Let your children explore and learn with our fun ideas for messy play – perfect for toddlers, young children and those with special educational needs.
Giving kids the freedom to be messy is not only good fun, it can help develop their hand-eye coordination and basic motor skills, too. Toddlers especially take great pleasure from exploring tactile objects – anything involving bright colours, unusual textures and satisfying sounds is bound to be a hit!
These projects for sensory play are all easy to prepare, budget-friendly and use everyday items that you’re likely to already have at home. They’re all child-safe, although adult supervision during play is always recommended.
Need extra ideas for keeping the kids entertained? Discover even more with our activities for kids guide.
Top 10 sensory play ideas
1. Colourful spaghetti
Cook a batch of spaghetti, then divide it between bowls and add different food colouring to each one. Mix well, and soon you’ll have a whole rainbow of squidgy ‘worms’ for toddlers to play with.
2. Blowing bubbles
Mix one part washing-up liquid with six parts water to make your own homemade bubble mixture. If you don’t have store-bought wands, have fun finding your own versions. Can the children make their bubbles using a biscuit cutter, paperclip or colander?
3. Pom-pom sorting
Create a simple matching game to teach little ones about colour. Find a pack of readymade pom-poms in your local craft shop, or get an older sibling to help make a pom-pom using wool. Draw coloured circles onto a large sheet of paper, then help your toddler to sort the different pom-poms into the right colour groups.
4. Ice block treasure hunt
Freeze small toys inside a block of ice and older kids can excavate their very own artefacts! Put a few toys, such as dinosaurs, in the bottom of a container, then partly fill with water and freeze; repeat until full. Provide children’s tools or cutlery and help them bash into the ice.
5. Play with slime
Our simple recipe for edible slime is perfect for toddlers – it’s safe enough for them to put in their mouth to explore the texture, but we’d advise against making a meal of it! Combine cornflour, icing sugar and coconut milk with your choice of food colouring to make your own squidgy slime at home.
6. Make a mud kitchen
If they’re old enough to stand, explore our mud kitchen ideas for some messy creative play. Provide some old pots, spoons and plastic bowls for them to mix together their own weird and wonderful concoctions from the garden.
7. Rainbow rice
To make your own brightly coloured rice, put about a cup (185g) of any dried rice with your choice of gel food colouring in a container. Add ½ tsp vinegar to the rice – this stops the dye from transferring – then put the lid on and shake well to mix. Spread the rice out in a thin layer on a baking sheet to dry for 2-3 hours before using.
8. Homemade playdough
Raid the kitchen cupboards and follow our easy playdough recipe – you’ll soon have a tactile diversion that can be used time and time again. Provide some different tools to help your child engage with it, such as plastic biscuit cutters, silicone ice cube trays, small rolling pins or travel cups.
9. Make some maracas
If you don’t mind a little bit of noise, learn how to make maracas and your toddler will love discovering a new sound sensation! You can either use plastic spoons and an old toy egg, or cardboard tubes to make triangular versions.
10. Fake snow
There’s no need to wait for Christmas to make a snowman! Learn how to make fake snow using just three ingredients. Young children will love squishing together this ‘snow’ to make clumps and snowballs for a winter scene. You can add a few drops of food colouring for a summertime version – be sure to add the colour before the water to achieve the right consistency.
Discover more fun activities for kids
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What are your favourite sensory play ideas? Let us know in the comments below…