Simple Gifts for Sensory Fun


During this holiday season, consider the simpler things in life – remember how fun it is to play with basic blocks or to squeeze and squish dough. Holiday gifts don’t have to be expensive to give hours and hours of sensory fun. Using measuring cups and funnels to play with rice, or just enjoying simple hide-and-seek activities can hold a child’s attention in a different way than the newest electronic gadget can offer.

Here are some ideas that will stimulate all five senses: taste, sight, touch, smell and hearing. These can be soothing to the brain, especially during stressful times.

WATER BEADS. These are amazing. They start out as colorful tiny beads, but when soaked in water 4-6 hours they expand to end up as marble-sized bubbles that are so unique and interesting, they will probably be one of your child’s favorite gifts.

RICE BIN WITH SMALL TOYS. This activity will keep your child busy for a long time, digging, pouring, measuring and exploring with his hands. Purchase a shoebox-sized container. Fill it about 1/3 full with uncooked rice. Hide a few trinket-like toys inside the rice for your child to find. You can also get creative and add measuring spoons, small cups, and even a funnel. Coloring the rice adds visual appeal – see the colored rice recipe for ideas.

LEGO KIT TO GO. You can make your child a LEGO kit to play with on the go by using an old lunch box. Cut a LEGO base to fit the inside lid of the box and glue it down. Add a variety of LEGO pieces to the box. Your child will enjoy the kit for traveling and visits with relatives that may not have kids toys to play with.

MOON SAND. This is one of the best sensory-based activities. Moon sand, also known as kinetic sand, can be purchased at major retailers, or search for a recipe online to make it at home (try or search Moon sand is similar to play dough but it feels like sand. When you pick it up, it falls through your fingers like regular sand but doesn’t stick to your hands.

PLAY DOUGH. Most children like the way playing with dough feels. The tactile experience of squishing something and of molding it into whatever you imagine is a soothing and relaxing activity. Play dough can be scented to add to the full-sensory fun.

STRESS BALL. A simple stress ball is great for children with anxiety. It’s an ideal “tool” to have in your child’s classroom. When it’s obvious your child is starting to feel stressed, overwhelmed or fidgety, your child’s teacher can give him the stress ball. It’s a great way to get your child to refocus his attention without making a big deal about it in front of the class.

BALLOONS. This is a simple and fun multi-sensory activity. Buy a bag of colorful balloons and blow them up. Let your child toss them into the air and bop them back and forth with family members or friends. Watch your child’s face light up with a smile, and enjoy everyone’s contagious giggles. It’s a great way for children to get their “wiggles” out.

STOCKING STUFFER SNACKS. Taste is an important sensory experience, and kids can appreciate gifts of a more healthy variety. Choose items that are festive and tasty without lots of added sugar, especially while visiting. Give kids the taste sensation and oral stimulation that they desire, while limiting their sugar content.

ELECTRIC TOOTHBRUSH. Teach your child the right way to brush his teeth while making it a little more fun. The vibration of the toothbrush will help your child feel what he’s doing. Encourage your child to brush for two minutes – give him his own timer to use. A variety of flavored toothpastes can add to the oral sensation. There are many fun toothbrushes available; find some with your child’s favorite characters on them. You may be surprised to realize that kids think these are great gifts.

SOFT CLOTHING WITHOUT SEAMS. When your child is highly sensitive, remember to pay attention to the inside of her clothing. Stress and overwhelm during the holidays can affect how tolerant your child feels about tags and seams rubbing against her skin. There are many clothing lines that offer tagless options. Colorful seamless socks and classic cotton or flannel pajamas make great cozy gifts.

Have fun and reduce stress this season by taking time to stimulate all your senses. Enjoy these gifts and activities along with your child for some good old-fashioned playtime. 

art-1216-s2How to Make Colored Rice:

Ingredients for each color desired:

  • 1 cup dry white rice, uncooked
  • 1 teaspoon of white vinegar (or rubbing alcohol)
  • 2-3 drops of food coloring (or ½ teaspoon of Kool-Aid powder)
  • Large zippered plastic bag or container with lid
  • Cookie sheet to dry rice on
  • Plastic shoebox or shallow storage bin for play
  • Protective gloves for dying food 
  • Newspaper or cloth to cover work surface 


Older children will love to help make this.

  • Prepare your work surface with a plastic cloth or newspapers (dye may stain).
  • Add the measured rice to baggie or container
  • Put a teaspoon of white vinegar (or rubbing alcohol) into a cup.
  • Add food dye or Kool-Aid to liquid.
  • Pour colored liquid into baggie or container with rice.
  • Completely seal baggie or container then squish or shake to mix until color is even – kids love to help squish and mix and watch the coloring process.
  • Carefully pour the wet colored rice mixture onto a cookie sheet to dry. 
  • Keep wet rice in well-ventilated area away from pets as the smell dissipates.
  • Stir every hour or so to help speed up evaporation. 
  • Prepare other colors of rice in the same way.
  • Dry completely overnight. It takes a while for the vinegar or rubbing alcohol to evaporate.


Set out rice with measuring cups, spoons, funnels, and small toys. Place a cloth under play area for easy cleanup of inevitable spills. You’ll be amazed at how long this activity will hold your child’s attention. Small children should be supervised. If playing outdoors be sure the rice does not get wet. Clean up spills so birds don’t eat it. Colored rice will keep a long time if sealed tightly when not in use. Note: Coloring with Kool-Aid makes vibrant colored rice that smells nice; be sure the kids or your pets don’t try to eat it!

Meagan Ruffing
About Meagan Ruffing

Meagan Ruffing loves being a mom to her three kiddos Dylan, Hannah and Elinor but looks forward to finding more ways to reclaim her pre-mom self. She enjoys rocking out to Jewel in her minivan while waiting in the car line to pick up her kids from school.

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