When it comes to engaging children in meaningful sensory activities at home, the Montessori approach offers a wealth of wisdom. These experiences aren’t just fun and games; they’re a vital part of development in young children. In this post, we’ll explore 75 sensory play ideas that entertain and educate while embracing the Montessori philosophy. Don’t worry, this is not a list of variations of the same sensory boxes or flavours of playdoh!

But first, let’s take a quick look at why you should include sensory activities at home.

Learning about all the senses

Sensory activities and play aren’t just about touch. We often think of things like water play, sandpits and playdoh as sensory play but the sensory play needs to involve the other senses too.  

Watching colours change in a colour-mixing experiment. Or the smell of coffee as you grind it. The sound different types of beans make when poured into bowls made from different materials. Or the taste of cooked onions compared to raw. They all expand the child’s knowledge of the world.

Sensory play also helps build the child’s vocabulary. As they find new words to describe the sensations they are experiencing. It helps with fine motor skills and as a bonus, it is often very calming.

Below you will find a mix of activities, all that can be done at home. Some are messier than others, and some are not messy at all.   All of them will give your child some sensory fun and help them develop and hone in on their senses…

What About Sensory Bins?

In recent years, sensory bins have become a bit of a ‘thing’. Sensory bins are not a Montessori idea and the Montessori purists do not use them. I feel that having a sensory tub whether it contains moon sand, warm water, rainbow rice or pom poms, can be a fun addition to your sensory play materials. And for busy moms, it can be a great alternative to giving the child a screen.

Screen Time Vs Sensory Activities

I’m not anti-screen, sometimes a mom has to do what she has to do to get things done. But I do think screens need to be used in moderation. Now we have all heard the warnings about kids (and adults) having too much screen time, and how that affects children’s development. For kids aged between birth and three, their brains are developing rapidly and are particularly sensitive to their environment.

Medically, this is often referred to as the “critical period” because it is at this time that the foundation of everything else we learn is laid. It’s a time when language development, hand-eye coordination, cognitive skills and social skills are improving.

For a developing child, they need specifically environmental stimuli and these obviously, can’t be found on a screen. Screen time focuses on fine motor skills, but toddlers also need lots of gross motor skills at this stage of development.

Tablets, pads, and smartphones provide immediate rewards to children, unlike in the real world.

Each time the child swipes and gets a response, they get a hit of “feel-good dopamine”. Repeated hits of this are what causes kids to become addicted to the device.

If you want to limit kids’ screen time, try using this one golden rule (it’s brilliant!)

In the real world, we don’t get such instant gratification and this is one thing that kids are missing out on.

In a Montessori classroom setting, many sensory activities are part of the foundation of Montessori learning. Most of the activities have a purpose beyond the sensory aspect. When children understand there is more meaning to the work, they are more attentive rather than finding the activity as “busy work”.

Here are 75 Fun ways for your child to have more sensory play

Disclaimer: some links in this post are affiliate links, which means I get a percentage of the sale if you choose to buy something.

If your child is still mouthing things then choose your activity carefully.  Anything involving water or small objects, don’t leave the child unattended. EVER. Fatal accidents can happen in a split second.

1. Ball matching (one of the activities from my Montessori Inspired book) These are different weighted balls and the child has to match them, they are also fun to make together.

2. Make sound cylinders Another matching activity, is shaking the cylinders and matching the sounds, again you can make these with your child, two activities in one!

3. Make cloud dough – a variation on Play-Doh, with different textures and can be made together, you don’t need to prep ahead of time.

4. Play with packing peanuts – Those little polystyrene packing pieces can make for hours of fun. Try dabbing an end in water then you can stick them together. Kids of all ages challenge them to make something, an igloo, house or animal.

5. Herb and Spice sensory bottles – These are easy to make and fun to do, it’s surprising how many adults struggle with this activity! Try it on the rest of the family. This is another one you can put together with your child or collect the things in advance together than you actually make the bottle when they are asleep.

I have a free set of herb and spices 3-part cards in the resource library that you can use with this activity.

6. Play with bubbles in the sink (add a hand whisk for extra points!). This is an oldie but a goodie and a great way to kill time if you have got to the point where you just need to get them busy or keep and eye on them when you are working in the kitchen.

You can also do this in the bath or in a tub in the garden. Rather than fill the bath, sit your child in the bath with a plastic bowl, some kitchen utensils, and bubbly water and let them go at it. The bath acts as a container for the mess. In the summer, add some ice cubes.

If you need to work, grab your laptop and make yourself comfy in the bathroom – not ideal but at least you can get some work done.

7. Finger painting – I see many a mama cringing here. You don’t have to, for a mess-free version put dollops of paint in a ziplock bag and seal with tape. Or take the finger painting into the garden or the bath for messy play.

8. Playdoh (free Playdoh recipe and printable mats here) Playdoh is one of those classics, great to have on hand, you can add colours and essential oils scents (try a few drops of lavender if you have a child that needs some calming vibes!) If you are into themes, you can easily incorporate toys and the such for themed Play-Doh play.

9. Making bread – This is one of my all-time favourite activities with kids. When I was teaching at the Montessori farm, we made bread dough wrapped it around sticks and then cooked it on an open fire. So much fun. Bread had this reputation for being really hard to make but it doesn’t need to be and it is both a Practical Life and Sensory activity. There is so much sensory stimulation when you make bread from feeling the flour, to kneading the dough to smelling the bread baking and of course, eating it!

10. Ice treasure – My son even as a tween would ask for these! It does take some prep time but is a fab activity for the summer.

11. Blowing Bubbles – Just basic bubbles keep both kids and adults happy. For older kids you can try making nonn popping bubbles or mega bubbles.

12. Ripping paper – toddlers often go through a stage when they want to rip things, pages out of books, peeling the wallpaper, pulling the tissues of out the box and shredding them everywhere. Sound familiar? Trust me, your child is not being naughty, they are being curious that’s all.

If you find this happening, give them what they need, a nice pile of paper to rip to their heart’s content. Try mixing up the types of paper, depending on your child’s age you can introduce sticking too.

13. Ice cooking – Another good one for the summer but doesn’t need much prep time, as long as you have ice, you can cook!

14. Bubble snakes – This is so much fun, quick and easy to whip up and if you make them for the neighbourhood kids you will soon be crowned the ‘fun mom’

15. Baking! – Any kind of cooking or baking is a sensory experience as well as a practical life one. So, dust off the old cookbook and get your aprons on, the best bit about this – is you get to eat your hard work at the end! Our favourite Rock Cakes recipe is here.

16. Pouring water – This is one of those simple activities that gets overlooked. Couple that with busy parents who find it quicker and easier to do the pouring. Yes, it saves on cleaning up spills, but we end up with kids at the age of 10 who don’t know how to pour themselves a drink.

Sad but true. If you are worried about the spills, do this outside or in the bath. The best idea is to start off with a small amount of liquid. And make “how to clean up” part of the activity.

Use two small jugs and show the child how to pour from one to another. When they have mastered that use a glass and get them to practice pouring until the marked line. Add a few drops of food coloring to make it easier.

17. Colour mixing – Go as big or small as you like with this. Small helps with the fine motor skills too so you are working on more than one skill at once.

18. Texture matching game (matching scraps of different fabrics) If you are into sewing, go and raid your stash. If you are not, then before you throw out old clothes look at what you’ve got.

Cut scraps of fabric, the same size 10x10cm is a good size. You need two squares of each fabric. Then close your eyes, pick up a square and feel all the others until you find the matching one.

19. Taste-testing – this post is a blast from the past and obviously was an indicator of things to come, as Ebi-kun started his own Food Tasting YouTube channel!

20. Water beads – I have to admit, I haven’t used these. They came on the scene too late for us to try them, really. DO supervisor your kids when you are using them. I have heard about children ending up in hospital because they swallowed them and the beads then expand.

21. Spice painting – Mix a bit of spice and some water and paint away. This would go well, coupled with an activity about the silk route or somewhere rich in spices. If you wanted to add something else to it as a lesson.

22. Treasure basket – collect 5 or 6 different household items for your baby to explore. You can start putting these together when they are about 6 months old. Just be sure that the items you put in the basket are safe to put in the mouth.

23. Shaving cream – there are lots of ways you can use shaving cream, from just playing to writing letters in it, printing and doing the raining rainbows experiment.

24. Raining rainbows – one of our favourite experiments and one of the prettiest, you can combine this with a weather lesson too. There are a set of free weather experiments to do at home in the resource library.

25. Mystery bag – sometimes called a sensory bag. All you need is a bag and a few things from around the home.

26. Exploding Volcano – I have yet to find a child or adult that doesn’t love doing this! If you want to make it into a full lesson about volcanoes, there are Montessori printable’s here.

27. Light table – you can make these yourself at home or buy a cheap one. You can find many ideas for using a light table on Pinterest, including sensory activities with boxes and other materials.

28. Shadow play – Shadows fascinate kids, just simple hand puppets can lead to hours of entertainment. Check YouTube for videos like the one below to learn some basics.

https://youtu.be/Kz8wP2RYy64

29. Painting with different objects – homemade brushes, cars, stamping, grab a few (old) toys or things from the recycling bin, crack open the paints and have some fun.

30. Sensory bin – These became all the rage in recent years. Do a quick google and you will have a million and one ideas on what to do. You can theme the sensory bin and I noticed that they often use food items for the objects in the bin. Don’t feel that you have to use food, there are plenty of alternatives.

I think the biggest complaint is the mess it makes. This is where teaching your child how to use a brush and pan comes in handy!

31. Sandbox – who doesn’t love a good sandbox, proper old school sensory activities fun!

32. Mud pies – Random fact, children in Japan make rice balls rather than mud pies! Just shows that kids everywhere love playing in the mud.

33. Make a Zen garden – or a fairy garden, get a big plant pot and plan away, you can go to town with accessories or get some things out of the recycle box. Succulents make great mini-garden additions.

34. Colour walk – two ways to do this. Both are fun. If you are in a public park, make sure it is OK to pick up fallen leaves and petals.

35. Make shakers – Get out the recycling bin and make some maracas. Put some rice or dried beans inside a tube or a couple of containers and tape them shut. Now it’s time to get your groove on (OK, I know this isn’t the quietest of activities but it is a great way to burn off some energy if you can’t leave the house)

36. Texture boards – cut cards to the same size, and stick various things to them. All different textures, sandpaper, felt, corrugated paper… close your eyes, pick one up, try to match the other one.

37. Eye Spy Bottle – Another one to make with your child. My boy enjoyed colouring and pouring the rice and playing with the bottle. We kept a bottle in the car, for sensory activities when you are on a road trip!

38. Cotton wool – or any other new texture, toddlers will find new textures fascinating so when you catch them pulling the bum wipes apart or playing with cotton wool, embrace it. Give them more of what they need.

39. Coffee grinding – Why grind it yourself if you can get a small person to do it for you! Joking aside, it takes some great skills to grind coffee. And there is the smell to add to the experience. Plus the bonus that gets you a nice cuppa at the end of it.

40. Kinetic sand – I have seen homemade versions of this, but I haven’t tried it myself. The good thing about this stuff is the minimal cleanup.

41. Make gloop (and talk about it being an oobleck)

42. Scooping seeds out of a pumpkin – perfect for autumn, and lots of texture fun going on. You can do this with other fruit and veg too, and at least you don’t have to worry about them sampling it!

43. Washing up! – Yes, make it into a sensory activity, and get the chores done at the same time!

44. Make snow at home – this is perfect if you don’t get the real white stuff!

45. Planting seeds – or any kind of gardening counts as sensory activities, the sounds of the insects, the feel of the soil and plants, and the smell of the flowers and herbs.

46. Fuzzy felt – Oh I loved this as a kid and I was happy that my boy did too. You can use this in so many ways, from telling stories to creating amazing masterpieces or using it as a puzzle!

47. Any game which needs a blindfold – blind man’s buff, pin the tail on the donkey. Anything that removes one sense helps strengthen other senses.

48. Play instruments – doesn’t matter what, it’s all sensory.

49. Any matching or memory game – I used my son’s artwork to make this set and they are still going strong. You can also use 3-part cards for this (more on them here)

50. Balance beam – This is a good sensory activity which will help kids with balance and spatial awareness. You can start with a strip of masking tape on the floor, and have them walk on the line. This is harder than it sounds. If you have the space, a balance beam like this is fun or if you have someone good with their hands at home, make one!

51. Swings – Either inside or in the yard, or if you don’t have the space, at the park! Swinging and pumping legs while gripping chains helps with sensory integration development. This sensory integration helps children’s brains process and understand information better. Often kids with a sensory processing disorder find it soothing to swing.

52. trampolines – Anything that involves jumping around. We can find sensory and spatial awareness benefits in all types of trampolines, from small cushions to large garden ones. Just be aware that garden trampolines do have a high accident rate, often from misuse.

53. Jump Rope – This takes a lot of co-ordination and is a full body workout. A good way to keep mom in shape too!z

54. Bubble wrap – even as adults, we love popping those little bubbles. You can spice this up by taping the bubble wrap to a window or wall. Or giving the child a selection of tools to try to pop the bubbles with.

55. Bath time. Don’t think of bath time as just a way to get kids clean, it’s a great way to get a daily dose of sensory activities that can also be contained. Add a few bath toys, plastic tubs, and, of course, bubbles and you have a recipe for fun.

56. Beading – Depending on the child’s age and ability, start with big chunky beads and a lace and gradually introduce smaller ones. Even having a tub of beads to sort and pour can be fascinating for young kids.

57. Coloured Bottles – fill a plastic bottle with water and a few drops of food colouring and screw the lid on tight. Repeat with mixes of water, cooking oil and food colouring and maybe experiment with what you have in the kitchen, then let the child explore what happens when the bottles are rolled, tipped, shaken etc.

58. Shape Sorting or sorting small items. Using ice cube trays as a sorting container and having everything set up in a tray or baking sheet will help keep things contained. You can use buttons, beads, cotton balls, small toys, etc.

59. Slime – either store-bought or made at home. Slime is always a big hit. Add plastic figures and animals for even more messy fun.

60. Plastic eggs – are not just for Easter! Try making pairs and filling them with the same thing. Rice, marbles, bells, etc. Then the child can shake the eggs to try to find a match. It’s an easy way for them to focus on distinct sounds as a sensory activity.

61. Listening nook – reading nooks are quite popular, an alternative is a listening nook. Set up a comfy quiet place to listen to music or audio books.

62. Remove a sense – any time one of the sense are removed, it heightens the ones that are left. Using a blindfold or sound cancelling headphones, for example. Then try to complete a normal, everyday task, one that would usually need the removed sense. This is a great lesson to learn about disabilities too.

63. Spaghetti Worms – You can do this with just one colour or if you have more time, repeat the process and great rainbow works. Boil the spaghetti, following the packet instructions but also add food colouring to the water. When cooked, drain and immediately run under cold water. Add some plastic toys and have fun creating stories.

65. Tea Party – use a toy tea set and hold a tea party. Handling the cups and plates, pouring drinks and serving food. Plus, enjoy some pleasant background music to enhance the experience.

66. Button box – This was a firm favourite of mine when I was little. I remember spending hours playing with my grandmother’s button box. Sorting, cleaning and organising the buttons. And making up stories about where the buttons came from and what they had seen.

67. Juicing – Just the simple act of making orange juice from scratch uses a lot of sense. The small of the orange, the different textures of the inside and the outside of the orange. And of course, the taste!

68. The Great Outdoors – Nature’s own sensory lesson. From jumping in puddles to snowball fights, stomping into piles of dried leaves to sniffing flowers and listening to birdsong. Nature supplies us with loads of sensory activities. We just need to slow down to enjoy them.

69. One colour – There was a theory a few years ago that it was better to introduce children to colour, one colour at a time. Add different objects all in one colour to a box to play with. Try painting with just one colour. We did this by first sticking random objects to a canvas and, over the course of 3 weeks, painting them, using just one colour.

70. Paddling Pool – Weather permitting, the paddling pool is another fun sensory activity area to play in. Add some balls, toys or even ice-cubes with things frozen inside!

71. Tapioca bubble tea became all the rage not long ago making tapioca pearls easily accessible. Follow the instructions to cook them, then drain and cool in iced water. When cold drain again and pop in a ziplock with some food colouring. You can play with it in the bag or create a few colours and play in a plastic storage bin.

72. Materials basket – Collect objects made from different materials, plastic, wood, metal, card etc. Compare how they feel (temperature), which floats and which sinks in a bowl of water, the different sounds they make when tapped with the same object etc.

73. Sensory Path – admittedly this takes a bit more effort, but you might be lucky enough to have one built in at a local park. It’s sections of a path made up of different textures to walk along. You can make one using cardboard and sticking different things to it, plastic grass, sandpaper, carpet, felt, etc.

74. Obstacle course – who doesn’t love a good obstacle course? Make one at home using your furniture or you can get something like this that can be used in many different ways. Climbing on equipment in the park also counts as sensory activities!

75. Nature Table – Having a collection of items from nature to explore. Collect them when you are out and about, sea shells, twigs and sticks, leaves, flowers, rocks, fossils, acorns and pine cones. They all have interesting textures, smells and colours to explore.

They Don’t Have To Be Messy!

As you can see, sensory activities don’t have to be messy. We use our senses in so many ways. It’s just important that we give our kids the opportunities to try things themselves, to get in touch and feel things.

Pay attention to what your child is up to. Were they really being “naughty” when they smeared bum cream all over the TV or was it a sensory curiosity? (Hint: they weren’t being naughty!)

Remember to bookmark and pin this post to refer back to it and hit the share buttons so your mama friends have plenty of ideas to refer to too.

IF YOU DIDN’T YET SIGN UP FOR THE FREE RESOURCES LIBRARY DO IT HERE. THERE ARE LOTS OF ACTIVITIES INCLUDED AND YES, SENSORY IDEAS ARE IN THERE TOO!

Don’t lose the info! save it and pin it!!

Other posts you might like:

HELPING KIDS TO BE MORE CURIOUS WITH INVITATIONS TO PLAY
50 EASY FINE MOTOR SKILLS ACTIVITIES TO DO AT HOME
EXPLORING THE WORLD: 25 MONTESSORI CONTINENT BOX IDEAS FOR KIDS