Cotton Balls: 5 Ways to Play

One of my friends, a former Montessori teacher, is just starting to dip her toes into sensory bins and was asking how to do sensory play for no money – or at least re-use the materials enough to make it worth buying.

Her question is the inspiration behind this new series, 5 Ways to Play, which will mostly be Sensory Play ideas about how to get the most use out of one inexpensive material.

First up…

5 Ways to Play with Cotton Balls!

5 Ways to Play with Cotton Balls: Cotton Ball Activities and Sensory Play on a Budget

This post is part of a 31 Days of Sensory Play Challenge — you can check out the other days and ideas at Adventures of Adam.

You can buy a giant bag of cotton balls for as little as $1, or you may already have some kicking around your house. There are actually a lot more than 5 Ways to Play with cotton balls (and I’ll share some more ideas at the bottom of this post) but these should be good to get you started!

Montessori smelling bottles - part of the 5 Ways to Play with Cotton Balls

First, I have to cover my Montessori bases here and suggest making DIY Scent Bottles. You don’t need to use glass containers like I did (although mine were 6 for $1), you could instead use empty baby food jars, spice bottles, or really any container you have available.

I added one or two drops of flavour extracts or essential oils into each bottle, making one pair for each scent and trying to cover a variety of scent “types” for my .

5 Ways to Play with Cotton Balls: Cotton Ball Smash Painting

Next up, an awesome baked cotton ball experiment.

I first saw this activity on Fun at Home With Kids and think it is a total sleeper hit. I always intended to get around to trying this activity out, but had I known it was going to be such a smash I would have gotten around to it sooner!

We started off by making a very unprecise mixture of paint, flour, and water. We also added some vanilla extract for an extra layer of sensory engagement, but that is completely optional.

5 Ways to Play with Cotton Balls: Cotton Ball Smash Painting

Next, Ella just coated the cotton balls in the mixture and arranged them on foil (you could alternatively use parchment paper). This was a fun, squishy activity — she enjoyed making little designs on the foil (painting on foil is also a must-do activity) and using the cotton balls to wipe excess paint off of her hands.

5 Ways to Play with Cotton Balls: Cotton Ball Smash Painting

I baked the cotton balls at 300F for 15-20 minutes — bigger designs will need more time. (Asia from the above link did a giant pumpkin face that took 90 minutes.)

Now, in the original activity, S broke the cotton balls up with her hands — but I thought it would be a lot more fun to smash the cotton balls!

We originally tried using the wooden hammer from this Melissa and Doug play set, but we resorted to my kitchen meat mallet.

5 Ways to Play with Cotton Balls: Cotton Ball Smash Painting


This was so much fun and a great hand-eye coordination exercise, and the cotton balls looked (and felt) so cool when the hard paint shell was cracked.

Next up, we practiced our control of our breath as well as another hand-eye coordination exercise with a cotton ball twist!

5 Ways to Play with Cotton Balls: Cotton Ball Racing and Control of Breath

If you have more than one child, you can do this as a cotton ball race, but we did this on a weekend when it was just Ella and I.

We started off just having her blow the cotton ball across the table, and then after that became a bit too easy, I added these foil shapes (from the excess of our cotton ball painting) and challenged her to blow the cotton ball over to each individual shape by directing the straw in that direction (only I didn’t tell her to use the straw, she had to figure that out on her own).

5 Ways to Play with Cotton Balls: Cotton Ball Sensory and Anatomy Lesson


For a younger child, gently stroking the cotton ball against different parts of their face or body parts and inviting them to label their body parts is a great sensory activity — and even though Ella is pretty well versed in that, she loved the sensory experience and actually kept asking for me to do it throughout our cotton ball sensory play!


5 Ways to Play with Cotton Balls: DIY Spouncers

Have you ever bought spouncers?

They are ridiculously expensive where I live, but I loved using them with the kids and was seriously contemplating the cost when these alternatives occurred to me!

The one in the middle is made with cuticle sticks, just stuck in the middle of the cotton for easy removal (though you could add a dab of glue) and the one on the right is just a cotton ball and a clothespin.

These are great for fine motor painting activities, like painting clay sculptures, or imitating pointillism.

5 ways to play: cotton ball sensory play on a budget


Three Additional Ideas for Cotton Ball Sensory Play:

1. We loved our tennis ball painting (gross motor) activity from our /t/ is for tennis mini-unit, and it would easily work with paint-soaked cotton balls!

2. We used cotton balls as the “base” in our Winter Sensory bin for the toddlers (that the preschoolers helped make in a great empathy-building exercise).

3. We also used cotton balls as part of our Winter Provocation, which was an amazing open-ended art invitation for the preschoolers.


Which cotton ball play idea was your favourite? Any you’d add to this list?

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