How to Entertain Your Kids for Hours With Adventure Tubs

Do your children like to explore?

Want a fun (and messy) activity that gets the whole family involved?

With simple household supplies and a lot of imagination, you’ll take your kids on an exciting journey that involves their senses.

In this article, I will show you how to create an adventure tub

It’s a simple, inexpensive project that your kids will enjoy for hours of messy, feel-good fun.

Use sensory tubs to create a great, inexpensive home adventure to distract the kids from electronics and engage with the family.

What Is Sensory Play?

Sensory play involves stepping back to let your child explore with all five senses. When you do this, something wonderful happens—kids take the lead using their imaginations!

Kinesthetic or sensory play is like “brain food.” You can read about how it strengthens neural pathways, improves memory and stimulates the imagination here.

But what my 4-, 6- and 8-year-old boys love most is to get their hands dirty in a tub of squishy, slimy, messy gunk.

For the minimal time and expense of this project, it’s well worth the reward—hours of entertainment.

#1: Getting Started

To make an adventure tub, you just need three basic items:

  • 1½ boxes of corn starch
  • 1 can of foam shaving cream. (NOTE: Keep in mind smells your kids might like.)
  • Plastic bin (size can vary, but recommend one with walls 11″ or less).

    corn starch and shaving cream

    Everyday household supplies are all you need.

Make your tub even more fun by adding some extras.

The sky is the limit here. Just look around the house for things that can be easily washed and repurpose them.

  • Spatula, large spoon or anything interesting to stir with.
  • Paint (we used fingerpaints) and paintbrushes. (NOTE: The brushes are totally unnecessary, but amusing for the kids to experiment with.)
  • Plastic animals or creatures.

    paintbrushes and fingerpaint

    Paintbrushes and finger paint add extra fun.

Lay Down the Rules

I make a rule that everything put in the tub must stay in the tub.

If anything is thrown out of the tub, the activity is over.

No eating it—even if it does look like whipped cream. Also, no punching or whining allowed (hey, I have boys).

Tip for Toddlers

Young children like to explore with their mouths, so be careful of choking hazards. Children should always be supervised by an adult while playing with sensory tubs.

Provide an alternative. If you have a toddler, pull a plastic container (like a peanut butter jar) out of your recycle bin. Put filler (like couscous or rice) and some small objects into the jar. Secure the lid (toddler-proof). Let your toddler shake the jar and discover the items you’ve hidden inside.

#2: Get to the Fun

Once you have corralled the supplies, it’s time to start the party. Putting the two ingredients in the tub is half the fun.

Step 1: Spray shaving cream into the tub.

Step 2: Dump 1½ boxes of corn starch into the tub.

kids adding ingredients

Have kids take turns putting shaving cream and corn starch in the tub.

Pick a solid surface so your concoction doesn’t get into the cracks. I picked the kitchen table, but the counter or an oil mat (or similar) will work, too. Of course, you can do this inside or outside, whatever you prefer.

#3: Mix, Mix, Mix

Let your kids get their hands mooshy as they squish the concoction around the bin. This is so much fun, I dare parents to try it. You’ll be glad you did!

kids mixing in the tub

Kids go crazy mixing in the sensory tub.

#4: Experiment

Ask your kids what would happen if you added more corn starch. Try it and see if their guesses were accurate. There’s a lot you can do with the squishy mixture. Try all different things:

  • Mold shapes
  • Mix with different kitchen utensils
  • Add color or scent
  • Be creative with whatever you have around the house
experiment

Experiment with shapes and color.

Since we included plastic sea creatures in our adventure tub, my boys imagined it was an ocean, making waves and reefs out of the glop. You could also:

  • Color the mixture with greens and browns and add dinosaurs. The mixture could even be molded into a volcano.
  • Add colored rocks or gems. See if the kids can be a team to find all the red gems…or blue… or whatever you have on hand.
  • If you have a second- or third-grader, put coins in it. Have them count the money they find.
  • Put some toy construction vehicles to work moving around mounds and building structures.

I thought there might be a lot of fighting with six hands in the bin, but my boys surprised me by playing well together.

#5: Play and Interact

While the kids play, facilitate conversation and let them share their experience. This is a great opportunity to get a family conversation going. For example:

  • “If you could go back in time, would you want to go see a real dinosaur?”
  • “If you found a treasure worth lots of money, what would you buy?”
  • “If you could build anything, what would it be?”

My kids love sea creatures, so I listened to them prattle on about the different traits of fish and whales. They educate each other and become more confident in their knowledge. If they have a question about something (Do frogs hibernate? Do dolphins have lungs?), they’re ready to listen and learn.

During your adventure, observe and listen for opportunities to start conversations.

playing with plastic sea creatures in tub

Create new worlds by playing with plastic toys in the sensory tub.

All kids have different engagement levels. Here’s the breakdown of play time at my house:

  • Six-year-old played for 30 minutes.
  • Eight-year-old played for an hour.
  • Four-year-old had to be dragged away for lunch.

Follow up with a related book or YouTube video. Read about ocean animals, dinosaurs or pirates… wherever your children’s interests have been piqued.

When you are finished, simply sweep the stray globs to clean up and then wipe down. It only took us a few minutes to clean everything, including rinsing off the creatures.

Bonus Round

When we were finished, I put the lid on the bin and put it in the cool garage.

To change it up, we added some other colors to the mix, switched plastic critters and let them spray in a bit more shaving cream and it became a whole new game.

It’s possible that the kids could play with the mixture for the next several days. Just pay attention to heat and humidity and let common sense be your guide. Throw it out after a week.

A Few Final Words…

Sensory tubs are a great activity, no matter the weather. It’s an inexpensive home adventure; a simple way to distract the kids from electronics and engage with the family. Enjoy!

What do you think? Tell me about your adventure tub. Show me a picture of your kids’ messy hands. What do you intend to try out for your next one? Please comment below and share your ideas!

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About the Author, KJ Ammerman

Kristin Ammerman is a mom, creative writer and the evangelist of fun for My Kids' Adventures. Her three kids love that their mom's job includes trying out new family activities. Other posts by »


  • http://www.mykidsadventures.com/ Jennifer Ballard

    Thanks, KJ. It’s a cleaner, whiter version of playing in the mud! What kid doesn’t love that? Thanks for being part of My Kids’ Adventures from the beginning.

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    Thanks for your comment, Jennifer! I never thought of it as being “cleaner”. But, I guess it is – ha ha!!

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    Thanks for your feedback, Jennifer! I never thought of it as being “cleaner”. But, I guess it is – ha ha!!

  • Jillian Pierone

    Fantastic! I think I will save that one for the winter time. We do the basic equivalent at the beach almost every day of the week in the summer. (maybe we’ll build little snow men I bet you some doll clothes would make for a fun snow-man making adventure!!)

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    Jillian, this is a great wintertime activity for sure! We will definitely be doing this again during the loooong winter months!

  • KirstenNelson

    I’m going to pick up supplies at the store today. My boys are going to love this!

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    Awesome! I hope you have a great time doing this project with your boys. One of the things I love about this, is the supplies are so easy to find :)

  • http://www.thereadingtub.com Terry Doherty

    Another great way to use shaving cream (or dyed shaving cream) is on a mirror or the bathroom tiles. If you’ve got a big wall mirror in the bathroom that’s the perfect place for them to create pictures AND clean the mirror for you.

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    Terry – Great idea! Thanks for sharing! If you have pics of that, it would be cool to see them. You can post them on the My Kids’ Adventures Facebook page :)

  • Sarah Shipley

    What a cool idea! Can’t wait to try this with my kiddos.

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    Fantastic, Sarah! Glad you are going to try it! It’s so super easy – my kids can’t wait to do it again.

  • Heide Estrada

    KJ, my son and I just read your article. He’s so excited to try this, he’s writing the list of things we need to purchase. Thanks for the great idea!

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    Yeah! You are such an amazing photographer – I’d love to see your pics!

  • Kathleen Gooch

    Just what the grandma ordered. Fun idea.

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    Thank you! It really is simple and fun :) Enjoy!

  • Kara

    We just finished this activity, it was a lot of fun! I think we won the prize for fitting as many animals in one bin as possible :).

  • QCharm

    Thank you for introducing sensory play in this mainstream publication. As a mother of a child with autism and as an occupational therapist, I realize how beneficial sensory play is for anyone!

  • Justin Williams

    I walked in yesterday and my kids were doing this and I said to my wife “What in the world is going on here?” and she was like “It was on that website you told me about and they love it!” They played with it for hours!!! and had a blast! Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Too cool Justin!

  • Justin Williams

    Thanks Michael. Not to get too off topic but just finished listening to your book “Launch” yesterday on audible. I am going to be launching a podcast and it helped me tremendously in knowing how to go about it! Reading your other posts on how you launched this website has also helped me tremendously so I can’t thank you enough for that!

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Awesome, glad it helped. I wish the guy who read the book wasn’t so dry :)
    —-

    Michael A. Stelzner – CEO and Founder, Social Media Examiner
    Author, Launch and Writing White Papers
    Host, Social Media Marketing podcast

    URL – http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com
    Facebook – http://facebook.com/smexaminer
    twitter – http://twitter.com/mike_stelzner

  • Justin Williams

    haha yeah that probably would have been my one comment on what could have been better, but just goes to show how great the content was bc it shined through 😉

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    LOL, Kara – I’m so glad you tried it out already and your kids enjoyed it!

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    Thank you for pointing that our, Denise! My kids struggle in school and I’ve done some researching on sensory play. It really is a fabulous thing for so many kiddos! I am always on the lookout for simple sensory activities. If you have any great links or suggestions, I’d love to hear them :)

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    Oh, my a-w-e-s-o-m-e! Love, love this pic! Thank you so much for trying it out and sharing :)

  • Justin Williams

    No thank you! 😉

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    He really looks like he is having fun in that second picture :)

  • Justin Williams

    Yeah he was really into it. It was hard for me to get him to look up for the other two pictures. He’s 3 years old and I don’t think I have ever seen him be so into one thing for so long. He probably played with it for at least 3 hours!

  • Carol

    Fun with grandson and mom; he loved smooshing around!

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    Thank you for sending the picture! I think it’s fabulous that all three of you gave it a try! There is something so fun about the texture – everyone loves smooshing it :)

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