The Sensory Benefits Of Making A Mess And 5 Messes To Make

Slime them.

Originally Published: 
toddler playing in sandbox
flickr / Shelly T.

As an adult, you understand that your senses are the key to understanding the world. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to tell your coffee’s ready by smell. You wouldn’t have the joy of running your fingers through your partner’s hair. And you wouldn’t get to hear her call you a dick for waking her up so damn early.

But the senses do more than just help a human navigate through their world. They also teach them about it. And right now, for your kid, that’s pretty dang crucial.

Touchy Touchy

Learning how to be a human is a messy affair. That’s because your kid is basically a scientist without a rigorous lab-cleanliness protocol. And their lab is basically anywhere they are.

So, while destroying the dining room with a plate of spaghetti may seem like your kid’s attempt to give you an aneurysm, there’s much more to the mess. Here’s what your kid is learning in the process of a noodle-geddon:

  • Physics: Dropping and flinging are ways to learn about gravity and velocity. Not to mention the second law of thermodynamics that states all systems move towards disorder (and turn Dad’s face funny colors of rage).
  • Materials Science: Raw pasta is hard. Cooked pasta is soft and squishy. Meatballs have a rough texture and can be lost when somebody sneezes.
  • Interpersonal Skills: Depending on where and how the spaghetti is manipulated, the nearby humans will either smile, laugh and take cell phone pictures, yell, cry, or all of the above in a span of 3 minutes.
  • Language Acquisition: Your kid begins to understand the word “squish,” knows that things going to the floor are “dropped,” and there is an invisible man named “Jesus Christ” that Dad yells at when he’s upset.

Sense And Sensibility

So the trick then is to give your kid the opportunity to indulge their inner scientist in ways that will be fun for them and you (what a concept!). Luckily there are sensory play materials that are super easy to come by, or make, that’ll keep your little scientist occupied and learning. No guarantee they’re less messy than your bolognese, but at least you’ll be prepared with a case of wet wipes and a smile.


This is the grandmother of all sensory play materials (and you only thought it was good for getting in your buttcrack at the beach). Sand sparks the imagination as an open-ended building material. It lends itself to collaborative social play. And it helps kids learn about the way materials can change: hot in the sun, cool in the shade, sticks together with water and gets in your eyes when dry. SON-OF-A … !

It’s also super easy to contain with this DIY sandbox build.

Sensory Snow

Do you shave? Great! Do you combat refrigerator stank with baking soda? Awesome! You have everything you need to make snow. Baking soda added to shaving cream makes a cool-to-the-touch and ball-able sensory experience that will trip your kid out (and leave you scruffy for a couple days).


This substance is also known by the awesome name of Dragon Drool. It’s made by simply mixing baking soda with water. What results is a non-Newtonian liquid, which is runny until force is applied. For extra-credit, put it in a pie tin above a subwoofer (or just in the subwoofer) and pump the Steve Aoki.


A bit of borax, some glue, and some water, combine to make an incredible slime. But here’s an important warning: borax is a detergent and your kid should not ingest it. That is actually a good rule for just about any slime your kid might come across. Including from their nose.

Water Beads

These crazy, bloopy, water beads will be as fun for you to play with as your kid. You can find them at basically any craft store. If you want to make it a full-body sensory experience, fill a swimming pool.

Play Along

Some of the biggest benefits of sensory play will come from you playing right along side your kid. That’s how they’ll get the benefit of language acquisition and social skills. Luckily, a lot of this stuff is pretty timeless. You know that your love for slime never truly ended.

The key is to get messy together. Who knows, you might learn something too.

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