Hands-on sensory ideas for littles

With all the talk of electronics and children – from not introducing them too early, to staying away from electronics entirely, or at the very least, implementing some serious restrictions - it can start to feel challenging to think of hands-on activities for littles. Being one who has always loved watching my kiddos get messy and explore, I have treasured watching them use their senses to discover the things around them; giving them the opportunity to unleash their natural curiosity. I mean, realistically, why do kids dump out a box of cereal on the floor? They generally aren’t simply being naughty, they are just curious.  They want to see and feel (and maybe smell, hear, and perhaps most distressingly, taste) ALL. THE. THINGS!  With that said, a controlled environment where our littles can feel, smell, see, hear, and taste etc. all of the things is helpful.  With that in mind, here are some of my favorite hands-on sensory ideas for littles:

Play Dough

  • I feel like this goes without saying - you and I played with it as children and our children should as well! You can make the most of it by making your own play dough (see Google and/or Pinterest for great recipes).  This allows the littles to help you measure and create the final product.  If you aren’t feeling it or simply don’t have time to make your own play dough, however, you can purchase Play-Doh from the store which can be beneficial for the variety of colors (and accessories that typically come with) available.  Right now, Costco has giant packs and great accessories for Play-Doh, but you can always get Play-Doh from Walmart, Target, and my beloved, Amazon (because… DeLiVeRy!).


  • Like play dough, you can make your own (so many recipe variations) or purchase slime from a store. There are many colors and you can get slime with glitter, etc. Slime is different than play dough because of the way it stretches and shines, although, fun fact, you can actually use play dough to create your own slime.


  • OMG, this is everything! If you aren’t familiar with this, get yourself ready because you are going to want to play with it too!  These are tiny bits of foam balls that stick together so you can mold, squish, and sculpt in order to create shapes, images, etc.  They come in a variety of colors and you can check it out by checking out this link

Kinetic Sand

  • It’s a little messy because inevitably there will be some sand – that seems guaranteed to travel - but I figure it is nothing the vacuum can’t handle. Besides, it’s worth it when kinetic sand keeps the kiddos busy for a good hour or more. You can get this in many varieties so that it really engages your child’s senses with different colors, textures, and sizes.  It’s one of the ultimate sensory experiences when kiddos are playing with glittery green or pink sand and molding it into a starfish or building a sand castle (in Montana in the middle of winter!).  You can get licensed product kinetic sand sets like Frozen-themed kinetic sand or a more generic bag of green sand (or brown or purple or blue…).  The great thing about this sand is that it never dries out (unlike play dough and some other hands-on sensory products). If you want to give it a whirl, type “kinetic sand” into Amazon’s search box and you will end up with many varieties.  Walmart and Target usually have kinetic sand in stock as well.

Silly Putty

  • I mean, it bounces! So, this one is different than play dough or slime because of its silicone polymers that have unusual physical properties. I mean, it bounces but can also flow like a liquid all the while glowing in the dark! Silly putty can also make unusual sounds, engaging multiple senses.

about the author…Ashlynn is wife, mom of three littles, and Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Rocky Mountain College.  She is an introvert who is uncharacteristically social and loves family, learning, travel, animals, and all things Montana.