If you’re here, you’re probably already aware of the numerous benefits of sensory play. The smallest amount of sensory stimulation can shape and enhance how a child takes in information and learns to process it. In an effort to come up with some new sensory toys, I spent an afternoon playing around with some random items I had around the house and came up with this little set of blocks.
They checked all the boxes I was hoping to hit: an easy DIY, simple in concept, simple in design, but yielding wonderful rewards. In addition to all of the stimulatory and fine motor skill benefits, sensory play is also an incredibly calming activity. It helps to engage and create focus, while simultaneously regulating restlessness and agitation. Bonus!
To make your own DIY sensory blocks you’ll need:
Note: We prefer to shop locally or use what we have at home, but this list contains a few Amazon affiliate links for reference. As Amazon Associates we make a small commission on qualifying purchases.*
- A set of wooden blocks with smooth edges and sanded corners
- Kid-safe, non-toxic paint in any color (check out some of our favs on our green supply list!)
- A paintbrush
- A strong super glue (we used Gorilla glue as it’s 100% non-toxic when cured)
- Small bits (scour your junk drawer or tool bin!)
- Optional: An eco-friendly wood wax (we often use kid-safe kind)
A quick note here to remind you that painting isn’t a necessary step if you want to warp-speed this DIY! 🙂 I love the way it looks and found some benefits, but if you choose to skip the painting steps, you can have this completed in a little less than 10 minutes.
Step 1: Gather up a group of small items that will fit on your blocks, have safe and smooth edges, and will provide an interesting variety of textures. I used a few pieces of sandpaper (cut to size), some twist ties cut into small lines, metal binder rings, buttons, screw nuts, shells, rice, paperclips, and S-hooks. We even threw some old plastic Barbie bowls in the mix (reduce, reuse, recycle!) 😉
You can also add fabrics, faux furs, or velcros in colors that match your paint. I had some smooth, pre-sanded blocks, but if your blocks have any sharp edges, now is the time to sand those down with medium-fine grit sandpaper. You’ll also want to give your blocks a quick wipe-down with a tack cloth or washcloth before painting or finishing!
Step 2: Glue your loose bits and pieces on to the sides of your blocks. I decided to put objects on 2 sides of each block, and on opposite sides – because it then allows for 2 natural sides, and 2 sides with a painted pattern. This is where strong glue becomes super important. Because we’re using little pieces, you want to make doubly sure these tiny things won’t ever fall off or could be gnawed away at to create a hazard.
After securely gluing down all your pieces let dry for about 10 minutes (varies depending on the glue your using). Once your glue has dried, flip your blocks over and add items onto the opposite side of each block, repeating the process.
Step 3: Start painting your blocks! I chose to use white paint because I like the look, but I think it also allows the experience to be more about texture and feel than color. Using a small brush, cover the sides with sensory items in a layer of paint and let dry thoroughly.
Step 4: Flip your blocks over to the other sensory side, repeating the painting and drying process.
Step 5: Again, you can choose to stop here, or you can create a pattern on your blocks as I did, to give them more of a modern look and an opportunity to experiment with pattern-making. Turn your blocks onto a flat side and place masking tape from corner to corner creating a diagonal. Be sure to give the tape an extra rub along the edge for good measure (this keeps the paint from seeping through!) and start painting. As soon as you’ve finished painting, pull up your masking tape to keep it from drying with the paint and pulling bits of it up when taken off. Let dry (mine only took about 15 minutes) and then flip your blocks to the other side and repeat the process.
Step 6: You can use a non-toxic, kid-safe wood wax to finish your blocks, or spray them with a clear sealant to waterproof them and ensure paint doesn’t flake off later down the line.
Give your blocks a full 24 hours to cure just to be on the safe side, and that’s it – they’re ready to be enjoyed! It probably goes without saying, but we recommend adult supervision – finding a cozy spot on the floor where your little one can explore these together with you. Trust me…you’re not going to want to miss their faces when they realize all these sides have scrumptious textures to discover. 🙂
Another wonderful idea for DIY sensory blocks would be to make your own set of braille blocks – like this set from Uncommon Goods. A set of alphabet blocks could easily be DIY’d with stenciled letters and small wooden discs (or whatever you’d like to use to create the raised bumps that compose the Braille letters.) Be sure to share your own ideas in the comments below!
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*A note about Amazon affiliate links: We strive to use simple, earth-friendly supplies that can be purchased locally whenever we can, but sometimes we find the best universally available options, a rare eco-friendly find, or a niche product only available on Amazon. When included in our supply list, these products are affiliate links, and if you click-through to make a purchase, we receive a small commission that helps us re-order these supplies!