Surviving the Sensory Activities Mess {+4 Tips to Keep Moms Sane}

Sensory activities are a great learning tool, simple enough and inexpensive. All children can benefit form them. But on the other hand, you already know that having your toddler play around with cornmeal will NOT leave your kitchen impeccably clean (nor the rest of the house).

So if you are not really excited about having a mess in your house, use these 4 simple tips to make the sensory play less messy. It will keep you sane and the child happy :)

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If you don't (yet) feel like exposing your kitchen right away to corn meal or flour, don't. Don't feel bad, it's totally OK. Your kitchen, your rules ;) You might feel better trying out a bean or RICE SENSORY BIN at the beginning. Rice is easier to contain than corn meal, and beans are even easier to clean up. I can tell you first-hand and you have easily guessed that too. :) Have a look at this post to get an idea of how to set up the simplest rice sensory bin:

toddler sensory activities


Now, let's avoid the common misperception that putting stuff on the kitchen table is the best solution. It is NOT. Not with sensory materials for toddler play :)
Learn from my mistakes and use these simple tips to limit the mess: 

  • If the sensory play is happening on the kitchen table, place a second (shallow) tray under the first tray/bin, so the majority of the sensory material will be caught. 
  • Or you can try placing the sensory material into a deeper baking pan. Or, even better - 
  • Move the sensory activity to the floor, using an old bed sheet that will catch most of the stuff and mark the play territory (much like a Montessori rug, just larger). Works really well in our home, we did it also with this forest sensory bin!
  • Dust off your kids' clothes well at the end of playing with cornmeal or flour. You don't want them to leave tracks all around the house, do you? ;)

If you are like me, the vacuum cleaner was probably on heavy duty during the first sensory play days. At first, I would put the play pan directly on the kitchen table - and everything that left it fell at first on the table, then on the clothes and then on the floor, leaving tiny particles in the air. But there are better solutions! Learning from my own mistakes, I started applying the above tips and we have nearly tamed the mess with sensory materials since. Mom happy, child happy :)

    sensory activities for kids - corn meal


    No matter how many precautions you take (see No 1), chances are there will be a major mess waiting for you to clean up after your toddler has (happily) finished his play with sensory materials, all covered in flour and tired of sitting quietly. So if you lack the energy for cleaning and for reacting quickly - for example, dusting off the child's clothes before he starts running around, covered in a cloud of what-it-is, - just postpone the sensory play to some other, well-rested day. No need to make a bad day worse ;)


    Another solution, the least stressful for moms: bring the sensory materials outside! It's a great choice for the warm part of the year, the kids will love it, and you as well. Especially because it's only a good April-weather shower it takes to make your backyard tiles clean again.

    And if it's beans, wheat, corn or other seeds in the play, you might get an extra benefit from it: have a thorough look at the outside play area a few weeks later, some of the seeds might even sprout. An extra gardening lesson for your toddler, sensory bins aside!

    Have a look at this post about outdoors sensory play from last summer to get an idea:

    sensory activities for kids outdoors

    And we moved one of the sensory play bins to the balcony this year since it contained a lot of mud play:

    sensory activities for kids - farm

    ...Or perhaps the easiest solution: jump straight to playing with regular sand in the sandbox. No, I'm not offering a link to this one :) as I know you have a perfectly good idea about it. Enjoy playing, you and your kids!

    Now, if you feel you can live with sensory play as it is - and could use more information, you might want to check out this e-book by Sharla Kostelyk. It should make the whole sensory activities stuff even easier for you.

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    toddler sensory activity bin with corn meal


    1. Love these tips and fun activities!! :-) I am featuring this on this week's MMM! :-)

    2. Cathy,

      thank you for featuring my messy play survival tips! And I'm so curious what you have planned for your blog in the future (just read your post about your plans)! See you around,