Sensory materials are great for children’s development and can be used in learning, play, & art activities. The more senses we regularly use, the better.
We’ve always been big fans of sensory materials and sensory experiences.
As I said in my post about the homemade fluffy slime, Maia, my sensory girl, always has some sort of slime, putty, dough, water beads, or kinetic sand in her hand.
While some children seem to crave sensory experiences more than others, they are important for all kids.
The more senses we involve regularly—touching, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting—the better.
Young children, especially, learn about the world with their whole bodies. Sensory materials and experiences can be wonderfully engaging (and they can also be calming and grounding, depending on how you use them).
You can also provide children with simple sensory materials to play with, make art with, and learn with. Here are some of the best ::
11+ Best Sensory Materials for Kids Play, Art, and Learning
#1. Water beads
Water beads have long been a favorite in our house. Just watching them grow from teeny tiny hard balls to marble-sized bouncy balls is pretty incredible. But they are also soothing to touch and look at and can be a relaxing way to start or end a day. Playing with them can help calm an upset child or soothe a high strung one.
Oobleck, or sensory goop, is super easy to make, and there’s a surprising number of fun ways you can learn from and play with this non-Newtonian liquid. I know it looks messy, but it’s simply cornstarch and water, so easy to make and clean up.
#3. Shaving cream
Shaving cream has always been a favorite sensory and art material in our household! Here are 67 ideas for using shaving cream for kids’ art, play, and learning, including shaving cream marbling, sensory table ideas, holiday crafts, and parties.
We might not usually think of playdough as a sensory material, but it is very much so. Kids can knead and mold the dough, roll it into balls and snakes, poke their fingers into it, and squish it between their hands. Playdough is a wonderful sensory material and can be made even more so with the addition of essential oils or textures.
#5. Homemade Slime
Slime is easy to make at home! Plus, it’s a great sensory material to hold, squeeze, stretch, and fiddle with. You can even make giant bubbles with it! Here are Maia’s two favorite recipes:
- Maia’s best ever butter slime recipe (pictured above)
- Her fluffy slime recipe is the most popular post on The Artful Parent
#6. Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty
Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty has been one of my kids’ number one requested gift at birthday’s and Christmas, and whenever we walk into the toy store. It’s also the gift she gives to friends the most often these days. This stuff is played with, stretched, and fiddled with more than probably anything else in the house.
Sand is a wonderfully tactile material and great for all kinds of sensory play and experiences. Here are a few ideas to try:
- Here’s a DIY Zen Garden Sand Tray for indoor sand play
- DIY Zen Sand Tray for Writing and Drawing
- And, of course, there’s the backyard sand pit
- Or the beach
#8. Kinetic sand
Kinetic sand is one of my children’s favorite sensory materials to play with. There are lots of brands out there and, chances are, you’ve tried at least one of them. Kinetic sand both flows through the fingers and holds shapes remarkably well. My kids love to play with this stuff!
Water is another fun sensory experience for children, especially in warm weather. My kids love to run through a sprinkler on a hot day, play with water balloons, splash in the creek or kiddie pool, take extra baths, and water the garden. You can also use water play tables or make your own water wall.
#10. Mermaid Sequin Fabric
The reversible sequined fabric of these mermaid pillows is mesmerizing to play with! I bought a pillow for Maia for Christmas, and it is easily one of the most-loved items in our house at the moment. By both kids. They use it to draw and write, often while I’m reading aloud at bedtime.
(Note: We keep a pillow form in the pillow case, but it is not in the photo above.)
#11 Finger Paint
Finger painting is one of the ultimate sensory art experiences for young children! Kids have permission to cover their hands with paint and slip, slide their fingers through gooey color. Finger paint is the epitome of sensory art and, for young children, especially, sensory art is important for development and even helps them learn.
Want more ideas?
#12 Cooked Spaghetti
Looking for a sensory activity that is good for around Halloween? Cooked spaghetti is a sensory material that can be fun to play with. All you have to do is cook some spaghetti noodles, drain them, and rinse them in cold water.
Once cooled down, you can divide up the spaghetti and then add some food coloring to make it even more fun. The kids will love mixing up the colors, and it is good sensory stimulation. If you add a bit of vegetable oil to the noodles, they can be extra slimy!
Since this sensory material for kids tends to be a bit on the messy side, it is a great outdoor activity to partake in.
#13 Dish Soap Foam
This sensory activity also has what it takes to become a messy play experience. For this, all you need is a bit of water and a few squirts of dish soap. Once blended together, the mixture should become nice and thick. You can pour the soap and water mixture onto a tray and let the kids play in it. You can also add a couple of drops of food coloring to turn the foam into the kids’ favorite colors so they can create some foamy sensory art.
#14 Bubble Wrap
You can take leftover bubble wrap and let your toddler turn it into an art piece. Place some different colors of paint on a tray and then show your toddler or preschooler how to press the bubble wrap into each paint color. They can then transfer the bubble wrap to paper to create beautiful artwork. Bubble wrap makes for a good sensory material because the bubbles can be squished and popped.
For more bubble wrap painting ideas for the little ones, check out our blog on Bubble Wrap Printing and Painting.
More Sensory Activities for Kids
- 8 Sensory Activities to Fill the Witching Hour (including cloud dough, sensory bins, and shredded paper)
- Making and Using Sensory Bins (on Little Bins for Little Hands)
- 25 Sensory Activities for Kids (on Hands On As We Grow)
The Importance of Sensory Materials for Kids
Sensory play and sensory activities are not just fun for kids. They also encourage young children to explore and investigate. Sensory play and sensory art therapy can also help build nerve connections in the brain and encourage the development of fine motor skills.
Sensory play helps build both physical and mental abilities. It stimulates the five senses: sight, touch, smell, hearing, and taste. It can provide a sense of calm and comfort for a child and can help them learn to regulate their behavior, which can ultimately also improve focus.
For more information on why sensory play is so important and for some more fun ideas to share with the kids, check out our blog on Why Sensory Play Is Important.
So, try out these awesome sensory materials for kids and let us know how it goes! Which ones did your kids like best?
How about you? What are your family’s favorite sensory materials?
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