Art Ed Wednesday: Sensory Art for Toddlers

Art Ed Wednesday is written each week by Rachel Johnston, a fiber artist and art educator in Ruston, Louisiana.

Hello all! Lately I’ve been working on plans for a new series of classes-sensory art for toddlers.  Because of this, I thought I’d share some info and ideas on sensory art. In the toddler years, children are constantly learning and absorbing information about the world around them. They learn with all of their senses, so sensory activities are valuable because they often combine shapes, colors and textures and the child can learn from all of these. A fun way to get started is by putting together a sensory tray. Many times this can be done with items you already have on hand. Find a small box, pan, or other container. Your tray can be simple, containing just some sort of clay or dough; or it can be more complex and based on a theme, such as the ocean box pictured. For the ocean box, I used dyed rice as the base filler.


Dyed Rice

2 cups rice

2 teaspoons rubbing alcohol

6-10 drops food coloring


Put all ingredients in a gallon size Ziploc bag, seal the bag, and mix everything by shaking and squishing the bag. (Kids might enjoy helping with this!) When the color is fairly even, pour rice in a shallow layer onto a tray or pan and let it dry in the sun if possible. It can dry inside too, it will just take longer. Stir it a few times during the drying process.


I dyed this rice blue, and put it in a plastic container. I added little plastic fish, and colored glass jewels (can be found where floral supplies are sold). I also put in some rocks, wooden beads, and pompoms.  As your child is playing with the box, ask them to name the colors of objects. Ask them what each object feels like. If they aren’t yet talking, you can talk to them about the colors and textures instead. Activities like this will engage their minds and help feed their creativity. Water trays are great too- fill a tray with water and add some food coloring. Add multiple colors so children can see how they mix.


Sensory tray filler ideas:

Water                                             Dry rice (plain or dyed)

Dry beans                                      Rocks

Shells                                             Beads and buttons

Small toys                                       Finger paint

Clay/dough                                     Pom poms 

Flour                                               Sand

Mud                                                Scraps of paper


Important: When using sensory trays, please closely supervise your child at all times. They aren’t meant for children to be left alone with as they often include small objects. You know your child best, so don’t use anything that you don’t feel is a good fit for him/her. If your child is in a stage where they put everything in their mouth, keep sensory trays simple, with larger objects- such as a tray of water, a few drops of food coloring, and some bath toys.