Sensory Play in Different Ways

We all know and love sensory tubs!  From filling them up to sifting through them, they provide hours of language development, fine motor play, sensory play, and just plain FUN.  M and G love sensory-based activities and I’m always trying to find ways to switch it up.  We usually do our sensory bins in plastic shoeboxes, but here are some different ways to dig in and play!

Play on a Tray

sensory play
One of my favorite crafting-learning-play item that I’ve ever bought is the plastic tray set from Oriental Trading.  They are super versatile, sturdy, and we use them daily.  For this sensory activity, I sprayed shaving cream all over and M squeezed dots of food coloring (just don’t use the gel-based kind; it stains!) on top.  She mixed and stirred and spread until she had a tray of gorgeous colors.  You could even extend this by laying a piece of card stock on top of the finished colors and make prints!

Ice in a Drawer

sensory play
I think we all have plastic storage containers, right?  Well, dump one out and fill it with ice.  Hide animals or toys and dig, scoop, and play your way through an icy landscape!

Beads in a Bowl

sensory play
Water beads are the new sensory thing, so pour some in a bowl and watch them grow!  Stir, pour, and squeeze to your heart’s delight!

Sensory Feet

sensory play
Got a little one that wants in on the action?  Tape some paper on an exersaucer and squeeze some washable paint on it.  Let your tot mix and mash with their feet!

Magnet Magic

sensory play
Add a new element to your sensory bin by throwing in some themed magnets and a magnet wand.  Your tot will love swooshing the magnet wand through the filler (beans, rice, ect.) and “fishing” out the items that “magically” stick!

Water Table

sensory play
Toss some tiny objects in a water table and let your little one explore, catch, splash, and swish!  For an extra challenge, provide a big pair of tongs, measuring cups, or a slotted spoon.
We just love integrating sensory experiences into our daily play and hope we’ve inspired you to do some, too!
Written by Jill
Cotton Ball Sensory Play

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  • Reply Allison

    Love all the ideas.

    May 2, 2012 at 2:30 pm
  • Reply Anonymous

    Where did you get the magnet wand? Have been looking for a magnet they can hold. Thanks Jean

    May 2, 2012 at 6:36 pm
    • Reply The Activity Mom

      Jean, you can find those at teacher stores such as Lakeshore Learning.

      May 2, 2012 at 7:50 pm
  • Reply Mama Jodi

    These are such great ideas. My husband would reprimand me for giving out so many ideas in one day….lol. He would jokingly say, “Honey, that’s five posts you have there.” Jodi @

    May 2, 2012 at 9:55 pm
  • Reply Jen

    Jill-Love your daughter’s face in the first pic. Great ideas. I’ll have to do the catching items in water with little man. He loves water play- with the nice weather- we were able to get outside and have fun with his water bin. Last night he experiences the water beads for the first time.


    May 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm
  • Reply School System Occupational Therapist in Virginia

    Thank you for sharing all these great ideas! Karen

    August 13, 2012 at 8:03 pm
  • Reply Stephanie

    Just a heads up, the water beads are not allowed at most preschools or daycares because i a child swallows one, it continues to expand in the stomach and can cause serious issues.

    November 23, 2013 at 1:25 am
    • Reply Cheryl

      I had a toddler somehow eat one bead, I knew it had fallen out of the sensory box but couldn’t find it. I told parents, researched to make sure it was non toxic. Next day it “returned”, dried out and shrunk. I have been scared of these sense though. My reading made me think that they would be harmful if several were to be eaten at the same time. But they stop growing at a certain point and the stomach acid will not absorb like water will. And the intestines will absorb the moisture. The moisture will not harm. And the gel is what is in diaper material. I will only use them with the older children in my daycare now though. And everytime I have them out, I am reminded of what happened to the point that I don’t bring them out very often.

      December 20, 2013 at 7:13 pm
      • Reply Nicole

        I’m so glad you shared this experience! Yes, it totally needs to be a supervised activity for children that are preschool aged or older toddlers that don’t tend to put things in their mouth.

        December 20, 2013 at 7:28 pm

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