This blog post on the sensory benefits of oobleck was originally published 9-12-2015 and updated on 11-8-2023.
There are many sensory benefits of oobleck and playing with this sensory material is a powerful therapy tool! In this blog post, we’re sharing why we love to use oobleck as a sensory tool for building skills. Plus, you can see how we used a marble run for a sensory play activity with oobleck. This is just one of our favorite oobleck activities that support occupational therapy goals.
Sensory benefits of oobleck
We covered a bit about the sensory benefits of oobleck and other sensory materials in our blog post on goop painting. The thing is that kids LOVE these messy sensory activities…but they may not realize all of the therapeutic benefits of the messy play experience.
Oobleck can be a tool to support sensory needs. Let’s look at this a bit closer…
Sensory play with a material like oobleck gets the hands very messy and dirty, and this can be a way to support skill development.
Oobleck has a consistency that is partially solid and liquid at the same time. This means that it might lead to messy hands and a challenge for sensory touch.
For kids that are tactile defensive, they might demonstrate an exaggerated or aversive response to tactile (touch) sensory input. People with tactile defensiveness may be hypersensitive to various textures, temperatures, or sensations on their skin, and they may react with discomfort, avoidance, or distress when exposed to certain touch stimuli.
This can look like:
- Being selective about the fabrics of clothing they wear.
- Displaying strong reactions to messy play or activities involving substances like glue, paint, sand, or mud.
- Food texture issues, or avoiding certain foods due to texture sensitivities.
- Experiencing heightened emotional responses to tactile sensations, such as anxiety or frustration.
- Avoiding physical contact, such as hugging or handshakes.
- Expressing discomfort or irritation when clothing tags or seams touch their skin.
Oobleck offers numerous benefits for children’s development:
Sensory Exploration: It provides a rich sensory experience, allowing children to explore different textures, temperatures, and consistencies, which can enhance their sensory processing skills.
Fine Motor Development: Manipulating and squishing messy materials like mud, clay, or finger paints helps strengthen hand muscles and improve fine motor skills.
Creativity and Imagination: Messy play encourages creative thinking and imaginative play as children use their hands to mold, shape, and create.
Emotional Expression: Children can express emotions, reduce stress, and release tension through messy play, helping with emotional regulation.
Problem-Solving: Figuring out how to mold, shape, or mix messy materials involves problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
Language and Communication: Discussing the textures, colors, and sensations during messy play supports language development and communication.
Social Interaction: Messy play can be a social activity, promoting collaboration, sharing, and turn-taking among children.
Body Awareness: Playing with messy materials increases children’s awareness of their bodies and the sensory feedback they receive, contributing to better self-regulation.
Relaxation: Engaging in messy play can be soothing and calming for some children, reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation.
Therapeutic Benefits: Occupational therapists often use messy sensory play to work on specific sensory processing or fine motor goals, making it a valuable tool for therapy.
Oobleck Self Regulation Tool
In addition to the benefits listed above, oobleck can be a great sensory coping tool for kids. Just like the power of fidget toys or a calm down corner, oobleck has a calming and relaxing component…for the right individual. For some individuals, the messy tactile nature of oobleck’s consistency may be too much and lead to a dysregulated state. For this reason, it’s important to individualize sensory input based on the needs of the individual.
can be a helpful tool for supporting self-regulation needs, especially for individuals who benefit from sensory-based calming techniques.
Heavy Work Input: Oobleck provides a unique resistive sensory experience with its variable viscosity that adds heavy work to the fingers. Resistive sensory input can help individuals self-regulate by engaging their proprioceptive sensory system. You can modify the oobleck to have the desired texture (thicker or runnier) to suit the individual’s preferences.
Plus, oobleck can offer deep pressure input when squeezed or molded. The resistive feedback through the hands can be calming for individuals who have sensory regulation needs. Encourage them to manipulate the oobleck with their hands, providing proprioceptive input.
Mindful Play: Encourage the individual to engage in mindful play with oobleck. Focus on the sensations, textures, and movements. Mindfulness activities like playing in a sensory bin or a container of oobleck can help reduce anxiety and promote self-regulation.
Breathing Exercises: Combine oobleck play with deep breathing exercises. Inhale deeply as you squeeze or lift the oobleck, and exhale slowly as you release it. This synchronized breathing can promote relaxation breathing for regulation.
Sensory Breaks: Integrate oobleck play into sensory breaks, or a sensory diet, throughout the day, especially in educational or therapeutic settings. These breaks can help individuals reset and improve focus.
It’s essential to tailor the use of oobleck to the individual’s specific sensory needs and preferences. Always be attentive to their comfort and boundaries, and encourage them to communicate their experiences and feelings during the activity. Oobleck can be a versatile and enjoyable tool for promoting self-regulation and sensory well-being.
Incorporating messy sensory play into a child’s routine offers a holistic approach to learning and development, addressing physical, sensory, emotional, and cognitive aspects in an enjoyable and engaging way.
Oobleck for Sensory Play
- 1 cup water
- 1.5 to 2 cups (Amazon affiliate link) Corn Starch (We used a little more than 1 and a 1/4 cup to get a liquidy oobleck material)
- A few drops of liquid food coloring
A few more sensory play ideas you may like:
- Ducklings Sensory Play
- Stovetop Clean Mud Sensory Play
- Marble Run Water Table Sensory Play
- Crayon Salt Dough Sensory Play
Tips for using Oobleck for sensory needs
Using materials like oobleck or messy painting in a controlled and supportive environment can help individuals with tactile defensiveness gradually desensitize their sensitivity to tactile sensations and develop a more positive relationship with touch.
There are certain tips that support these challenges, however.
Some things you’ll want to consider about using a sensory material like oobleck to support sensory needs include:
Offer Gradual Exposure: Start with brief and controlled exposure to the material. Allow the individual to observe, touch, or interact with the material at their own pace.
This includes desensitization. Encourage the individual to touch the material with their fingertips or a paintbrush. Gradually progress to using their hands or fingers to explore and manipulate the substance. When you offer the oobleck or other sensory material in this way, you give the child control over their sensory input.
When they have a sense of control in the sensory experience, it can help to reduce anxiety and resistance.
One powerful strategy is to make the activity meaningful and motivating. This means to present the oobleck experience as play or an experiment rather than a sensory therapy exercise. Make it enjoyable and fun to reduce anxiety.
Short Sessions: Keep the sessions short initially to prevent overwhelming the individual. Gradually increase the duration as their comfort level grows.
Offer tools like brushes, sponges, or plastic utensils to interact with the material. These tools can act as intermediaries to reduce direct skin contact.
Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.