If you are looking for a laundry list of inexpensive ways to keep little hands and minds occupied during social distancing–look no further! Easy science experiments and sensory play activities for kids at home don’t have to be a headache. Using BASIC pantry and household items, you can feel like the Jedi Master of homeschooling in no time! Get my handy printable shopping list, and add these must have items to your next grocery order!
There are some pretty cool science experiments that preschool and elementary aged kids can do at home using basic pantry staples and household items!
Best Science Experiments & Sensory Play Activities for Kids
Preschool and toddler science activities on Pinterest can seem messy, overwhelming & just TOO MUCH WORK! And, right now, those expensive pre-made “science experiment kits” for kids aren’t in anyone’s budget.
But, I promise, if you just don’t over think it, then inexpensive common household goods can make science fun AND enjoyable for everyone.
BONUS: These very simple science experiments ARE educational, sensory packed & can make you feel like you’re teaching them something even on the worst day.
Vinegar is just a gift from the chemistry GODS! It can be used to make a baking soda volcano, magically make egg shells disappear, or even force balloons to self inflate (see our experiment pic above).
Have you ever seen the big daddy gallon jugs of white vinegar in the grocery store and ever wondered, “WHO could possibly need that much vinegar?” Well, sister, you’re about to find out! Once you see the look on your kid’s face when vinegar and baking soda get together (especially if there’s food coloring involved), then it’ll be on your grocery list for sure!
I have probably used 50 LBS of baking soda doing extremely simple experiments with my kids. Vinegar + food coloring + a tray of baking soda & some droppers = hours of fun! And, just like that–you’ve created a fun afternoon of baking soda sensory play for your toddler or preschooler.
Just make sure you’ve got a few of those magic golden boxes handy! One never seems to be enough.
For the bigger kids, check out Frugal Fun 4 Boys & Girls‘ Hot Ice Experiments that crystalizes baking soda!
This can sub in for food coloring ANY time. Plus, the kids love the smell of the fun flavors. Head’s up: just like food coloring, Kool Aid colors everything it touches–so consider yourself warned! But, it sure does turn science experiments with water into a sensory extravaganza!
Borax is an old school natural laundry detergent. A lot of DIY Slime Recipes call for this key ingredient, so it’s good to keep on hand. AND, it is also used to grow crystals! Check out Little Bins for Little Hands for how to do this fun chemistry activity for the kids.
FYI: It’s found in the detergent isle.
Other than just needing glue ALL the time for crafty fun, it’s also another key ingredient in SLIME! But, my favorite activity with glue is when we used CLEAR glue to make our own “Calm Down Jars” (AKA “Mind Jars”). Here’s a great example on Fireflies & Mudpies.
These provide creative ways for teaching kids to calm down their crazy emotions. They shake the jars, then sit and watch the glitter settle. Highly recommend these little life savers! Teachers can even benefit from having these in their classrooms.
Dr. Suess’ Oobleck is on every early elementary kid’s radar! And, to make Oobleck you only need water, cornstarch & food coloring! It’s a ton of messy fun for the kids. My advice: buy the BIG container of corn starch, not the little canister.
Head’s up–do this one outside:)
Instant Pudding Mix
You can also finger paint with pudding! Grab a muffin tin, and divide the pudding into each muffin cup. Add different food coloring to each cup. Mix & get to painting (and snacking)!
It’s a quick & tasty way to explore art.
This is an odd one, I know. Well, at least for this NON-IRONING mama it is! Liquid Starch is ALSO a key ingredient in slime. You’ll find this big blue jug waiting for you in the detergent isle.
Your kids can practice their letter writing skills using SALT. All you have to do is pour a thick layer of salt over a cookie sheet (or tray). Let them use their fingers to draw the ABC’s & 123’s. Just shake the tray a little to draw some more! My kids LOVED this activity.
Save the salt in a tuperware or sturdy ziplock to use again & again!
A couple of sacks of flour can go a LONG way! Whether you’re making homemade play-dough, salt dough ornaments, or a batch of cookies—you’re gonna want to keep this item in the pantry for sure!
If your kids are over play dough, then try these two cool uses for flour. Here’s a super easy Moon Sand recipe from Happy Mothering that will have your little kiddos happy as clams! Or try this puffy sidewalk paint from The Best Ideas for Kids.
Dish Soap (Liquid)
Bubbles are a STAPLE in every little one’s home. They NEVER GET OLD, but they do spill. ALL THE TIME. Never run out of bubble juice again with this super easy to follow recipe from Involery that uses dish liquid and corn starch.
This one’s a keeper!
As soon as the weather gets warm, the balloons come out. Water balloons are still one of our top favs, but there are so many other fun things you can do with a bag of cheap-o balloons!
Plus, we love the self inflating ballon experiment, too! (See our pic above!)
I bought a great little science kit (see below) for my boys when my oldest was about three. Over the years, it has given ME hours of quiet time. The test tubes, magnifying glass, grabbers–they were great! But, adding dried beans to the mix was the KEY to keeping those little hands and minds occupied for (what felt like) hours.
I recommend buying three bags of different sized dried beans. Let them count, sort, mix, and place the beans in the containers. They’ll love it!
Montessori science activities for toddlers are all about sorting and categorizing “natural” items. So, basically, dried beans and a couple of bowls can make you a Montessori homeschool teacher?? I’m gonna say YES!
You can give your toddlers a ton of fun with just a bag of rice! Who knew? Toddlers love the rainbow rice activity like the one from Happy Hooligans, and it is such a great sensory activity for the littles. Running your hands through rice just feels so interesting!
Plus, you can get the older ones into the Magic Dancing Rice Science Experiment by Green Kid Crafts! Like I said, RICE, who knew?
Little hands love dried pasta shapes! They can get to work on their motor skills by turning pasta “beads” into a necklace, gluing different shapes onto craft paper, and dying them to look like a rainbow. A couple of boxes of pasta can open up a whole new world for your little artist!
One of the first experiments that I did with one of my kiddos was the Spaghetti Rainbow activity. Super simple, but tons of fun for toddlers. Cook spaghetti noodles. Divide into 3-4 containers. Drizzle with oil and food coloring, then mix. Slippery blue, green, red, and yellow noodles? YES please!
What’s not to love about shaving cream? Kids can’t wait to get their hands on it! You can make some mess-free sensory bags, practice writing letters and sight words, or just do some painting with it. There are endless science experiments with shaving cream that also double as sensory fun.
Teach your kids about the science of rain with this fun shaving cream science experiment from One Sharp Bunch!
These aren’t in every grocery store, but pretty close:) These can be used as little grabbers with beans, colored pom-poms, or whatever you have on hand. You don’t need a bunch of toddler science toys to entertain them! You just need a few clothespins and a handful of small objects.
STEM class anyone? Straws + marshmallows = a science kid’s dream come true! See what your kids can build with imagination fueled by a sugar high! That should keep them busy for a while:)
Check this site out for a list of 20 Drinking Straw Crafts!
Fun Activities & Cheap Science Experiments at Home
As you can see, you don’t have to use any special materials to make a little science or sensory magic at home. AND, it DOES NOT have to be Pinterest worthy!
This homeschool thing is HARD. It’s tough on kids, moms, and dads. We all have our struggles with it. Give yourself some grace, and remember that we all need to survive right now.
Take a minute. Breathe. And, just let them (and YOU) have a little break. There are 101 cool science experiments you can try with everyday items already in your house. So, go make some bubbles, moon sand, or slime and call it a day!