LESS MESS – 26 (almost) Mess-Free Sensory Activities

After my post for staying sane during sensory play, I decided to make a list of great, sensory play activities which allow you to have so much fun without 1getting incredibly messy.

1 – Sticky mural for toddlers is a great activity, to have fun sticking without the mess of glue. 

2 – Paint in a bag allows your child to explore through their senses, especially sight and touch.

3 – Colour mixing bags can help toddlers explore colour, even if they are not keen on getting messy.

4 – Pumpkin play sensory bag is great for an autumn activity for babies.

5 – Scent jars are a great way to explore smell.

6 – Squishy bags are fab and very easy to make! Will definitely be trying this one at work.

7 – Ice sensory bags helps babies explore the feeling of cold (and you could also make a warm one, too)

8 – Painting with water is an inspired way of painting without the mess.

9 – A sensory board will keep busy toddler minds active for ages, and helps them develop problem-solving skills as well as exploring the items through their senses.

210 – Treasure baskets are amazing for developing babies sensory exploration.

11 – Sensory balloons are great and the possibilities of contents are endless.

12 – Sensory art will allows babies and toddlers to make amazing canvas art.

13 – Foil blanket play will awaken your babies senses, including sight, sound and touch.

14 – Super sensory bags use hair gel and various items to create great sensory experiences.

15 – Polar peas pop is another one to explore cold and would be great with the rhyme ‘5 little peas’.

16 – Glow in the dark slime is an imaginative take on sensory bags and would be great in a dark tent.

17 – Nature sun catchers are one of my favourites, calling for a nature walk before making this fantastic art.

18 – Rainbow sensory bin is a no-mess colour exploring activity, and you can add other coloured items too.3

19 – Cardboard tube game is great for fine motor skills, also to explore colour and patterns.

20 – Felt flowers look amazing and you can adapt the activity to create anything (Easter eggs/animals).

21 – Colour experiments are a great way to explore light and take minimal effort to make.

22 –Painting in a can allows your child to create great art whilst having a fab time, using gross motor skills to shake, shake, SHAKE!

23 – Crayon rubbings are great for older children to explore patterns and textures.

24 – Egg decorating using crayons to decorate eggs – great for an Easter activity.

25 – Sandpaper and yarn is so simple, yet will keep the kids entertained for ages. A great sensory activity and you can make beautiful pictures, too.

26 – Ball pool bath lets the children play in the bath without the mess of water to clean up.

Let me know if you’ve tried any of the activities… Do your little ones prefer getting messy or staying clean? xx


5 tips for staying sane during sensory play

messy play

Now, as a nursery practitioner, in a baby room, I’m VERY used to mess of every kind… But I’ve recently been asked to provide tips on how to stay calm and enjoy activities without stressing about the mess and clean-up. Here are my top tips…

space1. Find an appropriate space – My first thought is about the environment. Think about the activity and where you could set it up. Is it something that needs lots of space like these gross motor painting activities? Can it be played in the bathroom for easy clean-up like shaving foam bath paints? If the weather allows, the garden is a perfect place for many sensory/messy activities, such as water play with balls.

2. Plan ahead – Planning ahead is a must. When you have a quiet moment (I know sometimes that sounds laughable) like at nap-time or after bed-time, is there anything you can do ahead of time? Make play dough, gather resources, set out the area or even the whole activity? Being prepared for mess is essential – make sure you have all the clean-up props you need e.g. towels, wipes etc. Remember that old adage ‘prevention is better than cure’?

3. Appropriate supervision – If you’re just starting to explore sensory play with your little one or you are a bit nervous about the children getting messy, make sure there is appropriate supervision. It will make you feel better, by seeing what they are up to and it will also make sure that the little explorers stay safe. You can be there to make sure not ‘too much’ of the activity gets tasted or eaten and by being by your child’s side you can role model, play and have fun too.

4. Modify the activity – For those of you who have a mess-phobia or it is not practical to get messy (if you are in someone else’s house for example) you can alwayIMG_2021s modify activities. These sensory bags were adapted from a sensory exploring tray I had seen. They allow the children to explore the materials without getting messy, and it’s safer for young babies as there’s no ‘tasting’ involved. You could also modify an activity by taking it outside. These mess-free activities are great for sensory development.

5. Have fun and relax! When you are having fun with your child and sharing those special moments, worrying about the mess seems to disappear. Okay, you’re still not going to want rainbow rice trodden all around the house or paints all up the walls, but relaxing will allow your child to relax too and the activity will probably become more productive anyway.

Why not try these 26 (almost) Mess-Free Sensory Activities!!

Rainbow playdough

As you can probably tell from my Rainbow rice post, I love colourful, rainbow activities…so  I have been dying to try this recipe from The Imagination Tree!! This weekend, my niece (almost 4 years old) came for a sleepover, so it was the perfect excuse to play and get messy.


This is the easiest recipe I’ve found yet and it makes AMAZING play dough. The colours were good (although the pink looks a bit orange or ‘peach’ as my niece pointed out).

All you need is:

  • 2 cups flour (plain)
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar (I modified this to a smaller amount as I didn’t have much in the cupboard)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • Food colouring (in your choice of rainbow colours)

What to do:

It’s basically a case of throwing it all in a bowl and mixing, honestly, it’s so easy. Add together the flour, salt, cream of tartar and oil and mix. Then add the boiling water, mix with a spoon until right consistency. Leave to cool until it’s safe to knead in the colouring and that’s it! Tip: Use gloves to knead as the colouring can get a bit messy.

After the play dough was ready, my niece was ready to get stuck in. My image of separate, colourful play dough didn’t last long, as the first thing she did was squash it all together to make a giant ‘rainbow ball’. This however looked pretty cool, as the play dough made a marble effect as it mixed together.

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After all the colours were sufficiently squashed, next was rolling. We talked about how the colours were stretching as they were getting longer. We kept turning over the play dough to find out what had happened on the opposite side.

There was a lot of talk about colour mixing, size, shapes and patterns. We used simple tools to make holes and patterns in the play dough, too.


The play lasted for ages and she even wanted to take it home to play with her younger sister (19 months). This activity is great for little ones of all ages (not edible though, so watch children who like to taste).

Have you tried this recipe? Have you come across tips to make play dough better? Share your play dough ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ with me xx

Understanding your child – Explaining stages of brain development (Piaget)

Ok, so everybody knows that children are mysterious and complex beings and it’s often hard to work out what’s coming next….a hug…a tantrum…a strange question…

Here I am going to explain (in simple terms) Piaget’s theory of cognitive (brain) development to help you better understand your child are the way he thinks. There are 4 stages of cognitive development:

  1. Sensori-motor stasensorimotorge (Birth – 2 years). As the title suggests, as a young baby, his cognitive development is based on his senses (sensori) and his movement (motor). Everything he knows is due to his experiences within his environment. In this stage your child turns from a helpless newborn baby into a thinking toddler.
  2. preoperationalPre-operational stage (2 – 7 years). During this stage, your child is learning to communicate and problem-solve. This takes a lot of thinking, which has not been connected and organised yet. This leads to your child’s thinking being illogical and sometimes ‘magical’. This is the time your child immerses himself completely in fantasy, role play and the world of make-believe. He will often completely transform himself into a fiction character and makes you call him ‘superman’ for weeks on end.
  3. Concrete operations (7 – 11 years). Your child now has the ability to focus on a specific aspect of a situation. He can think logically, as long as all the information is known to him.
  4. Formal operations (11+). There are now no limitations to your child’s thinking and he is able to think of all possibilities to a situation. He is able to think in a hypothetical sense and will often ponder the ‘what if’s’ and deeper meaning questions of life.

There are further ‘sub-stages’ of cognitive development, which I have explained in more detail in ‘Understanding your baby (Birth – 2 years)‘ and ‘Understanding your child – 2 – 7 years’. I have also provided many activities to do with your child at each stage so go and check them out.

Does any of this ring a bell? What stage is your child at?

Understanding your child (2 – 7 years)

preoperationalThe pre-operational cognitive stage of children aged 2 – 7 years (according to Piaget) is characterised by a rapidly increasing thought process, based on communication and problem solving. This stage is further sub-categorised into 2 sub-stages.

2-4 years – Symbolic function stage – At this stage your child will acquire the ability to think of something that is not physically there. He is able to represent his ideas through drawing, gesture and speech, which is why this is the prime time for pretend play/role play. Activities such as felt animal imaginative play, drawing on this chalkboard table, these 50+ small world ideas and 3 little pigs play will help build your child’s imagination. Your child will often pretend one object is another, such as a banana is a telephone or some grass is pasta for lunch.


A child at this stage will show egocentric tendencies – which means he can only think of the world from his point of view. He believes that everyone will think, feel and react in the way that he does and cannot understand other’s opinions (hence the difficulty in sharing). Activities to help overcome this (and build on social skills) include pom pom turn-taking, the ball pass tunnel game and this book about sharing and friendship.


A child in this stage will also display animistic thinking – in which he believes that inanimate objects (such as dolls, trees and toys) have thoughts, feelings and wishes, just like he does. He might state that “the trees must be cold today” or “teddy is sad, he fell over”.

4-7 years – Intuitive thought stage – This is the stage where your child is beginning to organise his thinking. It is classed as intuitive thought, as although the child can carry out mental tasks, he does not yet understand how or why; he is operating on perception and intuition.

He probably likes to classify, order and quantify items and structure can seem very important to him. As this is the time many children start school, it links in nicely with the order of a child at this stage.  These activities provide perfect opportunity to practice these skills: Foam mosiacs, alphabet beads, nature patterns and consonant sound mats.


Hope this helps keep your little ones busy 🙂 xx

Understanding your baby (Birth – 2 years)

I have recently been exploring Piaget’s theory of cognitive (brain) development. It has really opened my eyes to the world of the children that I look after (6 months to 2 years) and the way that they think. I’m hoping to do the same for you and your children, as well as provide some activities to do at each stage.


During the sensori-motor stage, the child is focused on her senses and movement, gradually gaining more control and focus. The child’s development is broken up into 6 ‘sub-stages’.

0-1 month – Reflexive schemes – Your newborn baby uses innate reflexes to explore her surroundings. She has automatic reactions to stimuli, for example grasping your finger or suckling. During this stage your baby will enjoy watching your face as you talk/sing/read to her, also focusing on contrasting images – try these art cards from Wee Gallery.

1-4 months – Primary circular reactions – Your baby is now very focused on her body (primary); she will often look intently at her hands and find her feet, sometimes mouthing those little toes. She will explore in a repetitive manner (circular) to increase her knowledge about herself. Great activities for this age group include baby massage, splashing in the bath tub, balloon kicking and tummy time using an exercise ball.


4-10 months – Secondary circular reactions – By now, your baby is very inquisitive and likes to explore the world around her, by reaching for objects in her environment and developing her controlled movements. Many activities can help your baby learn about the world, including sensory bags/bottles, edible finger painting, clapping songs, tug-a-toy play, touch and feel books like the ‘that’s not my…’ collection and playing peek-a-boo.


10-12 months – Co-ordination of secondary schemes – As your baby approaches her first birthday, she is learning to deliberately combine processes to achieve a goal, e.g. lifting a cloth to pick up a hidden toy. She is learning to manipulate the world around her. She will love playing with building blocks, stacking cups and treasure baskets. This egg drop game is perfect and water pouring is a great way to build hand-eye co-ordination.


12-18 months – Tertiary circular reactions – This is the stage where your child uses trial and error to explore different objects and their characteristics. Her little mind will be constantly on the go thinking ‘what if?’ ‘how does?’ and ‘can I?’ She is learning to develop the early stages of problem solving. This busy board is great for enquiring minds and she will spend ages finding out how everything works. She will also enjoy activities such as this contact paper craftmud play; also playing with ICT toys with buttons, lights and music.


18-24 months – Beginning of thought – When your toddler is nearing her second birthday, she will begin to make mental representations and imitate seen behaviours. These role play and small world activities are great for developing this thinking – car wash, baby bath, 25 small world activities. Open-ended creative activities can help your child develop her own thinking – drawing, painting, play dough. She will begin to represent people and objects in her creations, saying “I paint mummy” and “it a dinosaur”. Also, story sacks are a great way to build her imagination whilst also developing social and communication skills.


What stage is your child at? Do they enjoy any of these activities? Is there something they love doing even more? I would love to hear from you xx

Rainbow rice recipe

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I have had so much fun this week playing with this ‘Rainbow Rice’!! (Who said playing was just for children?) I have seen a few different ways to make coloured rice, but I have adapted them to make my own…and it turned out great!!!


What you’ll need….

  • White rice (the cheap stuff is great and it’s best to buy in bulk)
  • White vinegar
  • Food colouring
  • Zip-lock freezer bags

The Recipe

Well, it’s so simple. Just add your desired amount of rice to the zip-lock bag (I added 800g per colour). Next, add the vinegar. I tried to add as little as possible, as the smell is not very inviting. I added just enough to help the food colouring soak into the rice (1-1 1/2 tbsp per colour). Then add the food colouring AND SHAKE!!

The best part is that little ones can help with the shaking. It is a great activity in itself, for the children to see the colour changes as the rice soaks up the colour. Once there is an even coating, lay out on baking sheets and leave to air-dry. As long as the rice is spread out to an even-layer it should dry within a few hours, but you can leave over-night to make sure.

Play Time

To start off with, I left the rice colours separate. I placed each colour into a tray and added different sensory items of the same colour to make a ‘colour sensory tray’. The children loved exploring the rice and noticing similar items.




Next, we mixed 2 colours together. I placed 2 separate smaller tray next to each other, one with green rice and one with red. I placed many containers and spoons also in the tray and let the children go for it! They love mixing the colours together from one container to the other.


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After all this colour exploring, we were ready to mix all the colours together and make ‘Rainbow Rice’. This was great a there was so much rice into he container, the children loved burying their hands in it and other smaller toys. I also decided to make a bottle shaker with rainbow rice, which the children select first when exploring the bottle shakers. It makes a great noise and is so colourful.

If you love this activity, you’ll also love my Rainbow playdough activity!! Check it out.

Rainbow rice

Have you tried making coloured rice, or do you have a different recipe that worked even better? I want to hear from you xx