Category Archives: Sensory Play Ideas

Blue sea sensory trays

This is a really easy sensory tray, perfect for a hot day. It involves no planning at all but wee ones will enjoy getting to use their toys in the water and somehow the water being blue makes it just a little bit better than normal water!

For the tray we used a big, shallow, plastic storage tray like the kind that go under the bed. You could also use a small paddling pool, a tuff spot tray or a baking tin. If its see through the water will look better though. If you are in the house put it on top of a towel so the floor doesn’t get slippy.

Just add a little blue colouring to your water with either a splash of blue paint or some blue food colour, mix, add toys and play! Little ones usual toys might like to join in and if you can add some things for scooping and pouring even better. We are using shells here but you could also use plastic cups or measuring spoons. Encourage them to use their imagination.

In this tray we did for a DCA messy session about islands and hurricanes we added little islands foam shaving foam. If your wee one is big enough no to eat the foam this is a fun addition as they enjoy the islands mixing into the water and having to add more. We also added some paper boats in this one and wobbled the tray back and forth to make a storm.



Home made, safe to taste, paints

We are continuing our ideas for art supplies around the house with some home-made paints. These are good if you are stuck at home as you might have some of the ingredients already but they are great at any time with little ones because they are safe to taste, being made with ingredients from your kitchen.

Flour paint

This paint has a nice thick texture so it’s perfect for finger painting with little ones or using with stampers as we do here.

You need:

  • 1 cup of flour or cornflour, or a mixture (we used half and half, the more cornflour the more jelly like the paints are)
  • 3 cups cold water
  • Food colouring (this can be whatever you have, we used a mixture of liquid colours and pastes)
  • Teaspoon of salt (this is meant to help the water absorb but it works fine without if you don’t want to risk small babies eating the salt)

Mix the cup of flour with the 2 cups of the water in a pan and then slowly heat it on the hob stirring the whole time. It starts very runny and milky, then it will go a bit lumpy so don’t panic, it will gradually come together and start to be thick, smooth and a bit gelatinous. Take it off the heat and stir in the 3rd cup of cold water, more if you want runnier paint. Thick paint is better for babies though as they have more control over it.

Divide it between bowls, jars or paint pots then stir in a drop of food colouring into each. This part is likely to stain so be careful with wee ones. Once the paint was mixed it did not seem to stain our hands, although I would be careful on clothes.

For babies put a few blobs of colour onto paper and let them explore it on the floor, either lying on tummies or sitting up. For bigger ones they can try using stamps or brushes or finger painting. We took this paint to the bath tub and it was great for decorating the side of the bath and then washing off really easily.

These keep for several days in the fridge, longer if you added the salt.

Yogurt or pudding paint

If you want it to be even easier with little ones and don’t mind it being temporary try mixing a little food colouring into a babies usual yogurt, pudding or baby rice. You can then let them use this to explore and decorate onto paper, or onto a surface like their high chair tray table or a baking tray, or onto the bath like us.

Fruit and veg paints

These paints use the colours of fruit and vegetables to create thin paints that can be used like ink or watercolours.

You need:

  • Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables with strong colours. We used strawberries and redcurrants, blueberries and spinach. You could try carrots for orange, blackcurrants for purple, or turmeric cooked in water for yellow.

If the fruits and veggies are fresh cook them down in a little water to release the juices. If they are frozen just pour a little boiling water over them in a bowl to defrost them. Once cooked or defrosted mash them down using a fork. Toddlers and pre-schoolers might like to help with this step. If you were fancy you could do this step in a blender or a nutri-bullet but a fork is fine.

Then push them through a sieve into a paint pot or jam jar to get the paint.

We only make a little handful of fruit at a time so we don’t waste any but it keeps a few days in the fridge.

And a warning – if you have ever had a baby dribble blueberries down their clothes you will know that natural paint colours can still definitely stain clothing so wear old clothes or strip down to a nappy and cover your floor or table with newspaper or a cloth.




Here are our attempts at using the paints. They are quite runny so better for toddlers than tiny babies. They have quite a nice watercolour effect and make pastel shades. Blueberries were our most successful with the darkest colour and it was fun because it changed colour from pinkish to blueish after a minute in the air. Slightly magical paint!



Dinosaur themed sensory tray

This week in our Homestart art therapy group we decided to create a dinosaur swamp. Last week we had been a bit less messy making salt dough clay so we wanted to give wee ones  the chance to get good and sticky today. This sensory tray idea was very easy with a little planning the night before as it is all made from food stuffs.

You need:

  • Toy dinosaurs
  • Sugar free red jelly (mixed up the night before)
  • Frozen peas and broccoli, or other green veggies (taken out the freezer to defrost the night before)
  • A big tray like the tuff spot we used or an under-bed storage tray or you could make a smaller version in an oven tray or something similar.
  • It’s a good idea to put the whole thing down on top of a plastic table cloth or old sheet to catch the mess

We made up the tray using an old volcano model from a science kit sat in a pile of red jelly to make lava and then two bags of peas and a bag of broccoli to make trees. Then added the dinosaurs. There are several different textures for little ones to explore in this tray and lots of scope for imagination. You might encourage them to try and stomp on the peas with a dinosaur to squish them which is a very satisfying game! If grown ups get stuck in exploring then little ones will follow their lead. This is definitely adaptable to other resources as well. You could make some hills from other left overs like mash potato or swap in different animals. We’ve also done a similar tray before using spaghetti dyed green but peas are less work.

We took this activity a step further by then trying to paint using the dinosaur toys, dipping their feet in paint and stomping around on our paper.

Valentines themed sensory tray

We got a bit carried away with the pink at our group with Homestart Dundee this week. This sensory tray had lots of different textures to explore and it was nice to watch how the different ages of wee ones used it. Babies were just feeling the pink snow and the feathers while the toddlers were moulding cup cakes and scooping ice creams.

These trays were made using a dyed pink version of sensory cornflour snow. You need:

  • Corn flour- several boxes for a tray this big but you can use a baking tray for a more manageable size
  • Oil – we used sunflower oil
  • Red or pink food colouring

Tip your cornflour into a tray and add half a cup of water with your food colouring mixed through (this will help it to mix through the flour). Then start gradually adding your oil and mixing thoroughly as you go. This takes quite a lot of mixing, rubbing any lumps between your fingers until it’s a nice soft snow like texture. You should be able to mould it into a hard packed ball but then crumble it back up into soft fluff again.

We then set up the tray to have lots of interesting bits and bobs. We gathered pom poms, cotton balls, feathers, cup cake cases, cookie cutters, toy ice cream cones, toy candles, red balls, spoons, pinchers, scoops, cups and bowls.

It is nice to leave little ones to lead the exploration because you never know what ideas they will come up with. And you can support them by playing along with any role play, “eating their ice creams” etc.

Here is our tray after the play was over!

Islands and Hurricaines

At our messy play session in DCA on Friday we were exploring Alberta Whittle’s exhibition with the parents and little ones. We made stormy seas for some sensory play and then created some buildings and trees from recycled materials to create our own Island. Here it is after the hurricaine (otherwise known as the babies!) had hit. You can find instructions on how to make these carton houses here


Halloween themed sensory play and Sensory bag craft

We went a bit Halloween crazy in our parent-infant art therapy group today. As well as making footprints into ghosts and handprints into spiders we were trying out some new textures in our sensory play. These were all very easy and would still be fun when it wasn’t Halloween just by putting them into a shallow tray for babies to feel and experiment with. With sensory play it is best to let little ones take their time and explore the textures. Some things that are new or feel cold they might not like at first so don’t force them. Usually they will take a while cautiously testing before getting interested and stuck in. Here are the 4 recipes for our sensory mixtures:


Easy peasy – just make up sugar free jelly to the instructions and set it inside your scooped out pumpkin.

Green spaghetti:

Good spaghetti till soft in boiling water and while it is still hot add a blob of food colouring (gel or paste works best) and a slug of oil then mix it all through. Leave it to cool and then you can play without the colour coming off on babies hands.


Mix a packet of cornflour with water a little at a time. It’s quite tricky to mix but try not to add too much. The texture of this is amazing. If you try to press into it quickly it feels like a solid whereas if you slowly lower your hand in it feels like a runny liquid. Bigger kids will like this too and can play at trying to keep a ball of it solid by passing it between their hands before slowing down and letting it trickley through their fingers.

Pumpkin insides:

For our last texture we decided to use the pumpkin leftovers that we’d scooped out. Put any big lumps into a blender or nutribullet to get a nice mush and then keep some of the stringly bits to add back in for texture. We took out all the seeds in case any babies tried to eat them but if you were doing this with toddlers you could leave them in for something extra to explore.

If you feel like this is just a bit too messy or you, or your little one isn’t sure, or you just want to keep the play going in a different way, try one of our sensory bags. Take any of the textures that you like and put them into a ziplock freezer bag. Squeeze all the air out and seal the bag up. We added extra tape round the edges for leak protection. Babies can then press and squeeze to feel the textures without getting covered. They can also lay it flat on the floor or a highchair tray and enjoy seeing what happens if they ‘draw’ into it with a finger.

Happy Messy Halloween!

Shaving foam marbling

Last week we were marbling with shaving foam at the Dundee International Women’s Centre so we thought we’d post some instructions so you can try it at home. This one is very easy and lots of fun – and surprisingly easy to clean up as the foam just washes away. There are lots of steps where little ones can help depending on how old they are. If they are too little to be allowed to squirt the foam then they can still help drip the paint and definitely help to stir it about and rub over the paper. It’s a nice surprise at the end when the final marbling is revealed and this is a nice thing to share together.

If you’d like to watch video instructions you can find our youtube video here

You need:

a baking tray

an old plastic credit card/store card

shaving foam (not gel)

water based paints

Thick, absorbent paper (thin paper will rip when you scrape off the foam)

chop stick


First squeeze the shaving foam into a shallow tray like a baking tray or the lid of a biscuit tin. Then use the credit card to spread it out nice and smooth (big people probably need to do that bit)

Now help them to drip some water based paint all over the top of the foam. You can also do this using food colouring but it’s quite stainy so I prefer to stick to washable paint. That way little ones can do it too.


Then the best bit. Give little ones a chop stick or old pencil and let them swirl around in the paint until it makes a nice pattern but before the colours all blend together (don’t do too much or it all goes a bit brown!). They can experiment with the effects of making circles or going up and down in lines.


Now press a sheet of paper on top of the foam and they can help you rub all over the top to make sure it absorbs. Then peel back to reveal…..

…a foamy mess!!! But don’t worry. Scrape off the foam using the credit card and underneath will be a beautiful swirling marble pattern – just like you’d find in the front on a fancy old book. You can let this dry and then use it to cut up and make cards, cover jotters, line drawers etc etc. Or just stick it on the wall and marvel at how cool it is! And the left over foam needn’t go to waste. Slap it all back into the tray, spread it out and start again. You can get at least 3 or 4 prints from each lot of foam before it gets too murky.

This activity is nice because it combines some sensory play using the foam with some creative play with the paint. It’s also nice that it needs some help from a big person so there are lots of opportunities for turn taking and working together. If you have left over foam you can also do as my little one does and turn your trucks into snow ploughs!

Bubble Painting

We were bubbling at DCA this week with a group of babies and toddlers and their grown ups so we thought we should post the recipe in case you want to try it at home with your wee ones.

You need:

Paint – non-toxic water based

Baby bubble bath (if it’s safe for babies in the bath it should be safe for this craft)


Cups and bowls

Paper (nice thick paper which is good and absorbent is best. Printer type paper will rip and not take in the colour)

Cover the bottom of each cup with paint and add a squirt of baby bubble bath. Top up with about twice the amount of water as paint and then mix thoroughly. You want the paint to be about a third of the way up the cup.

Then using a straw let children blow into the mixture until you get bubbles making a mound that comes out the top of the cup (if you think little ones are too small to blow and might suck instead then have a grown up do this bit). Then place a piece of paper on top of the cup and it will burst all the bubbles leaving a print. You can keep layering up different colours of bubbles in this way until they are happy with their art work.

Happy bubbling!



Farm themed sensory trays

We were at the Dundee International Women’s Centre today doing sensory trays with the mums and little ones in their flourish group. Sensory trays are a nice way to let children explore different textures and use their imagination to create small worlds. It can also extend the possibilities of their existing toys, as you can see here.

We made a farm tray really easily using cornflakes as a base and wheat biscuits to make hay bails. It gave new ways to use toy tractors and diggers for moving the bails about and we added some farm animals for fun. And it didn’t matter if some of the wee ones had a taste!

This is another version of a farm based sensory tray using chocolate cheerios for a building site and some cornflour and shredded wheat on the farm.

Our other trays today were a sea themed tray using blue rice (find the recipe here) with shells and fish finger puppets

and a swampy dinosaur tray using a squishy jelly mixture made from basil seeds. You can order these seeds easily online. They start tiny and black but if you leave them in water overnight they soak it up and get a cool, squishy, frog spawn texture. If you add food colour to the water they absorb the colour too so you can colour them to your theme. They feel a bit like the water beads which you can buy but these are safe to eat and they are a bit smaller than other similar foods like tapioca pearls so there is less of a worry about choking.

These three trays gave lots of different textures to be explored from slimy to dry and crunchy. It’s always nice to have some cups on hand when you do sensory trays so that children can start filling and pouring to extend the play when they run out of interest in the toys. These work well for a wide age range (0-9 all enjoy these in my house so far). I just use the big trays that they sell for under bed storage and then you also get a lid if you want to keep some for another day.

Rainbow rice sensory tray

Here is another idea for using coloured rice in a sensory tray from our summer festival fun at Belladrum. Follow our recipe for making coloured rice here .

This time mix your bags of rice using different colours of food colouring in each bag and once dry lay them out in a rainbow pattern. (Yes we know this one isn’t in the right order for a rainbow! I’d like to say it was the kids that did it but it really wasn’t!)


It will ultimately end up all muddled together but that is part of the fun and the multicoloured mixture looks very pretty too. Perfect for using with ice cream scoops, or maybe try with cupcake cases to scoop it into, or hide multicoloured wooden blocks in it to seive out, or use it as the sprinkles on playdough cakes, or feed it to your unicorns….. Whatever you can think of.

Here is another example from a DCA messy session using coloured rice, themed to the colours of an art work. This time we put it into a Tuff spot tray so the babies could get right in.

The rice will keep for ages in an airtight bag or tub. As always adult supervision is required throughout to keep safe.