Non-Food Sensory Play Ideas

When someone says sensory play or messy play, what do you immediately think of? For me, it’s cold baked beans, rainbow spaghetti, and dry cereal. There are so many different ways you can incorporate food into sensory play, and it’s a popular option because it obviously makes it taste safe for those children that put everything in their mouths.

Whilst there is not a shortage of food at the moment per se, I think it is important that we find other ways to let the little ones explore their senses. There are so many people struggling to find what they need at the shops, that it seems selfish to me to continue incorporating food in play. Unless of course it is food that has previously been played with and set aside for that very reason.


In my previous post about play ideas for under 1s, I mentioned foam. A friend of mine had shared it on Instagram, and I love the idea! You simply whip up some washing up liquid and water in a food blender. The higher concentration of washing liquid, the thicker the foam. You could even add food colouring to make it more interesting.

Coloured ice

Ice is great for sensory play. Add some water and food colouring into an ice cube tray and pop it in the freezer – some people choose to mix it with paints instead. The coloured ice can then be used for all sorts of things – melting, building, combining colours, even painting…add some sticks into the tray before you freeze them, to make them easier to paint with.

Frozen animals

Very similar to the idea above. Grab yourself a freezable container, and fill it with water and some plastic figures – animals and dinosaurs work best! Then let the children explore different ways to chip off or melt the ice, so that they can find the toys within.

Play dough

Play dough – some people love it, and others hate it. It’s very Marmite! We love our Little Munchkins play dough, which is made with food grade ingredients and is completely taste safe. So whilst you might argue that it is not entirely non-food, I think it is a great idea to keep supporting small businesses at this time. Little Munchkins play dough is incredibly soft, long lasting, and smells divine. It comes in all sorts of colours and scents, and some of them even have glitter or petals in! Check out The Future Image if you want to try some!

Paper pulp

Paper pulp is literally just paper and water. You could get the children to experiment with different types of paper, and see which works best! Add different elements to it too – glue, glitter, pom poms, whatever you have to hand!

Shredded paper

If you’re not brave enough to add water, try shredded paper in its own. Use it for building nests, or burying treasure. Let the kids explore their own ideas and see where it leads them.


I think slime is another love/hate sensory item isn’t it. I haven’t braved it yet personally, but I think this might be the perfect time! If I can find the ingredients that is. I’ve heard good things about the slime recipes at Little Bins for Little Hands, so I will be giving them a try.

Finger painting

There are plenty of non-toxic finger paints out there for your little ones to try. For the older kids, normal acrylic paints will do. Let them dive in and really get messy – roll a sheet of paper out (you could use leftover wallpaper!) and let them walk along it with painted feet, drive toy cars through it and make track marks, or make animal figures with finger prints and pens! There are so many different ways to enjoy paint.

Real mud

Mud kitchens are becoming increasingly popular. Sadly we don’t have a garden, but I love the idea of them! My son’s nursery has a mud kitchen, and so do his cousins – they are great fun. If you don’t have one set up, or the weather’s not great outside, you could always bring one indoors – if you’re feeling brave enough! Get a bit of dirt or compost from your garden, and mix it up with some water inside. One fun activity is to have a tray of mud and a tray of clean water – let the kids get the toys muddy, and then show them how to wash them off.

Water play

Water play is always a popular one. My kids like to scoop the water, and then tip it from one container to the other. You could set it up in a deep tray, or simply let them play for longer in the bath! For a Montessori style activity, let them wash up their own plates, cups and bowls.


Most kids love playing with sand. It’s a staple at my son’s nursery, and my parents have a sand and water table that they get out in their garden over the summer. There’s nothing to stop you bringing it inside either – I would suggest laying a mat down first for an easier clean though!

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