Guest Post By Genevieve Kane, MSN, RN
For many, winter means more time indoors and shorter time spent outdoors. However, you and your little one can have plenty of fun indoors. You just need a plan! And for many parents, this means several sensory play activities lined up.
Play, including sensory play, is crucial to a child’s development, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). While your little one is playing, they are also learning and experimenting with their environment. Play is how children learn.
7 Sensory Activities to Do With Kids at Home
Sensory play can help you entertain your child during the cold, long winter months and it’s also fun! So to help you out, we’ve compiled a list of six kiddo-approved sensory activities to keep your crew entertained this winter.
1. Spray Watercolor Paint
Yes, you read that right. You can do many fun sensory activities with liquid watercolors, including spraying it! Liquid watercolor paint is super versatile and most varieties are washable. For example, grab six small spray bottles, label them with the colors of the rainbow, and fill them with a couple of drops of liquid watercolor paint and water.
If you live somewhere chilly with snow, you can go outside and spray the snow with all the colors. Have fun mixing color combinations, and see what colors you can create together.
If the weather isn’t cooperating for an outdoor day or you live somewhere warm without snow outside, there are several ways to bring watercolor spray paints indoors. For example, use white vinegar instead of water in your watercolor spray bottles.
Then, make pretend snow! You can do this by mixing baking soda with cold water until you get your desired consistency. When you spray the watercolor and vinegar mixture onto your pretend snow, you’ll get fun colors and lots of fizz! To keep the mess contained, doing this sensory activity in a large container is recommended.
2. Mess Free Painting
Painting — whether by spray bottle or the traditional way with a brush, is a fun sensory activity. However, it can also bring a ton of mess! Enjoy mess and stress-free painting by doing it in a plastic ziploc bag.
Place a couple of colors of washable paint in a ziploc bag with a piece of paper or canvas. Colors like yellow and blue or blue and red can be entertaining as your little one watches making the colors change. Then, let them use their fingers to move around the paint inside the bag on the paper or canvas.
When they’re done, you can take the painting out of the bag and let their creation dry before hanging it.
3. Make Your Own Slime
For at home sensory activity, all you need is a standard 4-ounce container of white glue, contact lens solution (make sure you buy the kind with boric acid), and baking soda. Empty your container of glue into a bowl. Then, add a ½ teaspoon of baking soda at a time to your mixture. The baking soda will help the slime hold some form.
To reduce the stickiness of your slime, add about a tablespoon of contact lens solution to the mixture. You may need to add more, but be careful adding too much at once, or your slime will turn into a harder-to-knead ball instead of the gooey slime that little kids love.
Note this isn’t a taste-safe slime recipe. So you’ll want to only do this activity with young kids who can follow instructions not to eat the slime, supervise your child(ren) with the slime, or let your child play with the slime while it’s contained in a small Ziploc bag.
You can add fun colors or mix-ins to make your slime even more exciting. Liquid watercolors or food dyes are both great options for coloring. Just note that food dye will likely be cheaper but also less washable. Examples of mixins include pom poms, glitter, or confetti.
And if you get this slime stuck on your clothes, vinegar can be a great tool to help get it out of clothing.
4. Play With Your NozeBot
Winter means cold and flu season. Consider incorporating medical play into your sensory play toolkit to help make colds and illnesses a little easier.
It’s important to realize that sensory play encompasses a wide variety of play, including experimentation and play that can help with social interactions. So consider experimenting with your NozeBot with your toddler before you need to use it.
Grab a doll or favorite teddy bear and pretend they are sick. Your child can use the NozeBot on their teddy and practice taking their temperature and giving them pretend medicine. You and your child can discuss how the NozeBot and other tools can help them feel better when sick.
This game is a win-win. Your child gets to enjoy a game of imaginative play with you while also gaining comfort with healthcare items they’ll likely see throughout the cold and flu season.
5. Make a Themed Sensory Bin
There are countless ways to make a fun sensory bin to meet your child’s sensory needs. If your child is older and can understand not to eat the primary material, you can incorporate kinetic sand. One of the benefits of kinetic sand is that you can mold it, shape it, and pull it apart — but it doesn’t ever dry out.
Some ideas for kinetic sand sensory bins include:
- Sea creatures and shells
- Treasure hunt with coins
- Wild safari
- Fairy or unicorn with plastic gemstones
- Outer space with bouncy balls for planets and glow-in-the-dark stars
For younger kids who may want to use their sense of taste or accidentally put items in their mouth, create an edible sensory bin! Sensory bins with Cheerios or oats provide safe alternatives to kinetic sand. You can add scoops, buckets, and spoons to these.
For young truck or construction-loving kids, consider using cocoa Rice Krispies as pretend dirt and tossing in a few construction vehicles for them to play with.
For older kids who understand not to eat the base, you can make a more realistic homemade “dirt” for them to enjoy. To make your dirt, start with a simple cloud dough recipe (i.e., ½ cup lotion or conditioner to 1 cup corn starch) and add a little cocoa powder to turn the dough brown. Keep adding cornstarch and cocoa until you reach your desired dirt consistency.
6. Create a Light Box
You can purchase a fancy lightbox or create a DIY version as a unique sensory activity. You’ll need a clear storage tote and battery tea lights for the DIY version. You can usually find these relatively inexpensive at a local dollar store or big box store. Stick with a clear storage tote that isn’t too tall so your lights work better.
For this to work, you’ll adhere tea lights to the inside of your storage tote lid and snap the clear tote over the top. The outside of the bottom of the bin becomes the top of your lightbox, with the tea lights creating your light source from the bottom. Then get creative with what to play with in the light!
Consider going on a nature walk and collecting leaves, sticks, feathers, and other finds. You can either laminate your creations or use clear contact paper to seal them. Then, enjoy examining your new treasures over your homemade light box.
You can also laminate or use contact paper with tissue paper and create fun shapes and designs. Overlay colors to see what new shades you can make with your little one.
7. Make Some Music
If you have a child who loves music, you can create homemade musical instruments and dance and sing to your favorite songs. Cut up pool noodles can make great drum sticks. This is a great active sensory activity to do with your child at home!
You can also make homemade shakers with repurposed bottles and dried rice or beans. Just make sure to securely glue the tops to the bottles so your child doesn’t choke on the content or the cap. You also want the bottle to stay closed to avoid a big mess!
Looking for more tips on indoor fun and meeting sensory needs? You’ll find these helpful:
- How to Advocate for Your Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in a Medical Setting
- Our Favorite Family Sick Day Movies
- Work From Home Tips For Parents With A Sick Kid
- Ways Parents with Children with ASD Can Empower Themselves
- Can a Child Life Specialist Help Your Family?
A Few More Ideas and Tips About Sensory Activities
These are only a few of the many ideas for sensory activities to do with kids at home that are out there. Pay attention to what your child enjoys and build sensory activities off of their interests.
There are countless recipes for homemade doughs, slimes, and sensory bins. Keep it simple to avoid overwhelming yourself and start with the basic ones. As your child gets older or you need to add more variety, you can dig deeper into all of your options.
Use your imagination and get creative if you feel stuck with what to do next. Sensory play involves imagination and creativity! If your little one is super active, make an obstacle course. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Masking tape can work wonders to create shapes for your child to jump or crawl between.
If your child is home sick with a cold or flu and you’re giving a bath, mix it up. If they’re up to it, consider adding some scoops or balls to the bath to make it more enjoyable.
Use what you have around the house, too. If you live somewhere cold, simply playing in the snow is another great sensory activity. If it’s too cold to safely go outside and you’d rather stay inside, toss some snow in a bin for your child to play with indoors. You can also put snow or ice in a bottle and talk about how it melts throughout the day.
Young infants may enjoy chewing on a chew toy or being read to. Many infant books are designed to allow babies to chew on them, too. Reading is wonderful for your infant’s developing brain. And you don’t have to read an infant a children’s book either. If you feel bored reading children’s books to your baby, read them a book you’re interested in. Your baby simply wants to spend time with you and hear your voice.
While the ideas are limitless, pick a couple of sensory activities your child might like and go from there. You’ll soon discover which sensory activities you enjoy helping your child create and which they want to play with the most!
Genevieve Kane, MSN, RN, is a mother of four and a registered nurse with a background in pediatrics. When she's not working, you can find her cooking up tasty family dinners or keeping up with her kids on a hiking trail in her home state of Colorado.
A clear nose means better sleep.
The Nozebot is a battery-powered suction device designed to clear nasal congestion in babies and children.