Sensory play can be daunting but it can also be very fun and has many benefits. We did a post recently on our Instagram to ask what was holding you back from sensory play. Here we've collated the most common obstacles and our top tips to overcoming them!



It takes too long to set up and they only play for a few minutes!

Keep it simple - If you find joy in complicated fancy set ups by all means you do you BUT your child is not missing out or at a disadvantage if you do simple set ups. Parents should do what brings them joy too, not stress. And importantly there shouldn't be any shame in trying to do things for your kids - fancy or simple.

So how do I set up a simple sensory tray? Just think of it like this - add a base, tools and a vessel.

So rice, spoons and some little bowls - done.

Calming sand, scoops, cups - done.

Water, eye droppers, cups - done.

You can add anything extra like pompoms, tongs, counting chips or empty bowl. Anything you want but to keep it simple just start with those three things.

Make it reusable! We have a great system where i keep my bases along with the tools and vessels in tupperware containers so it's all set up and done. You just take it out and pop it down for the child. That way if they play for only minute it feels much less disheartening because you can just pop a lid on and try again another day with zero set up!

Play with them, at least at first. Especially if it's new to them kids might need some examples of what they can do. So teach them, or just play silently alongside them. Then depending on your goals you might try to move away for some independent play or you can stay with them and bond after a big day out at school.

For my family sensory play is always our bonding activity so I stay, get messy and have fun with my girls. Think about what your goals are before you start and be guided by that. But most kids will need some teaching at first.



But they just throw it/eat it/make a mess!

For this one you have two options...

  1. Go outside on the grass/deck (whatever you have) and be ok with them throwing and making a huge mess. Oats and rice are great options for this, be careful with seeds. I accidentally planted a small chia patch in our expensive turf once. (Whoops!)

    1. Treat it like any other skill they need to learn, teach them. Give them warnings, put it away if they're not listening. This can be slow and frustrating at first and takes your patience. Different kids will take to it differently but for me this has worked from a fairly young age. Someone on instagram had a great quote, "Keep it in the tray or it gets packed away". Remember in these instances follow through is what matters most. And don't approach it with anger just a simple consequence for their choices and "it seems like you're having a hard time playing with the rice today so I'm going to pack it away and we can try again another day". They'll soon pickup the acceptable behaviour and you don't have to put up with an escalating mess.

      Taste-safe does not equal edible. You should still discourage mouthing. Just say "not for your mouth" and show them what to do instead. You can choose depending on the child's age/your parenting style/etc how you proceed but taking it away is a good natural consequence after a few warnings. Something I've personally found helpful with mouthing sensory play is colouring it. We use this as an indicator in our house of what is for play and what isn't. For instance I will say to my son, "This pasta is blue so it's playing pasta, not eating pasta."

    You can also use a drop cloth, sheet or play mat to contain mess and make clean up easier. The bathtub or shower can also be an excellent choice to contain messy play and for easy clean up.

    The bathtub or shower is a great place to do messy play and you can just rinse everything off when you're done (including the child).



    How do I deal with the mess?

    Have an exit plan (this applies to painting as well) knowing how you're going to finish means you're not stressing while you're dong it.

    This will depend on where you're playing and what you're using. Some ideas are - doing messy play in the bathroom then pop the kids in the bath/shower while you clean up. If you're outside, hose them off!

    You can also wipe them down with a damp towel (again preparation is important). Then maybe set them up with a snack/screen/activity so you can do a quick tidy. Or just block off that area till bedtime and clean later. Different things will work for different families. My advice is try a few different tactics till you hit on one that works for you, your kids and your space. Just take it from me, don't let jelly sit on your balcony for a week before cleaning it. It's not a good idea!

    Setting up on a drop cloth can make clean up easy and quick by helping to contain some of the mess.


    Managing expectations...

    Sometimes what holds people back is they tried once it was a "fail" and they don't want to try again. A big factor here is managing our own expectations. Children will on average have an attention span of 2-5 minutes per year of age, not all children will sit and play with a sensory bin for an hour.

    That's ok and doesn't mean it was a fail. Did they meaningfully engage at all? Did they have fun? That's a win!

    Take time to teach them. If it's totally new to them they might not know what to do so sit with them and demonstrate. For younger kids focus purely on the fine motor skills (tipping and pouring is a great one) for older kids maybe make up a narrative and do pretend play rescuing some bugs or making a fairy potion.

    Meaningful engagement and fun should be your goal, not hitting a time target. Go through the first section of this blog again to see how to relieve some of those time pressures.

    It's so expensive! I don't have the right tools.

    Use what you have! Beautiful wooden scoops are lovely and if that brings you joy, by all means use them! But you don't have to. Raid the kitchen cupboards - spoons, bowls, measuring scoops, all of these are great options for sensory play.

    Sensory play doesn't need to be expensive or hard you can use utensils and containers you already own.

    Expired food (or it doesn't have to be) is a great cheap option. Rice, beans, lentils, leftover pasta from dinner, water - all of these are great options you don't need anything fancy to have fun.


    It's just not for us...

    First, let go of the guilt. Easier said than done, I know, but we're all doing our best and if sensory play just isn't for you THAT IS OK. You matter too and you don't need to do what makes you miserable.

    It's not for everyone! And it doesn't have to be! Go outside play in the grass, dig in a sandpit, splash in mud. These are all great sensory experiences and every family is different. The important thing is to do what's right for your family.

    Remember water is sensory play, people often overlook this. There's so many ways to explore water (tipping, pouring, warm, cold, ice) and they are all valid and fun. Water play is so easy to set up and clean up, that people tend to overlook it as an option.

    We hope this helps you overcome any obstacles you're facing with sensory play.

    Please feel free to reach out to us on Instagram, or by email  if you have any further questions or need any more advice to get you into some sensory fun!

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