a bar of Ivory soap (must be this brand). Put the soap on a microwave safe plate. Gather the kids around the microwave (bring in some stools so they can see the action). Microwave the soap for two minutes. It will expand up to 10 times its original size. After the soap cools, give the kids bowls of water, and plastic butter knives. They can chip off pieces of the soap and float it in the water.


This is a bit messy, but a great sensory activity for babies and toddlers. First, make an assortment of colored ice cubes by adding food coloring to the water in an ice cube tray 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.


Save different types of paper in a clear plastic storage bin. Let children crinkle, fold and rip to their heart’s 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!

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