10 Soothing Sensory Activities for Preschoolers Worth the Mess

We are thankful to Jessica Cathey for this guest post. Jessica teaches at Garden Day Montessori School in Berkeley and runs the adorable YouTube channel Rainbow Room, launched while sheltered at home.

As a preschool director and a mom of two, I know all too well how challenging it can be to continually think of fun sensory experiences that are homemade, simple to set up, and worth the cleanup required. To make things a bit easier during this crazy time, I’m here to share 10 awesome recipes that meet all of the above criteria!

10 Homemade Sensory Play Materials Totally Worth The Clean-Up!

Taste-Safe Play Dough

Homemade play dough
Homemade play dough | Photo: Anna Azimi


  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 3 tablespoons oil (I used vegetable)
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • Few drops of food coloring
  • Some spice for scent (think cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice)


  1. mix salt and oil together and then pour boiling water in and stir until salt dissolves
  2. add food coloring
  3. slowly add in flour, kneading as you go, adding small amounts at a time
  4. sprinkle in spices, knead more

Ice Excavation

Instructions: Freeze pom-poms or small toys in ice cube trays, muffin tins, tupperware, etc. and have your kids use warm water and tools to excavate the items. This activity is also fun in the bathtub.

Cloud Dough (only two ingredients!)

  • 1/2 cup baby oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 4 cups flour


Mix ingredients together. Knead until mixed. Add more oil a little at a time if needed.

Salt Dough

Salt dough and kid hands
Handmade salt dough bakes up nice and strong | Photo: Heather Flett


  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water


  1. Mix ingredients together.
  2. Roll out dough.
  3. Cut shapes out with cookie cutters.
  4. Make a hole with a straw (or anything you have available).
  5. Bake at 250 for 1 1/2 – 2 hours.
  6. Let cool, then paint.
  7. Hang around the house or out in the front yard to spread cheer to neighbors!

Oats, Oats and More Oats


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Instructions: Add construction vehicles, rocks, sticks etc. to a tray/bin full of oats. Alternatively, throw in some scoopers and some plastic eggs.

Rainbow Rice


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  • White Rice
  • Food Coloring
  • Vinegar
  • Sealable Baggies


  1. Put 1 cup of rice and 1 teaspoon of vinegar into each bag.
  2. Put the food coloring of choice into each bag…the more you use the more vibrant the color will be.
  3. Seal your bags and have your kiddo(s) shake them up. Keep shaking and massaging until you have an even color.
  4. Spread the rice out on paper towels or wax paper to dry for a couple of hours.
  5. Put the rice into a tray/bin/bowl and the possibilities are endless. Rainbow Soup anyone?

Taste-Safe Chickpea Foam


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  • The liquid from a can of chickpeas
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar


  1. Add the ingredients into a small bowl.
  2. Use a mixer on high for about five minutes until it foams.
  3. Separate into bowls and fold in any food coloring.
  4. Use scoops and spatulas to add the foam to cupcake tins and have a make-believe baking party.

Find more inspiration here >

Skin-Safe Shaving Cream Fun

Toddler shaving cream and food coloring
Toddler + shaving cream + food coloring = giant mess | Photo: Heather Flett

Instructions: Add a few drops of food coloring to a tray/bin full of shaving cream (or keep it clean, and skip the food coloring!) and throw in some vehicles for a car wash, some kitchen utensils for baking, some hands for silly messy fun, etc. Don't eat this!

Mini Volcano Explosions

Pro tip: Do this outside!


  • Baking soda
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • Red food coloring for realistic lava


  1. Flip over a few cups and wrap them in foil.
  2. Mix a few drops of red food coloring into a cup of vinegar.
  3. Sprinkle some baking soda around and on top of the foiled cups.
  4. Add the “hot red lava” to the baking soda using a dropper or a turkey baster and watch the volcanoes explode!

Bean Planting

Instructions: Create a planting station by pouring dried beans into a tray or bin and scoopers or shovels, real or artificial plants and little cups or pots.

Thanks again to Jessica Cathey for sharing her ideas. Jessica teaches at Garden Day Montessori School in Berkeley and runs the adorable YouTube channel Rainbow Room, launched while sheltered at home.