Sensory Crafts and Activities for Kids

Photo: Kate Mathis

Help kids explore their senses—sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch—with hands-on ideas that are delightfully squishy, slimy, and stretchy for play time.

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Sensory activities play an important role in the cognitive development of children. When children get the opportunity to explore their senses—sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch—they learn more about themselves and the world around them. As they use their senses, children develop memories and associations that will help them to solve problems and make decisions throughout the rest of their lives.

The crafts and activities we've rounded up here use a combination of the senses. While some crafts are preferred for being quick on time or mess-free in the making, these hands-on activities are delightfully squishy, slimy, and stretchy for play. Activate their imaginations by building miniature model worlds in small cardboard boxes or sculpting familiar objects out of homemade play dough, slime, or clay. Let them search for materials in nature that they can use in their art projects like leaves and stems for textured paintbrushes or inks that derive color from wildflowers and pantry items.

Crafts like kinetic sand or magnetic putty will prompt a conversation around scientific concepts like heat, color, and light. And who doesn't like to play in the sand or play a game of sponge ball? Talk to your kids about shapes, colors, mathematics, and nature as they have fun creating and playing with these everyday objects. In fact, the entire family can participate in the game play for a quality social and learning experience. Let them experiment and see what they can come up with. (Maybe they can teach you some of the things they have learned.)

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Homemade Play Dough

play dough kit
Kate Mathis

What's more fun than playing with play dough? Making it from scratch. Kids will love mixing the ingredients and shaping them into a squishy, moldable medium. It's the perfect activity for getting messy and having fun.

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Sponge Balls


In the warmer months, this activity turns into a fun game for cooling off. Take kitchen sponges, cut them into rods, and tie them together into a squishy, textured ball that soaks up water. Then your kids are ready for a splashy game of tag.

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Kinetic Sand

thermochromic kinetic sand

Try kinetic sand: It feels different than play dough, but kids still love squishing it through their fingers. Build sand castles, sculptures, and more. Food coloring can be used to create a rainbow of hues. (You can also make it thermochromic, which means the heat of your hands will change the color of the sand as you play with it.)

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Fluffy Slime

slime valentines
Shanna Sullivan

That ooey-gooey substance is always a classic crowdpleaser. This recipe uses kitchen ingredients, sans the laundry booster known as Borax, for a fluffy texture.

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diy-kaleidoscope-main-0517.jpg (skyword:431483)
Riche Holmes Grant

Kaleidoscopes dazzle the senses, and you can make this one with items you already have around the house. An empty paper roll, translucent beads in assorted colors, scrapbook paper, and a clear plastic lid from a disposable container provide the main materials for creating this colorful optical illusion-maker.

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Pasta-and-Leaf Leis

leaf leis thanksgiving craft
Alpha Smoot

Little hands will have fun holding the pasta noodles, feeling the ridges and bumps, as they're linked onto string. You can talk about the different varieties as an educational bonus. Use alphabet soup noodles to spell out names for each child's artwork.

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Clay Necklaces

assorted clay tube and crescent shaped pendants
Chelsea Cavanaugh

Clay, leather cord, and beads: this craft has it all. And its simplicity means that younger and older kids alike will have fun rolling, folding, and stretching their pendants into shape. Once the pendants are baked in the oven with a parent's help, the kids can wear their necklaces (and even make a piece of statement jewelry for Mom too).

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Clothespin Paintbrushes

clothespin paintbrushes
Pernille Loof

Spend a day outside by searching for leaves and other plants that would make interesting brushes for a paint project. Clothespin become the paintbrush handles. Get out a canvas or some paper and washable tempera in a variety of colors, and see what your little ones come up with!

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Natural Ink

natural ink swatches
Jason Logan

While parents will mix and heat the ingredients, kids can choose their favorite colors for ink. Outside in good weather, have your budding artists paint with their hands and feet on large pieces of butcher paper. Because they are nontoxic, kids will enjoy the opportunity to get a little messy.

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Sidewalk Chalk Paint

summer fun chalk it up
Chelsea Cavanaugh

It's easy to make your own wash-off nontoxic pigments using just a few household items. This is a great hands-on activity to keep the kids happily occupied at your upcoming block party, barbecue, or any ordinary summer day.

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Block Printing


Grab a few old T-shirts, tea towels, or fabric bags. Dip potatoes, blocks, and any other items you can salvage into paint to create custom clothes and accessories. This can be an activity for the entire family that encourages creativity and conversation.

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No-Bake Cookie Cottages


Sometimes, it's fun to play with food. Cookie houses are a tasty treat. Frosting makes for an ideal "glue" to build the cookie house while candies and other small treats make wonderful embellishments. Let kids sneak a few bites of the sugary decorations in moderation.

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Splatter-Paint Cups

Chelsea McNamara

Chances are, everything you need to make dappled eggs is already in your kitchen: dried grains or legumes, food dye, and eggs. All of the supplies shown here impart particularly impressive speckles, but feel free to test out any small dry spices or grains you have on hand.

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Bubble Paper

Kate Mathis

Finally, a project that gives your kids permission to blow bubbles at the table. To create beautiful gift wrap out of white butcher paper, build up a froth of paint and water in a baking dish, then gently place the paper on top to create a print.

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Pom-Pom Animals

pom-pom animals
© trikotri / Yuko Fukui

What's cuter than baby animals? Pom-poms are great for creating small representations of your children's favorite creature. The soft and fluffy texture of pom-poms delight kids and adults alike. Your kids will have a blast playing with the adorable toy animals once the project is done.

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blue ice dyed table cloth and napkins

Cool to the touch, ice cubes are the secret to our favorite new method of dyeing: It works like tie-dye to give any solid cotton fabric a watercolor wash.

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Dot and Stripe Painted Treat Bags

printed candy bags
Johnny Miller

These plain muslin bags are given graphic patterns printed with do-it-yourself "stamps." The dots come from bubble wrap; the stripes, corrugated cardboard.

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