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These Sensory Activities Won’t Make a Giant Mess of Your Home

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Sensory activities are a really important aspect of child development. In particular, activities that incorporate “messy play” are helpful for kids to integrate different sensations into their lives, which helps them with motor skills, language skills, and engages their creativity. For kids with “sensory sensitivities” or sensory processing disorder, it is often an important part of their therapy or work to become acclimated to the busy, sensation-filled world we live in.

Kids who are highly sensitive are often categorized as sensory-seekers or sensory-avoidant. Messy play is either their favorite thing, something they seek out and revel in, or something they think is gross, or even abhorrent. Maybe you—the one who cleans the house—also find messy play less than wonderful and, while you see its value, want to keep your house at least somewhat intact. Here are some tips for incorporating messy play in a way that is clean, cleaner, or at least easier to clean up.

Sensory play materials that are less messy

As someone who has a bit of a sensitive side myself, sand is one of my “yuck” textures. I get a bit overwhelmed after too much time on the beach. Additionally, slime has been banned from my house after a carpet-stain incident. But, these grainy and goopy textures are great for messy play, so you might want some alternatives. Kinetic sand is my favorite; I can watch ASMR videos of kinetic sand all day every day, my friends. It’s stickier than “real” sand because it has a silicone oil coating it, keeping it from separating into a million minuscule pieces.

Other products many parents love include water beads, which look and feel great—just keep your kid’s temperament when it comes to putting things in their mouths in mind with these, even if you get the non-toxic ones. “Fun foam” products and theraputty are other non-Play-Doh or slime products that are good for fine motor skills and clean up a little easier. There’s also “oobleck” or “magic mud”—water and cornstarch that you can dye and play with for hours, which is pretty easy to wipe up.

While many parents replace sand with rice or pasta in sandboxes and sensory bins, others replace sand or rice with dry beans. They’re easy to pick up and can’t break like pasta—have your kid help clean up the dropped beans at the end, too, and they’ll get a little work on their pincer grasp, an important fine-motor skill. Check out these other sensory bin ideas, many of which are less messy than sand and rice.

Sensory-seekers also love smashing things, so you can try freezing little toys in ice and let your kids free their treasures by smashing or picking at them with sticks or other kid-safe sharpish objects. If you do this inside, you’ll need towels but little else in the way of cleanup. Outside, there’s no mess at all.

Consider clean-up and storage from start to finish. A rimmed baking sheet can work well to contain certain materials and make it easier to scoop up the contents to discard at the end. For a more permanent solution, consider dedicating a large, under-the-bed storage container to sensory play—they’re easy to store, easy to clean, and can be taken outside.

And finally, for painting fun without ANY mess, try this plastic Ziploc bag finger-painting activity.

Location is everything

Lots of parents prefer that messy play happens primarily outside, minimizing the indoor damage. You could go all-out and create a mud kitchen for your kids—or just set them up on a patio or deck (or other space that is easy to sweep or vacuum up messes). But it’s not an all-year-round solution for most of us.

The bathtub is usually the next best choice, as many kid paints are washable and made specifically for use on tubs and tile. Shaving cream is also a fabulous messy play material and a perfect one to bust out in the bathtub. Make sure your’s doesn’t irritate your child’s skin and add food coloring (test this on a small section of tile or enamel first) to the cream to create swirly, magical bath paint. (Shaving cream is also fun to make art with).

If, instead, you park them at the dining room table, you can lay down towels or a drop cloth to protect any carpeting or rugs from whatever they’re squeezing and smooshing. If you’re making dinner and need to keep them close by, throw a towel down in front of the kitchen sink, pull up a stool, fill it partially with water, and let them choose a few water-safe toys to dunk and dive into the water.

One last option if you really don’t want to be responsible for all of this: Send them to a preschool that focuses on incorporating messy play. They can get it out of their system at school and be more mess-free at home.

  

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