The Less-Stress Mess

Following up on this week’s Tactile Response post, here is a fun activity to try. This can be done with children of all ages and helpful for those who may have an over-responsive tactile system.  This activity gradually introduces various substances or textures. 


  • Ziploc bags
  • A base substance, such as finger paint, shaving cream, or lotion
  • Optional:
    Other small objects to add texture like rice, beans, buttons, or beads
    Food Coloring
    Large Spoon
    Cookie Tray

We sat the girls in their high chairs for this activity to contain the mess. For older kids, you can seat them outside or at an activity table with the cookie sheet as their “messy space”.

What to do:

  1. Fill the bag ¼ of the way full of desired substance and zip it up. We used shaving cream with food coloring for this round.
    • If you want to use your texture objects, add them to the bag as well.
  2. Have your child explore the bag. They can squeeze it, move the small pieces around, or draw shapes or write letters on the bag. The food coloring let us create color swirls in the shaving cream.
    • If they are completely comfortable with the bag, you can open it and see if they are willing to touch the substance inside. 
      If they are not, you can show them not to be afraid by touching the substance yourself and say things like, “See, it’s okay.” 
    • Invite them to touch the substance on your hand. If they are okay with that, have them put the substance from your hand to another part of your skin (example: arm or face).
    •  If they are okay with that, see if they are willing to put the substance on their skin. If they are fine with that, ask if they would like to touch the substance from the bag. 
  3. If they are willing to touch the substance, you can cut a small corner of the plastic bag and squeeze it like a pastry bag.
    • You can also have them scoop out the substance with either their hands or large spoons and place it on a tray. 
  4. Have them explore the substance with their hands, making big circles with their arms or little circles with their fingers. They can draw shapes and letters. They can squeeze the substance between their hands too, even give a big clap or a high-five (this will be messy though, so be prepared).
  5. You can add other toys into the mix like toy cars or mini figurines to encourage imaginative play.
  6. Once the play is done, ask your child help with clean up. 

If the play becomes a little too much for your child at any point, it’s okay for them to say they are all done. Ask what part of clean up they are willing to help with (from tossing the bag away, washing their hands, or even cleaning up the whole activity) and let them know that you’re happy they tried something new. For smaller toddlers, we sang the clean-up song! 

Check out Childish Advice’s Pinterest Page for other tactile activities.

Kranowitz, Carol Stock, MA. (2006). The Out-of-Sync Child has Fun: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorders.

Garland, Teresa. MOT, OTR/L. Regulating Children with Autism and/or Sensory Disorders: Cutting-Edge Interventions to Satisfy Sensory Cravings and Sensitivities. Webinar. 2016. 

3 thoughts on “The Less-Stress Mess

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