If you’re wondering exactly what to use for sensory play then here is a collection of our favourite sensory play fillers. We absolutely LOVE sensory play and do it at least once a week – the bases shared below are ones that we have on rotation constantly!
Sensory play is so beneficial for young children and you can read more about it here.
When you scroll on down this list, you’ll notice it will go from simple ideas to more messy bases. If you’re just starting sensory play, go with the simple ideas first and build up to different textures as you’re child gets used to this kind of play.
8 Favourite Sensory Play Fillers
Yes! Sensory play is as simple as filling up a tub of water, then adding a few sensory play accessories. Start off really simple – just adding some cups and food dye to the bath or sink will do.
But water based play isn’t just for beginners – not a week goes by when we aren’t playing with water in the Flisat table. The great thing about water as a sensory play filler is that it is a great introduction to sensory play and decidedly less messy than some of the alternatives you’ll see later on in this post.
One of the main comments I get from parents wanting to start sensory play is: ‘What’s safe?’ It can be really anxiety inducing because of course, little children tend to explore by taste-testing things. That being said, sensory play also has so many benefits. So what’s a good compromise here?
Baby cereals are a great way to start with more adventurous sensory play fillers, particularly if you have some left over at the back of a kitchen cupboard. I know mine often tried baby cereals and refused to ever eat them! With older children, try anything (providing no allergies are present) that you have on hand.
In the past we’ve used oat mixes as part of a teddy bears picnic or crumbled Weetabix to make a far. The hot chocolate bin below is made using cocoa pops, unbelievably, my children had actually refused to eat them and so this Christmassy theme was a great way to use them.
3. Rainbow Rice
Rainbow rice is THE sensory play filler that we return to over and over again! Whilst I used to make it by myself, my daughter (5) now loves to do it with me.
Rainbow rice takes a little while to prepare BUT it can last for months when stored correctly. There’s a few different ways to make and preserve the rice – you can read more about making rainbow rice on my Pinterest page here.
Graduating on slightly from rainbow rice is rainbow chickpeas! These feel so satisfying when scooped and poured and make a great sounds too.
You don’t have to dye the chickpeas if you want to make life simpler – one of the reasons we do this is to distinguish from the food we eat. By adding preservative (in the form of either antibacterial gel or vinegar), you can keep the chickpeas for longer too. You can find out how to make rainbow chickpeas here.
However, either dyed or plain, chickpeas are fantastic for scooping and pouring activities and also as part of dramatic play. My 5 year-old daughter recently used the chickpea sensory base to make a cake shop, serving us delightful rainbow coloured ‘cakes’ all Saturday long!
5. Shaving Cream
Shaving foam can be a really fun base – particularly in winter when it can act as snow! This one can take a little while for children to warm up to, so my advice would be to start off with just a small tub rather than a huge elaborate scene. Choose the ‘sensitive’ option which is kinder to your child’s delicate skin.
You can also use whipping cream as an alternative for children who put things in their mouths.
Aquafaba sounds fancy, but it’s simply the juice from chickpeas! This is great for the under 3’s too because you don’t need to worry if it gets in their mouth. Simply strain the ‘juice’ from a couple of cans of chickpeas into a jug, add a splash of water and a little food colouring, then mix it all up in a blender.
This non-Newtonian fluid is a lot of fun for little ones to explore. Made from cornstarch and water, it acts as both a solid and a liquid. Find out how to make it here
Gloop is one of the messiest activities on here so be sure to prepare your sensory play area carefully first. Add a splash mat or towels onto the floor or alternatively, set up in the kitchen or bathroom.
8. Bubble Foam
Bubble foam is a lot of good clean (but messy) fun! You can use bubble bath (recommended for littlies) or dishsoap to make this bubbly sensory play filler. Click here to find out how to make it.
This is one of our favourite sensory play bases because it smells so good! In the photo below, we made at unicorn bubble bath at the request of Miss 5, but we often use it in cafe themed play too – the bubbles make for a perfect pretend ‘latte’!
Tips for Using Food in Play
Using food as a sensory play filler can be a sensitive topic. You need to consider the cost/benefit to using food it this way and try to avoid situations where you are buying food especially for play. That being said, using food for play can be considered more environmentally friendly than some of the alternatives such as glitter, Styrofoam and straws.
I advise that you use it as a way to use up food that has gone stale or past its sell by date. With sensory play fillers like chickpeas, lentils and rainbow rice, keep them in a resealable bag so that they can be used over and over again.
Rainbow rice, when stored correctly, can last for years.
Whilst my website is mainly dedicated to play at home, if you’re a teacher reading this, just be mindful of the socio-economic situations of the children you teach and whether it would be appropriate to use food as a base.
When choosing any of these sensory play fillers, think safety! If your child is under 3, stick to the bases that will b e taste safe and won’t pose a choking hazard: water, baby cereals and chickpea foam for example.