Summer Sensory Play

This summer sensory play activity is a favorite with all of my kids! I love how easily it cleans up. Find more sensory play activities kids love.

summer sensory play for kids

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Kids love sensory play, but it can get sooo messy!!! This outdoor summer sensory play idea is always a hit with my kids, and a breeze to clean up.

Looking for indoor sensory play ideas that are NOT messy? Check out these solutions:

Cardboard canvas is another messy outdoor sensory play activity that kids enjoy.

Outdoor Sensory Play

Playing with corn starch and water and paint

One of the things I love about summer is the ability to take messy play outside!

For this activity I set the kids up with individual trays of corn starch, water, and washable paint. We bought our trays for $1.99 at IKEA several years ago. They hold up beautifully, and were still for sale there last time I checked.

Corn starch dissolves in water, so at the end of play you can hose everything off. I do recommend hosing it into the grass. Corn starch will not hurt grass or other plants, and some people find that it deters pests. Pouring corn starch and water down a drain in large quantities can clog a drain!

My kids aren’t intuitively messy players. They started off pretty cautiously, but gradually became more involved.

Diving into play

Emma had a storyline going with her toys. Small toys like the ones sold in Safari TOOBs work wonders in engaging reluctant children in messy play.

Lily mostly watched – this time. She was more adventurous in later play sessions. I find that it’s important to respect children who have this kind of watch before engaging approach to life. They still benefit from the experience of watching, and it preps them for more involved participation later on.

For Johnny, it was all about the full-body sensory experience:

full-body sensory play

Both Johnny and Emma wound up with corn starch up to their elbows. Lily eventually got some on her hands, but still wasn’t sure how she felt about it:

cautious sensory play with corn starch and water

Everything hosed off easily at the end, and we’ll definitely do this again this summer – probably with more corn starch and water in each tray!

Why Try Messy Sensory Play?

Finding messy play solutions for a sensory seeking child like Johnny is a no brainers, but why encourage naturally neater children to play?

Sensory play is an incredible experience for both children and adults. Sensory activities like this one engage the senses while building both fine and gross motor skills.

Sensory play is also one of my favorite ways to help kids destress. It’s equally healthy for adults – try it!

Remember that nature is the ultimate sensory experience. A hike in the woods or a trip to the beach provides all of the benefits of this simple sensory play experience – and more! Traditional summer toys like this DIY sandbox also offer great messy sensory play experiences!

What is your favorite messy activity to take outside in the summertime? How about an indoor activity for those stiflingly hot days when you need to be indoors or in the water?

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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.

34 thoughts on “Summer Sensory Play”

  1. Elisa | blissfulE

    That picture with Johnny’s foot hovering above the tray is CLASSIC! Love it!

    I will definitely keep this messy, but easily hosed off, combination in mind for warmer weather!

  2. i love the different looks of concentration on their faces in the first pic. we’ve so got to try this… just not outside. with days averaging at 105+, it’s toooo hot!

  3. See now I agree with Lily, getting involved with corn starch and water is not something I would ever come up with! But I can see my son especially liking this activity, maybe I’ll just stay at a safe distance and take photos! ;o)
    Thanks for inspiring me!
    xoxo
    ~ joey ~

  4. Such a cute activity. My daughter would be like Lilly, not really sure about getting stuff all over her hands. I love how your son was diving right in. So funny.

  5. Ohhhh wonderful :) Our summer is all about mud (considering we had a hose ban from 4th April it was rapidly lifted on the 4th June when it had rained every single day inbetween!!!) it gets mixed in the water table, in the sand pit, dug into a hole. I think the dog and J are working together to get to China

  6. Fun! My kids love oobleck. They also love to just fill up containers with water, leaves, and whatever else they find and pretend to have a party.

  7. Try messy sensory play because it’s fun?

    Also, I miss the days where I could just load up a tray with corn starch or baking soda and let the kids have at it and it would entertain them for hours.

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