I would like to preface this by pointing out that sensory play is pretty much idiot-proof. There is no way anyone can look at this and think, “Too hard! No thanks!” You literally take a container (I recommend a large, short, clear, storage bin… but ultimately… you could use a box… or for larger items like this… just the floor) and fill it with random stuff that looks and feels exciting.
Think about things that are fun to dig in. If you reach your hand in, then make a fist, and it feels good… then put it in your container. (Just be mindful of things your kid shouldn’t put in their mouth. We are working on the command, “not in the mouth.” So far, he still shoves things in his mouth… so we just keep practicing. He is slowly getting better about it… but no where near perfect. Considering anything you put in the tub/bin/floor might end up being consumed… and will most certainly be touching your child’s skin… make sure it isn’t dangerous. (No lead paint, staples, knives, fire… etc)
Alright. So you have an area with something in/on it. Now introduce your child. Personally, I let Munchie touch whatever it is… and then I put him in the bin with it. This helps reduce the mess. (If you are concerned about mess… keep reading.) If your kid enjoys the texture, take their socks off, or even strip them down to a diaper, and let them play.
Don’t know what to put in your bin? Think colors, textures, shapes. I hit up the local Dollar Tree (but you could hit up Amazon and not even leave your house). You can get funny foam and pom poms in the craft aisle. Noodles of all shapes and sizes (don’t recommend anything sharp, like spaghetti), rice, dry beans, cornstarch (to mix with water to make Ooblek), and even some food coloring in the grocery section. Then head on over to the party supplies for colorful tissue paper, crinkle paper shreds, and ribbon. Be sure to pick up some cheap storage options… like plastic bags and containers.
If you are a neat freak, you need to let go a little. Just accept that things will end up outside of the bin. You can always pick them up, use a vacuum, or scrub you kitchen floor (for messier things). Put your bin on a washable splat mat, if you are really worried… or even better… take messy activities outside (play with dirt, sand, mud, grass, leaves, rocks… whatever) or to the bathtub. You can manage your mess by controlling the amount of materials you use. You don’t need to fill you bin with rice… just cover the bottom of the bin. You child doesn’t need to SWIM in the sensory bin… just splash around.
Go ahead and throw in some small toys, colorful foam shapes, dry beans (in dry bins) and other simple things like that. Sensory play doesn’t have to cost a fortune. You don’t need a fancy “sensory table“… just some basic items and a watchful eye to make sure you kid doesn’t swallow too many cotton balls.
Before you know it, it will look like you are running your own freaking Montessori school.