sensory play messy play art crafts autumn treasures fir cones leaves acorns printing prints mark making toddler activity autumn theme activity

Autumn Treasures Sensory Play

It’s  #FunFriday which means that it’s time to celebrate something that I’ve enjoyed this week. I knew as soon as we carried out this activity that it would feature on the blog. Boo and I had so much fun. The idea started on our autumn walk …

autumn treasure sensory play messy art craft fir cones printing paints leaves
The colours were captivating and Boo loved exploring the crunchy treasures found underfoot.
This week’s activity was some sensory play using treasures we found on a walk. I think messy play, sensory play and arts and crafts can be quite overwhelming for some parents. It can be difficult to know where to start. And the thought of wilfully making mess isn’t too appealing when you are already fighting the tide of crumbs, smears and laundry. But if you bear in mind that sensory play is all about the process when children are young, it can help take the pressure off. It also doesn’t have to be a big fancy idea. This activity contains lots of mini activities that are all fun and valuable in their own right. Don’t worry about sticking to rules or what it looks like at the end. However, it’s definitely a good idea to set your own boundaries – Boo knows she must wash her hands before she can start doing anything else. This includes picking up toys, cups, or anything that isn’t excluded in the play area. Now we’ve done this a few times, she is happy to stick to the rules and the mess is easily contained.

sensory play natural finds treasures fir cones acorns autumn leaves paint glue glitter
The enjoyment and value in the activity isn’t about whether you’ve created something beautiful – or that it has gone how you planned.  This activity definitely proved that point! But it didn’t stop Boo from developing skills and having the best time.

Last week, Boo tipped a whole bag of super fine glitter into her paint jars while my back was turned for 0.0006 seconds. Rather than get mad (although I did weep inside a little) I started thinking about what we could do with the glitter. She clearly loved the feeling of it running through her hands and loves looking at it sparkle. I didn’t want to throw away something that she clearly loved even though it was now half mixed with paint.

sensory play messy play toddler activity
My whole house sparkles … but not in the way I had hoped.
When we were out on an autumn walk, I came up with an idea. We started to collect a bag of autumn treasures – fir cones, leaves, acorns, twigs. It was lovely to explore the colours and textures and explain to Boo what everything was. That activity in itself was lovely! This alone was great sensory play. Just picking up and exploring different textures and seeing how they feel in your hands is a great way to aid development. But I had more planned for those autumn treasures…


It would have been sensible to set the activity up while Boo was napping after our walk but she woke up early. In order to get set it up without Boo getting inpatient, I very quickly made a batch of moon sand (it is so easy and an absolutely amazing texture). I actually used vegetable oil and flour and it worked just fine. I also winged the amounts as I didn’t want to make that much. I just tipped more flour than oil into a bowl and gave Boo a stick to mix it.

sensory play messy play moon sand fir cones acorns natural treasures texture autumn paints glue glitter toddler rainy day activities
Boo busy making her moon sand while I set up her sensory play activity.
I then laid a large sheet of paper out. I love these rolls of paper from Ikea – they are cheap and useful for so many art projects. We have wooden floors so I didn’t worry about putting a plastic sheet down … it probably would have been a good idea though just to contain the glitter. I then laid out little piles of treasures. I had them separated out so that she could go around and explore different textures. I think she would have been just as happy having them in a big pile! Next I put out the aforementioned pots of paint and glitter. I had some PVA glue to hand (I keep meaning to make slime …) so I put a little dish of that out too. I also put some other bits and bobs with different textures from the recycling pile: a loo roll (10 secs in the micro will disinfect it), a sponge, some plastic sticks and  some lids.
That was it – it took less than 5 minutes to prepare and lay out.  Remember – I don’t worry about it looking perfect. I was more concerned with Boo exploring different textures. I thought it would be interesting for her to contrast natural and man made objects hence the last minute addition of stock from the recycling!


In my mind, Boo would explore the different textures by picking things up. She would then dip them in the paint, glue or glitter and see the different marks she could make. Messy play and mark making all rolled into one! But remember that moon sand … well she loved it so much, her first idea was to add paint and glitter to it. To be fair, it did make it look very pretty. She then wanted to bury fir cones and acorns in the moon sand and squish them in her hands. I loved watching as she realised she couldn’t get the moon sand off the fir cone but she could get it off the acorn. She got another fir cone and tried again. After discovering that moon sand sticks to fir cones, she picked up her plastic stick and stirred the pot. She tried squishing it to the stick but it kept falling off. She was totally engrossed in her little science experiment.

sensory play messy play toddler activity
You can’t blame her for wanting to make her moon sand sparkly; it was very pretty …

sensory play messy play toddler activity moon sand
Boo was delighted when she managed to get some to stick to her stirrer!
Finally, she realised that there was a plate of glue that she hadn’t explored. She left her beloved moon sand and put her hands in the glue. Slippery! I showed her that the glitter would stick to the glue and she got to work dipping all of her treasures in glue, glitter and paint. At times, she tried painting with her treasures, but she had much more fun coating them in things. It seems she was really drawn to the idea that sometimes things stick, and sometimes they don’t. And that’s OK. I had an idea in mind, but Boo’s idea was just as worthwhile and fun.

We’ve done painting and messy play a lot now so Boo now knows our clean up routine. I think this is really important because it makes it less stressful for me so I am encouraged to do it more often. Before we start, I get a bowl of soapy water and some kitchen paper. I also get a bin bag. Boo is now old enough to indicate that she wants to finish – although it’s always been pretty obvious (walking away, grumpiness etc). When she wants to finish, I ask her to help tidy. She has to help tidy before she can wash her hands. This is so that she doesn’t walk off and start something new. Boo helps me put things in the bin bag while I use a damp kitchen towel to quickly wipe up any over spill. Anything I want to keep gets put to the side. I don’t make her do it all but once we’ve made a good start, Boo then goes to wash her hands. She loves washing her hands (again, this is another activity in itself for Boo!) and will wash and dry a couple of times while I whizz the rest of the left over mess into the bin bag. The large paper really helps to scoop it all up in one go! Now Boo is older, she doesn’t usually need a bath afterwards but when she was younger, I used to run a bath beforehand so she could go straight in and stop the mess being walked around the house.


This activity ended up taking up most of the day. It doesn’t always need to be that way. Just the moon sand or the walk would have been great. Or the bowl of water! But I’m glad we did it. We now have a beautiful bowl of sparkly fir cones and the giggles and wonder on Boo’s face was worth every moment.



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