Check out these other sensory play ideas that will stimulate ALL of the sensory systems without making a mess!

this …

*This post contains affiliate links. Read more.

One of the most common complaints we hear about sensory play is that people simply don’t like the mess. We get it. Busy moms, dads, and teachers don’t always have the time (or the energy) to clean up a huge mess after the kids have gone crazy with shaving cream or a big bin of sand.

But what if we told you that making a mess with your hands is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sensory play? The truth is that what most people think of as “sensory play” is actually tactile play.

Don’t get me wrong, we therapists love a good healthy dose of messy tactile play. But the sense of touch is only one of the avenues we can use to target overall sensory development in kids. In addition to the tactile system, kids also need exposure to play that appeals to the vestibular, proprioceptive, auditory, olfactory, oral sensory, and visual systems.

The good news? Addressing these other sensory systems through play typically involves very little set-up, only the simplest materials, and hardly any mess at all! Hooray!

Here are some of our favorite no-mess sensory play activities for kids! And, for good measure, we’ve also included some fun tactile activities that don’t result in a big squishy mess!

Vestibular Activities

The Vestibular System helps children process movement experiences (where their bodies are in space) and contributes to balance. There are tons of low maintenance vestibular activities that will leave your house or classroom neat and tidy and don’t involve a lot of complicated materials. When it comes to vestibular activities, position changes and movement are then name of the game! Here some of our favorites:

1 || Row, Row, Row Your Boat – No mess, set-up, no materials necessary…a tried and true favorite with my kids at school and at home!

2 || Playing on Playground Equipment Playing on swings, slides, seesaws, and merry go rounds are great ways to stimulate the vestibular system!

3 || Playing on ScootersLots of great movement going on here – and all you need is a kid and a scooter!

4 || Rolling, Tumbling, and Somersaulting – We love laying out our tumbling mat and letting kids go wild, showing off their favorite acrobatic moves! Or, take it outside! The only mess in sight will be a few grass stains from rolling around in the yard!

5 || Rough House Play – Get kids upside down, spun around, and rolled around with some fun rough house play! Great fun and great for the vestibular system!

6 || Balance Activities – See if kids can walk on the curb or a balance beam; walk across a bed, a couch, or a floor covered in cushions; walk while balancing items on their heads; walk across a slackline; or balance on some stepping stones! No fuss and no mess!

7 || Movement Games – Try games like Twister or Crazy Legs that get kids trying all kinds of movements and positions with their bodies.

8 || Kids Yoga – This is another great way to get kids into lots of different positions without any materials or mess at all! Try Snowga in the wintertime, or check out this awesome deck of yoga cards for kids if you just want to try a quick pose or two.

Proprioceptive Activities

The Proprioceptive System helps kids process and coordinate movement via messages sent to their brains from their muscles and joints. Picture stomping, jumping, pushing, and pulling against resistance and you’re picturing the proprioceptive system at work! Again, activities that target this sensory system usually require little set-up and no mess. And you’ll get lots of bang for your buck with these activities as kids are often better able to focus and attend after some good proprioceptive input!

9 || Playing With Couch Cushions – No squishy shaving cream or gritty sand to clean up here – just throw the cushions back on the couch when you’re done, and clean-up is complete! Kids will love these fun couch cushion games!

10 || Jumping Activities – Jumping off of a step or other raised surface, Making Waves on a trampoline, or jumping rope are all great no-fuss ways of stimulating the proprioceptive system.

11 || Climbing Activities – Get kids climbing trees, stairs, rock walls, rope ladders – even climbing up the slide – and you’ll be giving great heavy input that helps stimulate the proprioceptive system.

12 || Playing With Resistance Bands – One of my favorite no-mess sensory materials is a stretchy resistance band. There are tons of fun ways to play with them and when you’re done, you just throw it in your bag! My kind of clean-up!

13 || Making Your Own Roller Coaster – Got a bed sheet and a few kids? That’s all you’ll need for this fun activity that requires kids to pull against resistance (targeting proprioception) and gives a great vestibular (movement) experience too!

Auditory Activities

Yep, you guessed it…the Auditory System is all about processing sound. And the beautiful thing about sounds? They don’t make a mess! :) Here are some of our favorite quick and easy auditory activities for kids.

14 || Blindfold Play – This is a great way to challenge the auditory system, as kids have to learn to move and navigate using only their sense of hearing.

15 || Playing With Musical Toys – As therapists and as moms, we have seen the power of music to get little ones moving, singing, rocking and rolling! Musical toys are a great (and simple) way to stimulate the auditory system!

16 || Making Your Own Musical Toys – Try making your own instruments or simply dropping different small objects (e.g. Legos, paper clips) in clean empty food containers to make your own simple mess-free shakers!

17 || Playing Music That Gets Kids Moving – Kids songs are great for encouraging kids to listen to and follow directions and to work on processing, timing, and sequencing.

Olfactory Activities

The Olfactory System is the way children process the smells in their environment. There are lots of great olfactory activities for kids, but not all of them require time in the kitchen or a big clean-up. Here are a few simple ideas to stimulate the sense of smell:

18 || Scratch n Sniff Stickers – There’s no need for a lot of fancy materials when this tried and true classic does the trick! Kids love smelly stickers – try some fun sticker activities using these smelly little gems!

19 || Scented Markers – Another fun, simple, and relatively mess-free way to address the olfactory system – drawing and coloring becomes a lot more fun when the markers smell like strawberries, blueberries, mint, and more!

20 || Smelling Scavenger Hunt – Take kids out into a garden or into the flower section of the grocery store and see which plants and flowers they can identify by smell!

Oral Sensory Activities

The Oral Sensory System is how kids sense different tastes, textures, and temperatures in their mouths. There is also a proprioceptive element at work here, as the joint of the jaw picks up on information like whether foods are chewy or crunchy. Aside from good old snack time, there are other no-mess ways of incorporating the Oral Sensory System into play.

21 || Playing With Mouth Noises: Try buzzing like a bee, clicking your tongue, humming, or blowing raspberries!

22 || Making Funny Faces: Play with making silly faces in a mirror or imitating each other’s funny faces: open your mouth wide, stick your tongue out, smile, frown, or fill your cheeks up with air!

23 || Drinking from a water bottle with a straw or drinking through silly straws

24 || Blowing Up Balloons!

Visual Activities

The Visual System depends on the eye and the brain working together to help kids interpret what they see. Sensory play definitely doesn’t have to be messy in order to stimulate the visual system. There are all kinds of ways for kids to explore their sense of sight with no clean-up required!

25 || Playing With Flashlights!

26 || Playing on a Light Table Let kids go wild, arranging and rearranging light table manipulatives or even just household objects.

27 || Drawing and Tracing Activities – These activities are great for working on visual motor and visual perceptual skills.

28 || Playing Matching, Sorting and Categorizing Games – Sort or match by color, shape, size, or any other visual attribute!

29 || Playing I Spy – Play the old fashioned way, or try this fun twist on the game!

30 || Playing Follow the Leader Games – This is a great way to get kids to pay close attention to detail and a fun way to combine a movement activity with visual input! Try one of our favorites: Mirror, Mirror!

31 || Making Sensory Bottles – Like a miniature game of hide and seek, sensory bottles are a way to keep the mess contained, letting kids search with their eyes to find small objects. Just drop small letter beads, small toys, or other manipulatives into an empty water bottle and then fill it up the rest of the way with dry rice or beans.

Tactile Activities

And, last but not least, the Tactile System! This ishow kids process information they get from their skin – by touching. Not up for a super messy tactile play experience? We get it. Finger paint, sensory doughs, and shaving cream are so much fun, but aren’t the best when you’re not in the mood to clean up a huge mess, or when you don’t have a lot of time on your hands. No worries – there are some great mess-free ways to play with the sense of touch!

32 || Playing With Sensory Balloons – Try filling balloons with dry rice, dry beans, sand, or play dough. Check out one of our most popular sensory balloon activities: Baby Bumble Bee!

33 || Milking a Cow – Okay, so you probably don’t have a cow, right? Don’t worry, you can still do this one – and it’s a lot less messy than playing in a barn, especially if you try it with water!

34 || Taking a Bath – The ultimate way to get rid of the mess? Get in the tub! Check out these great activities for bath time playan awesome way to target the tactile system!

35 || Putting the Mess in a Bag – You can still use shaving cream, finger paint, and other messy materials without making a huge mess. Simply seal the messy material inside a large sealable bag and let kids squish away!

Want a fun, no-mess, outdoor way to target all of the sensory systems at once? Try our free Sensory Motor Scavenger Hunt!

Learn more about sensory processing and find all of our best sensory tips and tricks!



The following two tabs change content below.

  • Bio
  • Latest Posts


Claire Heffron

Claire Heffron is co-author at The Inspired Treehouse and a pediatric occupational therapist in a preschool/primary school setting. She began her career with a bachelor's degree in magazine journalism but quickly changed course to pursue graduate studies in occupational therapy. She has been practicing therapy for 10 years in public and specialized preschool/primary school settings. She is a mom to three funny, noisy boys and relies on yoga, good food, and time outside to bring her back to center.


Latest posts by Claire Heffron (see all)

  • Cute Lanyards for Therapists - February 10, 2024
  • What is School Based Occupational Therapy - February 6, 2024
  • Find a New Therapy Bag! - January 30, 2024


Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts

Sensory Play: Exploring Different Sensory Systems

As an expert in sensory play, I can provide you with an in-depth understanding of the concepts discussed in this article. Sensory play is an important aspect of childhood development, as it helps children explore and understand the world around them through their senses. The article highlights various sensory systems and provides no-mess activities to stimulate each one. Let's discuss each concept in more detail:

Tactile System: The tactile system refers to the sense of touch. It is the most commonly associated sensory system with sensory play. The article mentions activities like playing with sensory balloons, milking a cow (using water), taking a bath, and putting messy materials in sealable bags. These activities allow children to explore different textures and sensations without creating a mess.

Vestibular System: The vestibular system is responsible for processing movement and balance. The article suggests activities such as rowing a boat, playing on playground equipment, using scooters, rolling, tumbling, somersaulting, engaging in rough house play, balance activities, movement games, and kids yoga. These activities provide children with opportunities to experience and understand movement in their environment.

Proprioceptive System: The proprioceptive system involves the sense of body awareness and coordination. It helps children process information about their muscles and joints. The article recommends activities like playing with couch cushions, jumping activities, climbing activities, playing with resistance bands, and making your own roller coaster using a bed sheet. These activities provide deep pressure and resistance to help children improve their body awareness and coordination skills.

Auditory System: The auditory system is responsible for processing sound. The article suggests activities like blindfold play, playing with musical toys, making your own musical toys, and playing music that gets kids moving. These activities engage children's sense of hearing and help them develop auditory processing skills.

Olfactory System: The olfactory system relates to the sense of smell. The article mentions olfactory activities such as using scratch-and-sniff stickers and scented markers, as well as engaging in a smelling scavenger hunt. These activities allow children to explore and identify different smells in their environment.

Oral Sensory System: The oral sensory system involves the sensations related to taste and touch in the mouth. The article suggests activities like playing with mouth noises, making funny faces, drinking from a water bottle with a straw, and blowing up balloons. These activities provide children with opportunities to explore different tastes, textures, and temperatures.

Visual System: The visual system is responsible for processing visual information. The article suggests activities like playing with flashlights, playing on a light table, drawing and tracing activities, playing matching, sorting, and categorizing games, playing "I Spy," playing follow-the-leader games, and making sensory bottles. These activities help children develop visual motor and visual perceptual skills.

Conclusion: Sensory play is a valuable tool for children's development, and it encompasses various sensory systems. The article provides a range of no-mess activities to stimulate each sensory system, allowing children to engage in sensory exploration and learning without creating a mess. By incorporating these activities into playtime, parents, teachers, and therapists can support children's overall sensory development.



Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Mrs. Angelic Larkin

Last Updated:

Views: 5653

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (47 voted)

Reviews: 86% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Mrs. Angelic Larkin

Birthday: 1992-06-28

Address: Apt. 413 8275 Mueller Overpass, South Magnolia, IA 99527-6023

Phone: +6824704719725

Job: District Real-Estate Facilitator

Hobby: Letterboxing, Vacation, Poi, Homebrewing, Mountain biking, Slacklining, Cabaret

Introduction: My name is Mrs. Angelic Larkin, I am a cute, charming, funny, determined, inexpensive, joyous, cheerful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.