A mother of 7 candidly sharing her journey to find joy amidst the chaos of everyday life. I hope that this will be a place where people can be their true “mismatched socks because there weren’t any clean ones” selves! Join me in trying to find the blessings and joys hidden in among the chaos and the clutter.
Pretend play comes alive with this melting ice cream playdough. With a consistency in between oobleck and playdough, it really does mimic the look of melting ice cream. Kids can pretend that they are making ice cream or creating a play ice cream parlour. It’s fun to make this dough in several colours.
Melting Ice Cream Playdough:
1/2 cup of cornstarch
1/4 cup of coffee creamer
a few drops of food colouring
Combine the coffee creamer and the cornstarch.
Add a few drops of food colouring.
You will be able to form a ball with the dough, but it will ‘melt’.
When not playing with it, store the ice cream playdough in a resealable freezer bag in the fridge.
Allow it to sit out for a bit to get to room temperature before playing again.
The dough feels like a solid, but it behaves as if it is a liquid. The result is an interesting and engaging sensory play material!
Although this playdough recipe is technically taste-safe, it doesn’t taste good! So while kids may want to pretend to be assembling ice cream cones, they probably won’t want to pretend to eat them.
Sensory Play ideas:
Create a playdough station. Set out plastic ice cream cones, bowls, spoons, and an ice cream scoop. I’ve found some really cute ice cream bowls and spoons at the Dollar Store that would be perfect. If you want, you can also set out sprinkles. Kids can then make pretend ice cream cones.
While they play, kids can discuss the texture of the dough and what happens when they handle it. They can also talk about the look and smell of the dough. It may smell a bit like ice cream and they can try to guess why that might be based on the ingredients in it.
Emotional regulation is many layered. One of the factors that comes into play is social emotional development. While this list is by no means comprehensive, I’ve put together some of the social emotional developmental milestones by age.
It is important to note that these ages are what is typical. They by no means apply to all children. Kids who are born prematurely, have early childhood trauma, are on the autism spectrum, or other special needs will be delayed in reaching these stages.
If you have a child with delays or special needs, ignore the ages in the list and instead look for the stage your child is currently at.
This simple butterfly sensory bag provides a calming effect for kids. The glitter makes it appealing for kids to play with. You can make it just for fun or to go along with a butterfly unit in school or homeschool.One of the things I like about sensory bags is how portable they are. While sensory bins provide more opportunity for a variety of textures and sensory experiences, sensory bags are smaller and can be taken anywhere.
Butterfly Sensory Bag:
medium sized resealable bag
butterfly confetti in various colours
optional: duct tape
Fill the bag about half full with the hand sanitizer.
Add a fair amount of glitter. (*see note below)
Put in some butterfly confetti.
Seal the bag, taking out as much air as you can.
If younger kids are going to be using this sensory bag, take duct tape and fold it in half over each of the sides of the bag (4 pieces of duct tape total). You can even use a pretty butterfly tape.
*A note about the glitter: I usually say that there’s no such thing as too much glitter, but in this case, I may have put in a bit too much glitter! It made it hard to see the butterflies.
Mistakes don’t have to ruin your activity though. I turned it around. I told the kids that the goal was to try to find all the butterflies and count them.
This butterfly sensory bag provides tactile (touch) and visual (sight) sensory input. When kids, squeeze, squish, and press the bag, it gives them proprioceptive sensory feedback.
Language and math skills:
A child can discuss how the bag feels (squishy, gooey, textures, etc.). They can talk about the colours of the butterflies and they can count the butterflies or sort them by colour.
Get 175 sensory activity ideas in convenient printable lists which are ideal for using in the home, classroom or in a therapeutic setting.
Your kids are going to love this tactile sensory play with texture balloons. They will enjoy deciphering what is inside each one and the tactile sensory input they get. You will like how simple and inexpensive this activity is to put together. These tactile sensory balloons are a great way for sensory avoiders to experience textures without touching them directly. As an example, if your child doesn’t like the feel of water beads, you can place water beads in a balloon and they can feel the shape, squishiness, and movement of them without having to feel the wetness or gooeyness.
This activity presents learning opportunities. The guessing and matching is science. Language skills are enhanced while discussing the characteristics of each filler and when reading the cards.
How to make texture balloons:
hair gel or hand sanitizer
optional: cards to match up with the corresponding item
Fill each of the balloons with one of the fillers (popcorn seeds, gel, sand, rice, flour, marbles) and tie in a knot at the top to close.
It can be challenging to fill the balloons. The best way I have found is to blow the balloon up first and let the air out.
Insert the end of a funnel into the top of the balloon and place the filler in the funnel. For the marbles, you’ll have to slip them in the top of the balloon one at a time.
Have the child use their senses to try to determine which filler is in each balloon.
Other ideas for items to fill your texture balloons with:
coffee beans or coffee grounds
whatever else your imagination can come up with
You can find printable cards for the tactile balloons in The Sensory Science Book Volume 1. You’ll also find other easy to create hands-on science activities for kids.
Encourage your child to also use their auditory sense in addition to their sense of touch. Discuss how the flour and the sugar sound different in the balloon and why that might be.
For older children, you could also fill one balloon with water and another with water and then freeze the balloon so that it is filled with ice and talk about states of matter.
You don’t have to wait for a birthday for the fun to begin. This birthday cake sensory bin allows for a party anytime!
Kids will love to pretend they are baking and decorating. The birthday theme is also a lot of fun. Who doesn’t love a birthday?!
Birthday cake sensory bin:
1/2 cup of shampoo
2 Tablespoons of water
1 cup of flour
silicone cupcake molds, small cake pans, muffin tins, and small dishes for forming “cakes”
small craft sticks (popsicle sticks)
battery operated votive candle
tissue paper in orange, yellow or red
baking dish or a plastic bin with a lid
optional: birthday cake scented candle or wax melt
Make the birthday cake dough:
Add one cup of flour, 2 Tbsp. of water and 1/2 cup of shampoo to a medium bowl.
Stir. As the ingredients start to bind together, finishing mixing with your hands.
If the dough feels sticky, you will add a little more flour, no more than 1/4 cup.
Test the dough for stickiness. If it is still sticky, add a little more flour and continue to mix until it doesn’t stick to your hands.
Make pretend candles:
You will need a length of washi tape that can cover a craft stick on both sides.
Allow the tape to slightly overlap the craft stick and place small squares of tissue paper on the top of the stick. You can layer orange and yellow tissue paper to resemble a flame.
Fold the tape up to cover the other side of the craft stick and secure the tissue paper.
Trim the edges of the tape on the sides of the craft stick using scissors.
Cut the tissue paper to resemble a flame.
You can use the play candles for other activities as well.
Assemble the birthday cake activity bin:
Pour a bottle of sprinkles in the bottom of the dish or storage container you plan to use.
Add the birthday cake dough.
Place small dishes like play food dishes, silicone cupcake molds, and small baking dishes in the bin.
Add the fake candles and a battery operated votive candle.
Sensory play benefits of this bin:
Invite your child to explore the sensory activity. They can form mini cakes or cupcakes, decorate them with sprinkles and add candles to serve birthday cake.
This is imaginative play at its finest. Children will also benefit from the sensory experiences. The squeezing together of the dough provides proprioceptive feedback. They will also be receiving visual and tactile sensory input. If you add the optional scented candle or wax melt, they will also be engaging their olfactory sensory system.
This lightweight ABC I Spy sensory bottle provides all kinds of learning opportunities. The colours are engaging. This provides great sensory play for preschoolers.
ABC I Spy Sensory Bottle:
plastic Voss water bottle
Super glue, optional
*You can often find tinsel at the Dollar Store or in the party decoration section of a department store.
Add tinsel to an empty plastic bottle with a wide mouth. There is no right or wrong amount of tinsel, but you do want to fill the bottle pretty well.
Add the alphabet beads into the bottle.
Fill the rest of the bottle with water. Using a funnel makes this part easier.
Secure the lid and play! Note: If you are intending to use this sensory bottle with small children, seal the lid with super glue before screwing the lid back on. You will need to give the super glue 15 minutes to dry before giving it to a child.
Sensory – describe how the bottle feels (light, heavy, etc). Describe visual observations. Shake this bottle – what sounds does it make, how does the tinsel swirl, etc.
Math/Science Skills – Count the beads, observe and describe how the tinsel interacts with light, make one of these bottles without using water and make a hypothesis in how you think they will differ and then compare/contrast. Literacy – Identify the letters, name words with the same beginning sounds as you spot letters, rhyme words to the colour of the bead that starts with the letter on the bead.
Social Skills – take turns sharing the bottle. Practice phrases like “my turn”, “your turn”, “go”, and “stop”.
Fine Motor – Let kids push the tinsel into the bottle and pinch up the beads to add them into the bottle.
Language Skills – have kids use descriptive language to explain what the tinsel looks like and what they are experiencing. Practice pragmatic language for rules on how to use the sensory bottle and how to share the sensory bottle (informing, demanding, stating, and requesting).
Fine motor sensory activities are so healthy for kids. They enable them to get that awesome sensory feedback that they need while also practising their fine motor skills.
These fine motor sensory activities can be used at home or in preschool or the classroom.
Even older kids can benefit from fine motor work. Improving fine motor skills improves hand-eye coordination which is an important skill for driving and playing sports.
Another benefit of improving fine motor skills is that it helps children understand how their body works. This is great for body awareness and self-esteem.
The activities don’t have to be complicated. Simple and done is better than intention that doesn’t happen. Just pull out some buttons and throw them in a bin with some water beads and have your child dig for the buttons. Fine motor sensory play = done!
“My child doesn’t have Sensory Processing Disorder. Do they still need sensory play?” This is a common question I get from readers.
The answer is “absolutely yes”! Sensory play is important for all children. Sensory play can improve your child’s development, cognition, social skills, and behaviour.
As more research is done, experts are recognizing the importance of sensory play and touting its benefits. Sensory play is not only important for babies and toddlers, it’s good for kids of all ages.
And of course, if your child is exhibiting signs of sensory issues, then sensory play is a critical component of their days.
Just some of the benefits of sensory play for kids:
exploration of the world around them
encourages problem solving
increases brain development
provides sensory input
leads to better retention in learning
promotes language development
helps regulate emotions and behaviour
improves fine motor skills and gross motor skills
introduces opportunities for social skills
makes learning interesting and fun
Even if your child doesn’t have Sensory Processing Disorder or obvious sensory issues, all of us have sensory preferences. Sensory play can help us to get out of our sensory comfort zone. It can introduce tastes, textures, sounds, sights, and smells that we may not be familiar with or may not be as comfortable with.
Another great reason that all kids need sensory play? Sensory input, particularly proprioceptive input helps regulate mood and behaviour. If you’re a parent, that reason alone should be enough to have you scrambling to climb aboard the sensory train!
This doesn’t have to be complicated or involve you spending hundreds of dollars on fancy equipment. It only requires that you take more notice of what opportunities are around.
Simple sensory play ideas:
Fill a plastic container with shaving cream. Drop a few toys in and let your child dig to find them.
Let them play in dirt or mud. Messy play is good for them!
A bee life cycle sensory bin is a hands-on way to reinforce learning for kids on this topic. You can use this bin in a science unit or at a sensory station in your home or classroom.Walk kids through the transformation of a bee from egg to larva to pupa to a mature honey bee. You can either add everything to the bin all at once, or you can add them in after the amount of time they would happen in real life.
In that case, you would add the egg on the first day and it would “hatch” into the larva after 3 or 4 days, so you could add the larva on that day. The next stage takes between 6 and 11 days depending on whether the bee is a future queen or a worker bee.
Place the water beads in a plastic container. I used three packs of yellow beads and one pack of black water beads.
Allow the water beads to expand fully (this will take several hours) before adding the items from the life cycle of a bee package.
Kids can use their hands to dig in the bin and touch each of the stages in the honey bee cycle. If you’ve included some honey, they will also be able to use their sense of taste and smell to enhance their learning.
This sensory bin engages the visual and tactile sensory systems and if honey is included, it also engages the olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste) systems as well. This is hands-on learning at its best.
Check out some of our other science related sensory bins:
This bedtime calming sensory bottle is perfect for helping children fall asleep. Your child can watch the stars in the bottle be revealed from within the glitter and count them until falling asleep.
Having a comfort item such as this calming bottle can help kids who have anxiety about bedtime. Incorporating this into the nighttime routine can be good for both children and parents.
Making a Bedtime Calming Sensory Bottle:
plastic Voss water bottle
5-10 foam stars (glitter gold)
¼ cup holographic glitter (royal blue)
¼ cup glitter (royal blue)
1 cup hand sanitizer
1 cup water
If using a Voss water bottle, empty the bottle of water and allow the bottle to fully dry.
Add hand sanitizer and water to the sensory bottle using the funnel.
Add the foam stars (these may have to be folded in half depending on size).
Add both glitters to the bottle using the funnel.
Seal with lid with Superglue and allow the glue to dry fully (at least 15 minutes).*
*Note: I normally only Superglue the lids on sensory bottles for small children, but since this one is going into bed with your child, you should secure the lid with glue. It would be quite a mess to clean up glitter and hand sanitizer from bedding!
Hand your child the calming bottle when they’re having trouble going to sleep and ask them to count the stars. They will have to allow the stars to reveal themselves from the glitter in order to count them. This will keep the child focused until they fall asleep.
Some kids also just find it helpful to have something to hold onto.
Be sure that the lid is securely in place before allowing your child to sleep with this sensory bottle and for younger kids who may choke on small objects (such as the stars), only use during the day when you can supervise.
Sensory – Describe the sounds the calming sensory bottle makes, the feel of the bottle (is it light, heavy, etc.), what you can see when you shake the bottle, how quickly the stars fall. This bottle provides visual, tactile, and proprioceptive feedback.
Math Skills – Count the stars, count the different size stars, and sort the stars by size.
Science Skills – Watch how the glitter moves around, falling down, swirling around and moving with the shaking. Watch how the stars reveal themselves as the glitter shifts, kind of like the stars in the night sky are revealed as the sun goes down.
Try making the same bottle with just water or just hand sanitizer instead of hand sanitizer and water and compare and contrast how the glitter falls in each of the bottles.
Fine Motor – Getting the stars into the sensory bottle can be a challenge for those little hands. This is great fine motor skill practise for them. It is also an opportunity to problem solve and discuss what happens if you fold the stars, push them in with your fingers or just try to get them to “fall” into the bottle.
Language Skills – have kids use descriptive language to explain what the stars and glitter look like, what sizes the stars are, and what they are experiencing. They can also practise their conversation skills by asking for their sensory bottle at bedtime and talking about how it makes them feel.
Check out these other calming techniques for kids: