Inside: The best sensory play activities for children from Busy Toddler (aka: the lady on the Internet who’s always championing sensory bins).
Sensory play is all the rage in the kids activity space, and for good reason.
Sensory activities are not a fad. They are not the latest trend and they’re not doing choreographed dances on TikTok. Sensory bins, activities, and play have been a backbone of early childhood for generations – but only recently have they received the mainstream hubbub and fancy accolades that they deserve.
While it may seem like sensory is popping up all over your social media feeds, these little gems of childhood didn’t just suddenly come onto the scene. They’ve been in day cares, preschools, and rec centers for decades.
But now it’s time for us to harness their power and magical learning capabilities into the home setting.
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What is sensory play?!
Sensory play is about a child having the chance to explore, engage, and manipulate with real world items. This may be outside or inside – what’s important is children interacting with their environment.
In the home setting, we can encourage sensory play using sensory bins. Sensory bins are created using a container, tub, or bin and filling it with a tactile material that children can interact with.
While the concept is simple, sensory bins are anything but basic and support so much of the need for sensory play.
Sensory bins have a way of grabbing and holding little attention spans for longer than most other activities.
But even with the plethora of sensory activity ideas abounding online, finding the right sensory ideas for your child, your home, and your level of messy play tolerance is crucial. This won’t be the same for everyone – although there are some absolute stand outs in the sensory category that may just be perfection for your family.
Why is sensory play important?
I have a WHOLE post on why sensory is so important that I would love for you to check out, but briefly: sensory play is not just messy play for the sake of messy play. You can read my post “Why is Sensory Play Important” here.
Sensory activities are serious and significant learning in childhood. This is an opportunity like no other for a child to learn science, math, problem solving, critical thinking, fine motor, imaginary play, and communication skills (just to name a few).
The best sensory activities for children: a go-to list
Today, let’s break down some of the indoor best sensory play ideas for children. These are the best of the best, the 10/10, the constant repeat winners.
The joy of sensory bins is that they span the ages: bins that work for toddlers will also work for 3rd graders. I call sensory play “the great equalizer” because only with a sensory bin can a 12 month old and a 12 year old truly play side by side.
The activities listed here are my absolute go-tos.
These are the sensory activities I turn to over and over again. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel constantly on sensory ideas: a few good tricks in our back parenting pockets can make a huge difference.
Rainbow Rice Sensory Bin
Nothing makes a more beautiful sensory experience than rainbow rice. It’s shockingly easy to make and lasts 3-5 years when stored tight. How many other toys last YEARS of play?
Pom Pom Soup
Love pom pom balls? Try adding water. I’m not kidding! This is a unique spin on a sensory classic – but don’t worry, the pom pom balls dry up perfectly at the end.
Toy Washing Station
YES, water is a sensory moment! Seems almost too easy, am I right? Have your kids wash their toys in water and bubbles for one of the simplest (and cleanest) sensory bins around.
Bubble Foam Sensory
This is what happens when you mix bath soap and water in a blender or with a mixer. I’m not kidding: this is life changing stuff. You only need soap and water (coloring optional).
Mud is sensory (is your mind blown?). Sensory experiences occur in nature, but in case Mother Nature didn’t leave you any mud to work, just add hose to a kiddie pool full of dirt. This is EPIC.
Water Pouring Station
I know we’ve gone over this, but let’s review. WATER IS SENSORY. And nothing is more engaging for kids than learning to pour in this A+ activity.
Oatmeal Sensory Bin
Uncooked oatmeal is mesmerizing to play with, and it stores for years of play. This simple bin is reminiscent of one I played with in a church basement as a kid.
You can’t talk sensory activities without oobleck. This mix of cornstarch and water creates an epic non-Newtownian fluid. It’s not a liquid. It’s not a solid. It’s just plain awesome.
This is my kids’ favorite material: kinetic sand. It’s fluffy sand that doesn’t get in eyes or spread all over the place. It’s store bought – I’m not fancy enough to make this!
Colorful Ice Cubes
While some people have frozen meals in their freezers to divert disaster, I keep colorful ice cubes. It makes my life so much better knowing I can pull together some epic sensory fun in seconds.
Sensory bins provide epic play for kids
While these ideas may seem simplistic, remember that kids don’t need fancy to have fun.
They don’t require over the top, gorgeous, or thematic set ups like those that may grace your Pinterest feed. Remember, these activities are for a group of people who can be entertained for hours from a cardboard box. Always keeps that in mind when prepping an activity…
Finally: How do you keep sensory play from being a disaster?
That (again) is another blog post: but it’s an important one. People often think kids should just intuitively understand how to work with sensory bins and if they don’t – never do them again.
Very very wrong.
Kids need to be taught how to successfully use sensory bins, keep them tidy(ish), and stay within the boundaries of the activity. This doesn’t just happen. It happens from teaching, reteaching, enforcing boundaries, and setting kids up for success.
Read my entire process for sensory bin training and how to teach kids to keep it clean here.
Remember, sensory play is magical
What’s your favorite sensory activity for kids? Comment below to give other ideas of sensory bins that have worked well at your home.