Friday Favorites: Ooey, Gooey Sensory Activities

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I think it’s great how “sensory processing” has made its way into everyday conversations, classroom activities, and mainstream life. A decade or two ago, sensory processing activities were more or less only found in therapy clinics for a select group of kids.

So many people love and enjoy sensory input. And so many people avoid it.

I will forever be grateful to the preschool teacher who quickly modified the Mother’s Day painting activity for one of my twins who really and truly did not like messy things. While his brother presented me with a handprint-horse, he proudly showed me his caterpillar made with many thumbprints, the only finger that he agreed to get paint on.

Both were beautifully framed pieces of 3-year-old artwork. Both still hang on our wall seven years later. The boys remember how I encouraged them as toddlers and preschoolers to get dirty bit by bit. They became more comfortable with textures, tastes, smells, and sounds at their own pace. Both have fond memories of the sensory activities we did and the messes we made on purpose.

Here are our five favorite, ooey gooey activities.

Cloud Dough

Can I share that we still make cloud dough each summer? Corn starch and conditioner (use whatever you have in the shower or find a scent you really, really like) are all you need. As named, it’s light and fluffy, and it keeps its consistency for several days if stored in an airtight container.

I’m a fan of making this outside since the corn starch can sometimes go everywhere, but it can also be an indoor activity. There is something very calming about mixing the two ingredients together whether you use your hands or a spatula. Of course, you could add food coloring to match the scent of the conditioner. So therapeutic for everyone.

Shaving Cream Paint

This is a really gooey one! It’s also definitely an outdoor activity unless you want to dye your floors and tabletops. 🙂

I typically hand a can of shaving cream to each of my four kids – fine motor coordination, sensory exploration, and HOURS of good messes. They squirt the shaving cream onto their palettes which are random big plastic lids, I add the food coloring, and then they mix with their hands or paint brushes. They paint paper, sidewalks (it will stain some), cardboard boxes, and each other. Be careful not to let it get into eyes. We’d always do this in swimsuits for easy clean-up with the hose and easy repeat with more shaving cream and color creations.

girl in pigtails blowing bubbles

Foam Bubbles

I saw this activity at a 4-H summer camp years ago. I think the emphasis that day was on recycling and being green while having fun, but we liked it for gentle sensory input when the twins were really small.

First, you cut the bottom of a plastic water or sports drink bottle. Then, using a rubber band, you secure a washcloth to the open bottom (the thinner the washcloth, the better). Finally, you dip the washcloth side into bubble juice, store bought or homemade, and blow through the bottle top. A fountain of bubble will come from the washcloth.

These huge bubble chains are great for little hands, decorating the driveway, or stomping with bare feet.

Face + Body Paint

This activity was once thought of as gooey and messy, but now it’s requested before summer Nerf Gun battles. “We need camouflage, Mom!”

Brushing it on the skin as a calming technique is a much debated topic, so I’ll just say from personal experience that my twins loved it. I used to paint their hands with silly faces and ladybugs, then they requested designs on their cheeks and knees (kneecap body art is apparently hilarious to them). Now they break out the leftover camo paint from my husband’s Marine gear and go to town covering themselves.

Ivory Soap in the Microwave

We have done this experiment both inside and outside for many years. The clean up is easy, and the sensory input is gentle tactile stimulation and a lovely soapy smell.

Simply microwave a bar of Ivory soap on a plate for 60 to 90 seconds. The bar blossoms and expands almost 5 times its size. Although the final product is very soft, it will be HOT when it comes out of the microwave. We usually let it cool outside before playing with it. The foam will crumble as it’s handled, but the soap consistently last for quite awhile. Sometimes pieces of it make it into the bathtub at the end of the day!

Whether you’re looking for ways to encourage your kiddo to get messy or just looking for new sensory experiences to enjoy, I hope you have fun with these ooey, gooey activities.

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Alexis Linehan
Alexis is an occupational therapist, the mama to four energetic kids (ages 10, 9, 9, and 6), the wife of a National Guard helicopter pilot, and a child of God. The military life has taken them to different states and through several deployments, but they currently call Nebraska home. Alexis enjoys singing for their church, going on camping and canoeing adventures with her crew, and reading anything (and everything) under the sun. She volunteers for the National Guard FRG and is a contributing writer to Her View From Home. You can follow her on Facebook at This End Up in Life or visit her website