Messy Sensory Play – the Alternative to Flour

Johnny experiments with expired baby formula
Sensory play has to be one of the most frequently blogged about exploratory learning activities for children. My kids don’t have a designated sensory bin, but they have plenty of everyday opportunities to learn about textures through messy sensory play.

Last month, for example, they asked if they could see an expired container of baby formula. I figured it might as well be used as a learning experience before heading to the trash bin, so I handed it to them, along with a large metal bowl. Baby formula is a similar texture to flour, but (in my opinion) it cleans up better because it clumps together a little more (so spreads less in the first place), and it’s designed to dissolve in water. Take the activity outside and you can simply hose off your patio or lawn at the end – the formula will not hurt the grass. Flour clumps together and acts like glue when mixed with flour.

Emma measuring formula
Emma was all about measuring. Johnny was all about texture, and seeing what he could do with the dry formula.

Johnny explores the texture of baby formula
They played and played, until Johnny’s experiments got a little too intense:

Johnny playing with baby formula

At which point we switched the activity over to some parent-directed cleaning. Which Johnny actually quite enjoyed, since he doesn’t get to play with the dustpan very often.

Johnny cleaning up his mess
Some formulas will be stickier than others; if you get stuck with a sticky one mix some vinegar and dish soap with water (not a lot – maybe 1/4 cup of vinegar and 2-3 tablespoons of dish soap for a bucket of water) and it will clean up without too much trouble. Better yet, take the play out to your back yard and simply hose the formula into your grass when the kids are done playing!

MaryAnne lives in Silicon Valley with her Stanford professor husband Mike and their four children. She writes about parenting through education, creativity, and play. Mama Smiles - Joyful Parenting is a space to share crafts, hands on learning activities, and family outings that enrich lives and bring families together.

23 thoughts on “Messy Sensory Play – the Alternative to Flour”

  1. Don’t you just hope that the enthusiasm for using the dustpan lasts? My children are fascinated with our washing machine and are always “helping” me with loads of laundry. Household chores that I find monotonous, they seem to take pleasure in doing – I really need to take a leaf out of their book.

    Baby formula is a neat idea for a sensory experience. It is interesting how your children focused on exploring and enjoying it in different ways.
    .-= Elise´s last blog ..Teeny Tiny Tea Cups And Some Puppy Dogs =-.

  2. Mike is a “relaxed father”. My husband would have been horrified :) Our sensory play is usually taken outside and mostly involves digging in dirt.
    .-= Natalie´s last blog ..History is Written by the Victors =-.

  3. Love the Johnny photo!! I have a little shoe box sized clear bin full of rice, and he does enjoy when I take it out, but we’ve only done it a handful of times. I’m not a big sensory bin person. I mean, in theory I am, but in practice, it’s just another thing I need to sit next to him and do – quiz him, tell stories, make up games, hide things. He still doesn’t like to just sit and scoop and pour and explore on his own. I do love the idea of having a huge old plastic swimming pool on a porch filled with rice, though. That seems fun. I can see that when I have two kids (or three!), sensory bins could be really appealing because they’re so fun for multiple ages. I still want to link up to this, but I never feel like the activities that we blog about are self guided enough. Let me know if you ever see anything suitable on my blog? In the meantime, it’s on my list. :)
    .-= lynn´s last blog ..The Greedy Triangle- Review and Companion Activity with Free Printable =-.

    1. @kelli – water is wonderful sensory play!

      @Ticia – I haven’t had any luck with sensory bins, either – so we just do it this way =)

      @lynn – I know I’ve seen things on your blog – I’ll have to go through to find some posts! Really, I’m looking for anything where a child has significant input =)

      @Our Nifty Notebook – Formula is surprisingly sticky! This swept up much better than I thought it would, probably because there wasn’t any water in sight. And then I did mop the floor…

      @Natalie – Mike has relaxed more and more with each child, but even I was surprised at how mellow he was about this. We usually save the messiest activities for while he is gone =)

      @Mike and Susana – that photo is my favorite too!

      @Quadmama – Johnny would definitely get along with your daughters!

      @Elise – I LOVED cleaning the bathroom – until I was old enough to do it properly! Somehow that took all the fun out of it…

  4. Elisa | blissfulE

    What a great idea to use the formula you would have thrown out! And hooray for tile floors. :)
    .-= Elisa | blissfulE´s last blog ..33 seconds =-.

  5. It’s always interesting to see two children come to sensory play with really different ideas about how they should play. I’ve linked up a recent post where my daughter ‘invented’ some sand art play. I’d love you to come and link up with our Play Academy on Fridays – it’s be great to swap ideas with you. Cathy

  6. Oh! The cleaning up! We have a tub of coloured rice with trinkets in it to play with at the moment and some days I have to clean it up 4-5 times. I love that it is a popular item of play, but I am just so over the mess!

  7. Christie - Childhood 101

    Oh my, what a brave mama you are. Love the action shot and the sense of freedom and joy within it.
    .-= Christie – Childhood 101´s last blog ..Letting Go =-.

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