Sensory play is crucial to all children. Playtime in which a child’s senses, such as touch, sight, sound, taste, smell, as well as movement and balance are specifically stimulated impacts them for their entire life. Focusing on using these senses during play as they explore the world is extremely beneficial for children of all ages. After all, it’s building nerve connections in the brain’s pathways. But like all great learning, sensory play can also be really enjoyable and fun. Even better? When sensory play can take place with common objects you have in your own home. We’ve put together 13 fun DIY sensory activities that not only stimulate all senses but will be sure to keep any child happily occupied.
Slime is EVERYWHERE. It seems like it’s the thing every child is talking about. Who wouldn’t love it? It’s squishy, drippy, squeezy – all those fun tactile sensory adjectives everyone loves! So it’s the perfect touch activity for kids of all ages.
Besides the slime itself being a sensory overload (in a totally awesome way!), you can also add small objects of any kind to the slime, making it that much more amazing. Try little animal figurines, little shapes cut out of foam, googly-eyeballs – whatever is sitting around the house. Have the child search for sea creatures in a big blue bowl of slime. Or have the child pull out alphabet letters in the correct order. Not only is slime one of the best DIY sensory activities, it’s also fun and educational – the parenting trifeta!
If you don’t have a jar of store-bought slime at home, it can easily be made with a few common household ingredients like school glue, baking soda, and saline (i.e. contact lens) solution according to this DIY slime recipe here.
If a child is lucky enough to have a water table, great. But even using an empty storage bin creates one in a pinch. Little ones will happily develop their fine motor skills while splashing around in one of our favorite DIY sensory activities. Children as young as 18 months (or younger with close adult supervision, of course) love pouring, scooping, and generally learning about the mechanics of water while growing their hand-eye coordination, and even their communication and social skills when playing along other children.
Add a few figurines, balls of different shapes, size, and density (think golf balls vs. rubber and hollow balls), measuring cups, a strainer, small boats, trucks, and you’ll have a DIY sensory activity that keeps them busy for quite some time. The fun is almost endless.
If it’s a little too cold outside to be playing in the water, or don’t want water inside (that’s what bath time is for, right?), replace the water with dirt or sand, or something a little cleaner and less messy like rice, beans or dry corn. Parents also really like using water beads as a filler too. These tiny beads grow into marble-sized balls when soaked in water, giving plenty of squishy and bouncy fun time.
One of a few DIY sensory activities that never go out of style, finger-paint is always a goodie. Using washable non-toxic finger paint like Crayola, finger painting is easy for little fingers who haven’t quite mastered a paintbrush, and is fun for any age to experience and explore textures, colors, and strengthen their fine-motor development.
Looking to change it up from painting on regular paper? When it’s warmer, give your child freedom to explore on larger pieces of scrap cardboard or an old sheet (outside).
Regardless of what level of learning a child is currently, flashcards create the perfect DIY sensory activities for sight. From teaching a toddler their own family members names with photo flashcards, to colors, shapes, the alphabet, and then sight words for older children, flashcards stimulate learning with their eyes and are the perfect opportunity to play games.
Some favorite games include the game of Memory where a child flips two cards over at a time until a matching set is found, Lip Reading where the parent lip reads a card’s image and reveals the card when the child can guess the lip-read answer, and matching a 3 or 4 letter word with an image. Flashcard games are almost endless.
Calming Sensory Bottle
For even the youngest children, a great visual sensory toy is a Calming Senosry Bottle. To make one, fill a used, clean and dry plastic water bottle with any small objects that would work well moving around in water. Some favorites are glitter, confetti, beads, small alphabet letters, buttons, and pom-poms. Place those items in the empty water bottle, then fill to the top with water. Adding a few drops of food coloring gives another fun dimension to this sensory bottle. Tighten up the lid, and your child has a fun, calming toy to enjoy.
It’s common knowledge that brain development and social skills are linked to playing a musical instrument. So whether they want to become the next big rock star, or just would like a musical hobby, it’s a great idea for a child to learn an instrument. If you’re fortunate to have a ukulele, keyboard, or recorder at home, great. But music can be made with almost anything.
Create some shakers with an empty plastic food container and some rice or beans, a straw flute with some straws, scissors, and tape, a DIY guitar with an empty cereal box and some rubber bands, or even a homemade drum kit with some upside down pots and pans and a wooden spoon.
Besides just learning musical instruments, listening to prerecorded books is a great way to use the sound senses. Audiobooks can not only calm children and is great to use during “quiet time”, but encourages them to use their imagination to “see” the story in their mind. Many library systems offer free audiobooks online or through apps, and even a household product like Google Home or Amazon Alexa will tell a child a story if it’s asked.
Oral (Taste and Mouth Movement)
Guess That Taste
Teach a child about our tongues by tasting foods from the kitchen to explore our taste buds. Round up foods that hit the mark on sweet (honey), sour (lemon), salty (table salt), and bitter (coffee). Some even recommend Umami (cheeses) and fat (butter) categories as well.
Let them taste each one with their eyes closed and guess what categories they fit into. Discuss what they like/dislike, what flavor it might fit into, and what food it might be.
READ MORE: 50 Genius Things to Do At Home For Fun
Edible Sensory Play
Combine a couple DIY sensory activities together by incorporating touch with something that’s edible. Babies who have just started solids are great at this activity – playing with food! Cooked spaghetti noodles soaked in food coloring makes for a squishy play time. Edible marshmallow play dough gives way to fun creations and is surely non-toxic. And even something as simple as whipping up some pudding or Jello to stick figurines in can make for a fun sensory time.
Make sure to always start with clean surfaces and hands, then let them go at it!
Thinking back to childhood, many people would say Playdoh branded dough has it’s own specific scent. But to make it more enjoyable and fun, scented play dough can be made at home. Using this recipe and an essential oil or oils of your choice, you can create fun and colorful play dough with inviting smells. No essential oil? Try adding spices from your kitchen like cinnamon or Pumpkin Pie spice, vanilla or any citrus extract, or even a packet of Kool-Aid (which will also color the dough).
Yep, even moving is a sense! The vestibular sense is awareness of body balance and movement, like body rotation, and gravitation, which all children need to develop. And what better way to get moving that with an obstacle course?
Break out some chairs, pillows, and some painters tape for a fun indoor course, or a ladder, rope, and chalk for fun outside. Get moving over, under, side to side, jumping, walking on a single-line – the only limitation is creation. Even adults can get in on the fun!
READ MORE: Top Gifts for the Active Family
Tape Floor Hopscotch
Dated to the late 17th century, hopscotch has been a game staple for children and schools for generations. When talking the proprioceptive, or balance, sense and DIY sensory activities, hopscotch is a simple and easy one to create right at home.
Using chalk outside, or painters tape on the floor inside, parents can help make a hopscotch court for the child to toss a marker into, usually a small rock or a coin. Children then hop their way on one foot (balance!) through the court to retrieve the object. Don’t have painters tape? Use shapes cut out of paper and write numbers
From babies to adults, everyone can benefit from DIY sensory activities. They’re not only for learning and working on development but to relax and stimulate senses in a way that isn’t always used. So parents, as children of all ages, should jump in together and enjoy all DIY sensory activities together.
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