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Sensory Play For Kids– examples, ideas, indoors, outdoors

As a relatively young and inexperienced parent and intimidated to take on the educator role, I thought the school should be where all the learning happens. I also realized that a lot of education goes on at home. Sensory play is something that many people overlook, even though it is so easy to incorporate into your daily routine. After some time, I learned that sensory language could be engaging and super fun to practice with the right framework and a basic understanding of my child’s development.

Sensory games are fun and simple when you learn to relax and let them happen naturally. Understanding how your child prefers sensory input is advantageous and will benefit you and your family. Learn about your child’s sensory preferences, then build off of that.

Over the years, I have created tons of off-the-cuff games and opportunities for learning just by understanding the goal of certain aspects of education. Education itself can feel overwhelming for most parents, but it is much more fun for everyone when you turn it into a small moment for connection that also supports skill-building.

What can kids do with their sense of sight?

Bubbles (in the rain)

Have you ever tried bubbles in gentle rain? If you add a little bit of vegetable glycerin to bubbles, they brighten up in the shower. Not only do you get to connect with your kids on a rainy day, but you also get to activate the eyes to see different swirls as the rain falls through the bubbles.

Dance with your kids as they blow around you. Show them how to open and close umbrellas, put on their rain gear, and the different storm clouds.

Use this opportunity to connect and love as you blow the bubbles and feel the rain. Don’t worry; they won’t pop easily!

I Spy

Playing I Spy is a fun game for most kids. Depending on the age, it might seem competitive or confusing about where to look.

Continue to encourage the use of colors, shapes, and patterns, and they will find it in no time. My favorite ways to play I Spy aren’t actually with books or only on car rides.

Play this game with bird or animal varieties– at home! Teach kids to identify animal species to learn basic animal classification.

If your kids are too young to talk, that’s okay. Use colors or shapes to spy on that feathered friend. Apply this idea to different kinds of things, and the opportunities are endless. Have you ever tried to spy a missing sock?


Whether you have purchased one from a shop or do a DIY project, these handy toys are great for activating eyesight. They have bright colors, unique shapes, and make cool designs.

Their therapeutic effects are helpful when children’s eyes get overwhelmed by other forms of stimulation. Show them how to turn it, peek inside, and shake it.

Encourage pretend play and imagine different settings you might find in the pictures you create? Is it a green-themed kaleidoscope? You may see a forest, a garden, or a pumpkin patch.

Use your imagination and show your child how to use their eyes to create new and fun activities for themselves.


Do you ever remember campfires as a child? Fires are a fun and exciting way to have your eyes adjust to different light situations. Not only do they provide family time with their ever-famous campfire snack, but they also introduce so many senses into our little love routines.

Supplement family fires with appropriate books, cameras, flashlights, and singing to elevate bonding time. Introduce fire safety tips and boundaries for little hands that want to participate.

Make this an experience and a lesson to strengthen trust and encourage exploration with individual family members who feel comfortable outside during a fire.

Paper lanterns

These handy decorations are enjoyable for kids. They learn to open and close them like an accordion and insert the metal frame.

There are designs, colors, and various shapes for every setting. Use paper lanterns on the ceiling with a piece of thread and a push pin. They spin, rock back and forth, and create cool shadows.

You can even buy battery-operated lights for them. Children will think they are balls. Consider sacrificing one for the cause. They are pretty inexpensive and are fun to toss around.


Kids love to see far distances, and binoculars are an inexpensive way to help them find far-away things. They can be used as a tool on trips, vacations, parks, or just in your home or neighborhood.

Their eyes learn to adjust to the different areas of the binoculars and engage in different settings and regions they target through the tool. They encourage role-play because they can wear them and make up their own scene from a book, movie, or show.

If your kids like in-depth books like The Magic School Bus, or shows like Wild Kratts, this will be the perfect chance to get them to think like a scientist.

Play-doh Volcano

Play-doh is a tried and true sensory material. You can make it, buy it, dry and hydrate it, and anything else you can think of to help little hands and minds strengthen.

There are tons of colors, varieties, and different tools to purchase or things around your house to repurpose, like plastic knives or rolling pins.

Recently, we made a play-doh volcano with a plastic mold and poked a hole in the top before it dried. The little hole was an excellent vessel for a baking soda and vinegar explosion.

It is calming to watch the colored vinegar ooze from the top and trickle down the volcano’s sides. It’s visually appealing and introduces science too!

Colored Sunglasses

Sunglasses, while strange, are an extremely popular sensory item in my house. I first discovered colored sunglasses when it was recommended we try them for chronic headaches.

Not only do the children in my house wear them, but the adults too. These tools are a fun way to turn anything you see into a tint of another color.

They promote pretend play, strengthen the eyes, and encourage bonding.

If your kids are particular about matching, be sure to encourage matching and mixing the colors with clothing to see how they respond to color changes. It’s interesting to see how children use them in different ways!


Any kind of physical activity also helps with eyesight. Jumping, a typical game for kids, helps them with assessing distance. They can judge near and far to decide whether it’s worth the risk.

Depending on the age and skill level, they will be jumping from various structures; playhouses, rock walls, stairs, couches, etc. I even saw my teenage neighbor jump from his roof once.

Once your child is familiar with their threshold, they will gain confidence and physical strength. Coordination is critical with gross motor activities, and the more opportunities they have, the more likely they will be to try new physical activities in the future.

Anyone up for a 10-mile hike?

Container Comparisons

Another versatile activity we have always enjoyed is plastic or metal container comparisons. Whether you have a plastic take-out drawer, a metal shop, or specific toys geared towards this sensory game, like nesting dolls, they are helpful because kids see the different sizes and shapes through vision.

Stacking, nesting, organizing, filling, dumping, and building can all are practiced with containers. They are visually appealing if your child prefers math-related activities for different patterns or physical 3-D creations.


Some have a love-hate relationship with glitter, but it can be so fun if used correctly. Glitter is shiny, colorful, and used for many creations.

Put it in shakers or a tiny bowl to show kids how to pinch. Give them stencils and a glue stick.

I know what you are thinking– how do you clean it up? Tell your kids it is part of the fun. Whether they are stenciling, gluing glitter to woodblocks, or making glitter soup, encouraging kids to make tidying part of the result is part of the family bonding and skill-building.

Trust the process and show your kids that it has value throughout their artistic endeavors.

My favorite adult-led glitter clean-up game is tape the glitter. It is a simple and creative way to teach them to clean the mess.

Get painter’s tape to wrap their hands with and ask them to dab up with glitter with the tape. Encourage them to create striped patterns on your glitter-ridden floor areas to pull up a fun glitter surprise.

You can then decide whether you want to save the tape for future projects or throw it away. If you hate loose glitter, try glitter glue. It is a great middle-ground.

What’s the best way to develop sense of touch?

“We show people that anybody can paint a picture that they’re proud of.”

–Bob Ross

Metal lids

Kids of any age should appreciate metal lids. They are helpful for DIY musical instruments, building, stacking, gluing, and pressing.

Pull them off baby food jars, drinks, tomato sauces, or items that you know will expire because manufacturers must put the bump in the middle.

Once the lid is off, the center makes an incredible popping sound. Kids can practice their fine motor skills by pressing the top to find the sound.

Even if you don’t have the fun pop sound, you can use plastic or metal lids from most foods for projects, crafts, and sensory play.

Collect quantities to make a sensory bin with them and give them pipe cleaners, glue sticks, and cardboard for more activity ideas.

Sink or Float

Most parents know when they get water babies, but even those that don’t have kids who enjoy the water should see the benefit of water play.

This sensory experience can help teach skills like buoyancy and fractions, relieve stress, or promote pretend play. Sink or float games are fun with just about any toy.

Create a system to decide what becomes a water toy, and some are naturally inclined to get thrown in while others require more negotiation– Barbie’s, for example.

If you are like me and don’t like buying a toy for every subject, consider using underused toys that may have made it to the recycle or donate pile. Sometimes, they are the most valuable materials for water play.

Check out the video below. She does a great job at using sensory language, and her games are unique and fun!

Sand and soil

Whether you were born with a green thumb or not, introducing kids to sand and soil is excellent for connection and skill-building. Activities can be comparison games, water play, gluing, and building.

Sand and dirt are in unlimited supply, and the ideas are endless. Follow your kids and their interests. Chances are, you won’t have to prepare too much for this activity, so long as you allow them to take the lead and provide supplemental materials.

Use shovels, rollers, funnels, spatulas, sticks, and dimensional molds. If you must purchase items, buy the cheaper ones for these activities if you are likely to lose them at the beach or a public playground.

Try indoor activities with store-bought objects like kinetic sands, slimes, and sticky rocks, and outside activities with mud, sand, and, well, outdoor stuff. Think of that childhood mud pie you created once.


Buttons have been a personal favorite of mine since I was a kid. I love outlining the perimeters of buttons and creating layered pencil art. They are versatile, easy to store, and practical.

Varieties of buttons can be used for sensory games like beading, patterning, sensory trays, and gluing. You can use them for water play, role-play, and patterning math-related games.

Because there are quantities of buttons, they are handy for tactile experiences because kids love to dig their hands deep into the smooth shapes and textures. Consider buttons if you want to introduce your kids to sensory play.

Feathers & Foam

These two are together because I love to use ampersands, and because they both start with the letter F, and because they are both awesome!

Feathers, foam, pom-pom balls, ribbons, pipe-cleaners, polyester filling, and yarn are just a few staples in my art room. Keep them all in one drawer, so your children feel drawn to the same drawer, and don’t mess up more organized areas. Extra supplies for these activities are toothpicks, wine corks, pop cycle sticks, hair ties, finger puppets, and other random materials that feel useful.

Show them how to use sticks and foam to create dimensions and glue to make it look flat.


Varieties of tape are a great tactile experience for tiny and even middle-sized hands. It takes coordination to peel, place, and smooth the tape onto surfaces.

There are fun sizes, textures, and different uses for tape. Try wrapping things with tape –dolls, woodblocks, boxes, and even our legs and feet. It sounds silly because it is! Kids love to be silly with materials.

Painter’s tape is the best for this because it comes off easily. Try tape art if you want to be more creative. Put pieces of tape on a piece of thick paper to add layers of color and visual texture.

Mo Willems did a series of videos, and in this one, he shows viewers abstraction art. Painter’s tape, packaging tape, double stick tape, masking tape, duct tape, and washi tape are all fun to consider for more activities.

Be careful with packaging tape; it is pretty sticky.


Kids love to feel accomplished, and paint is a lovely sensory experience for the whole family. There are non-toxic paints, acrylic paints, tempera paints, dabbers, oil paints, and more! Use some of the materials that you use for other sensory games like feathers, foam letters, wine corks, and sticks to help your little learner create more masterpieces. Try painting on different materials besides paper too. Old packaging, shoe boxes, canvas boards, and newspaper are all easy targets.

If you have older children, teach them about the color wheel and the different color combinations. There are primary, secondary, and tertiary colors to consider.

  • The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue.
  • Secondary colors are created by mixing primary colors– orange, purple, green.
  • Tertiary colors are when primary and secondary colors are mixed– blue-green.
  • Complimentary colors oppose each other on the color wheel– red and green, for example.
  • Analogous colors are side by side when you look at the color wheel, like blue and purple.

Hard rubber stamps

Stamps and ink are a family favorite in my house. They are great for teaching pressure. A small amount of pressure will result in a lighter picture; harder pressure will squeeze the ink onto the rubber and provide a more pigmented transfer.

Depending on a child’s motives, they may want to play around with pressure to process a more desirable sensory experience.

Stampers are an excellent alternative to practice hitting, smacking, or forceful games if you have a child who bites or hits regularly.

Please give them a child-friendly, non-toxic stamp pad, rubber stamps, and a thick piece of cardstock or newspaper, and let them go crazy.

There are easy-to-grasp stamps, extra-large stamps, and stamps for all the holidays. Sometimes they can be a bit pricy. Don’t be ashamed to rummage through local thrift stores, buy online, or use second-hand children’s stores for bulk stamp purchases.

What are some fun things to do with your sense of smell?


Beaches are a great way to activate all kinds of different senses– individually or simultaneously. Everyone goes to the beach to dip toes and smooth out sand, but the sense of smell may get overlooked.

Learn how to identify smells at the beach to guide future learning. Sometimes people associate stinky smells with negative experiences. Still, I urge you and your little thinker to learn to adapt to the environment and use smell as a way to target new learning opportunities.

An old mussel shell teaches you the difference between fresh and rotten seafood. Specific types of moss have fresh sea smells and earthy wood-like smells.

Learn about different beach smells to guide you and your child through different ecosystems and the different scents that often come from them. There are synthetic smells and natural smells. Learning the subtle differences between the two and where to find them in the world can be a creative way to navigate through the environment as you encourage this child-led thinking.

Cook in kitchen

The kitchen environment is another tried and true learning environment. There can be intense family bonding, creativity, and communication in almost every facet of cooking.

Skill-building is limitless in the kitchen, and the sense of smell is a lovely way to connect the dots in the brain to facilitate learning experiences. Spice cabinets, fresh fruits and vegetables, varieties of foods, and sweets are all tools for learning. The freezer has a wonderfully strange smell, and kids take it in to learn all they can.

Another place I see kids gravitate towards is the dishwasher. While this isn’t any particular food smell, it is another opportunity to explain the differences between artificial fragrances like dish-washing detergents and natural scents like lavender.

Kids should want to learn differences, and the smells that come out of hot steam-filled places like dishwashers remind them of hot steam-filled foods like pastries. It’s a well-rounded room that serves many different areas of learning. Which spice in your cabinet do you like to open for no reason?


In a way, laundry rooms can be like kitchens. While we don’t directly benefit from the laundry room, besides having clean shorts, bonding, learning, and senses strengthen in this household area. Learning opportunities can be off-the-cuff and smell-focused while emphasizing cooperation, communication, and family patterns.

The sense of smell is a great way to establish family routines into your tiny human’s day. Focusing on the aromas present in the room may distract from the idea that laundry is a chore and make it feel like they contribute to the family lifestyle and add value to the fast-paced routines they see snap before their eyes.

Make sure you give yourself enough time to teach the differences between chemicals and toys and allow them to identify which tools you use for cleaning. With parental supervision, depending on the child’s age, let children smell and even pour detergents into measuring cups, and add dryer sheets or wool balls to the clothes dryer.

Encourage them to help with these routines any way they can, even if they pull out a single clean shirt from the clean and dried clothes. Help them understand the differences between the clean clothing and the poop on the bottom of their shoe so learn to value and understand these cleanliness routines.

Craft Stores

The potpourri and the dried flowers of craft stores will always remind me of the warm and nurturing aspects I envisioned of motherhood. There are many opportunities to introduce children to tactile games like sands and foams, but the sense of smell is another great one to explore.

Craft store trips should be more focused on family bonding time and less on impulsive purchases. It is always hard to predict if a meltdown will happen, but remember to stay focused on love when they do.

Help children experience their anger or frustration about wanting something they can not purchase to help calm them in the future.

Teach them to value their time spent doing one suggested activity instead of five partial projects, so they learn to focus on a task. Their memory of this store should help them identify strong emotions in the future, especially if they were crying near a dried pine wreath.


Hiking exposes people to things they could never find at home by studying the differences between conifers or identifying apple varietals. Books describe plants and animals and introduce families to biology, but these things should be experienced through the senses to understand them.

The forest is full of different smells and animal activities that will build on prior knowledge. For these activities, I recommend you learn about the Five in a Row program.

Use hiking as a supplemental activity for this book-related curriculum to teach children that what you see in books is in real life. The books in this program emphasize senses too. It is an excellent opportunity to guide learning through literature and to encourage future exploration.

Attics and Basements

Memories link with smells from attics and basements. Use these storage rooms to get out old boxes or trunks and pretend.

Smell the old hats and clothes before you try them on. Look at old art you created as a child if you have them to show your childhood creations? Do they still smell like paint? Are there any old bouquets from weddings or dried arrangements from funerals you have kept?

These are rooms are very personal, but the sense of smell should be active when hunting for these old treasures.

Herbs and Whole leaf teas

My family loves herbs. We grow them, harvest them, and eat them. They all have different textures, uses, and of course, smells. Talk to children about the differences between dried herbs in cabinets and fresh herbs at the grocery store.

Is there any way you can set them out side-by-side? What can you smell in dried herbs that you can’t smell in fresh herbs? Check the expiration date to see what happens if herbs go past their recommended storage time. Does anything change? Fresh herbs could be dry or moist, depending on the climate.

If you have whole leaves, smell them and compare them to tea blends to notice differences in blends versus whole. You can even sacrifice a few tea bags to show your kids what is inside so they can see and smell the tea.

Who knows, maybe you will use smell to invite your kids to have an impromptu tea party.

What’s the best way to teach the sense of taste?

Food Comparisons (beans)

Compare food textures and flavors with foods that are fun for kids. Beans are an excellent example because they are inexpensive, versatile, and show the process before committing to more expensive foods or strange foods you may be hesitant to try.

Depending on the ages of your children, it may be something you do every day already with pantry staples. Please talk about the differences between varieties of foods and how they activate different senses or memories.

They may be smooth, chalky, rough, or crunchy. Learning to promote this language will help when you try to understand which foods your child prefers so you can prepare for future shopping trips.

Non-toxic paint

Lots of kids prefer to use their sense of taste for non-food items. This is normal. Ensure that you have varieties of non-toxic paints if your toddler or child likes to practice tasting paint.

Many paints are made with food powders, so you can be sure that they eat dried beets or greens while exploring their creative side. Even the ones that are not made with foods are created to be safe for ingestion.

Be sure to read the labels of dabbers, paints, stamp pads, and other various art materials you have to ease your mind when you see your child’s dirty mouth.

Bubbly water varieties

A recent discovery in my house was bubbly water. There are many different kids you can purchase depending on your budget and preferences. We have found that these sugar-free drinks can be a fun sensory experience.

We like to buy different kinds and make side-by-side comparisons of the brands. There are some with giant bubbles and others with more densely packed and tiny bubbles. It is a silly event, so be sure to bring on your burps and giggles.

Exotic fruits

There is nothing like trying something new, right? Unless you are frightened by the idea! This is precisely why you and your kids should try exotic fruits. People have random phobias and don’t always know why. I think it is sensory-related.

Fruits are good for you, and don’t judge you after you spit them out. It is essential to keep trying new textures and foods to see if your preferences for certain textures or flavors change over time. Compare exotic foods to everyday staples to see the number of changes you could experience in a daily routine like breakfast.

You might be used to eating a daily banana and can predict its sweet and starchy characteristics. How do bananas compare to mangosteens?

There may be pushback within your family. Don’t fight it. Just keep trying. Try buying something new once in a while without pressuring them to eat new foods. Go to local community markets, pea patches, or health food stores to prep their senses.

Food Pastes

Food pastes are great for younger children. There are many reasons why you should introduce infants and toddlers to new flavors and textures– health benefits, behaviors, and cognition.

Many parents have learned about child-led weaning, and I like this idea with food pastes and purees. The idea is to allow your child to decide when to eat new harder food textures. While it can be cumbersome to create food pastes, hence child-led weaning, I don’t see any problem making them if they are the best fit for your family and routine.

Try smooth foods like bananas, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and avocados to start. Gradually try new ideas, and your child will let you know the rest!

Yum Box

We recently signed up for a Yum Box through Universal Yums | Subscription Box with Snacks from Around the World. These adventure boxes are full of sensory experiences. They compile lists of snacks, candies, and maps from around the world to introduce your family to fun rituals and snack packs from around the world. There are clues, games, guides, and obviously, yummy treats!

How can I help my child’s sense of sound?

Coffee grinder

Anything in the kitchen that makes a great sound should be used for children and family bonding time. Coffee grinders are used for herbs, whole leaves, and coffee. They are easy to use for tiny hands and can be fun for most of the senses.

They make a loud grinding sound and typically only have one button. Kids like other useful tools in the kitchen, like blenders, mashers, and mixers. Coffee grinders are very inexpensive too.

Bubble wrap Packing poppers

My kids LOVE packing poppers. They are almost more fun than the project in the delivery box. There are varieties of bubble mailers, and they all have unique shapes that change their sound when you pop them. They can be purchased at a local postal shop or bought online. If you do a lot of online shopping, you might just want to keep your eye out for future packing materials that you can use for sensory activities!

DIY Music Party

Introduce your kids to music young and teach them how to navigate Pandora and Spotify if they are an appropriate age. Set them up for success by teaching them which genres are the best for their interests and create playlists.

Have bins of materials for DIY musical instruments and store-bought instruments. Flutes, guitars, keyboards, clarinets, xylophones, and recorders are great instruments for young children. Kids must know that music is rich in history and valuable for sensory experiences. Kids learn so much by identifying how they remember a specific memory.

We like listening to Bollywood soundtracks and learning about the different instruments and techniques to layer sound. They are fun to watch too! Use what you have and start where your kids are comfortable. We sang Baby Shark for two years before we could even consider Let it Go. Kids like to master what they know. There is a balance between trying new things and mastering old skills.

Local Parks

Parks are a typical way to incorporate sounds into your routine. There are sounds from the roads, children laughing, animals, and conversations with other people in parks. Some people bring music and some like it quiet.

If your child prefers quieter walks, I urge you to think about doing a listening walk. Kids can be overwhelmed by sound, so it is just as important to communicate this as it is to encourage stimulating experiences.

Community Transit

Transit is a unique way to introduce different sounds to your child. Transit centers are full of local busses and can be used as a learning experience. Busses have cool sounds that come from the doors, creaks from the machinery, and poofs from the exhaust.

While I don’t encourage you to take in whiffs of gas, I think there are sounds unlike any other at transit centers. People are often seen chatting at the benches, and sometimes beeps are coming from the bus when they continue their route. Listen to the bus rise and fall as it accommodates disabled passengers; what can you hear?

Fish Tank Beads

Beads of all kinds make an incredible sound. Fish tank beads are inexpensive and easy to find. They are used for all sorts of activities besides sensory activities –like fish tanks– but can be helpful in an art drawer as well.

Use them with pots and pans, sensory tables, and musical instruments. Some of them make a great sound when using other sensory materials like rice, buttons, or small craft bells.

Create and encourage a variety of sensory activities to see which games your family prefers. You might find that one child enjoys rubbing their fingertips against the beads while another might enjoy chucking them at the wall.

Please be sure to build a conversation about safety around this material, so if there are younger children in your house, they are unharmed.


You can’t leave the beach without snagging a seashell, can you? Seashells are great for handling and touching.

They are also great for listening to the tiny sounds inside. There are natural seashells that you can listen to or store-bought ones with a more artificial sound.

Crack them and listen to sounds they make when they snap. Compare them to things around your house you can easily break to notice differences.

It is also fun to rub your fingers over the jagged edge. Seashells are also used for glue-art projects, sand toys, and googly eye projects. They are definitely a multi-sensory item!

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