Spaghetti sensory play

Do your kids love sensory play? Sensory fun with food offers an entirely new experience!

Did you know that spaghetti is primarily flour, salt, and water?  This is the same basic ingredients used in homemade play dough – only in the end, spaghetti goes through a mixing/kneeding/cutting/drying process to look the way it does. Someday, I want to try making real spaghetti with our class much like they have demonstrated on this video in the Today Show or by using the egg free recipe shown here on Our Life Simplified. But for today we explored already made and cooked spaghetti, much like we would explore playdough by using our senses….

Our exploration in spaghetti sensory play took on several twists and turns through out the day. I hadn’t planned on leaving the spaghetti out most of the day but each time I started to clean it up, my threes would say, “But we aren’t done with it yet!”

Building Fine Motor through Sensory Play

I boiled one large box of spaghetti noodles and then set the cooked spaghetti out on a tray along several kitchen tools including “wooden toaster tongs” which I picked up at Big Lots and I also added scissors for the children to work on their cutting skills….

My three year olds do understand that what we set out on the table is for us to feel, explore and is not for us to eat. They also know if they want to eat some spaghetti, that we will set some aside for them to try but they almost never ask me for any to eat – but just in case, I stay prepared…

Throughout the day I would add a little water to the spaghetti when the noodles started to get too sticky. I shared with the kids how adding a touch of water would make the spaghetti more slippery again…

Experimenting with Color through Sensory Play

After the children had spent half the day exploring the spaghetti with the various tools, I asked them if they would like to paint the spaghetti. The children eagerly said “yes” so I added a few paper plates of paint and some paint brushes too…

And boy did the children paint.  They painted every noodle with every single color of paint I set out…

The painting of the spaghetti was such an intriguing process for my threes.  They stayed at it for a very long time…

Some of the children asked me if they could add pink – so we brought out the white paint and mixed it with our red to make pink spaghetti too…

Exploring Texture through Sensory Play

As you can see, the spaghetti painting began to get more messy as time passed by. The children mixed, and mixed all the colors until our spaghetti started looking quite “slimy” and then they decided it would be fun to try mixing with their hands….

Had I put out “slimy colored” spaghetti in the first place for the children to explore, I guarantee you that most of my three year olds would not have wanted to touch it with their hands. But because they painted it themselves, they were invested in this process and didn’t hold back at all…

Helpful Tips

A couple of management lessons I learned in this process….

  • If you know you are going to let the children paint the spaghetti, then just set it out on large butcher paper in the first place so it is easier to clean up! Then you can throw paper and all away in the end….
  • Perhaps let the children paint first before adding scissors to cut it up into teeny tiny itty bitty pieces! Yikes!

Reflections on the Experience

Although the process is messy, the kids were so engaged and I wouldn’t go back and change a thing about this day! My three year olds were loving the experience and I heard so many wonderful conversations along the way…

  • “We are making rainbows!”
  • “Oooh, this looks like worms.”
  • “Honey, do you want me to cook you some more spaghetti?”
  • “We eat spaghetti at our house.”
  • “Can we make pink spaghetti?”
  • “Let’s move the spaghetti over to the other tray.”
  • “You missed a spot – it needs painted over there too.”
  • “We need more water Mrs. Stewart!”

A wonderful exploration in color, texture, sensory, and fine motor play….

Discussion on Food for Sensory Play

If you have concerns about using food for sensory play or would like more on this topic, then click the photo below!

More Spaghetti Links to grow on…

Cooked Spaghetti Sensory Bin from Play Create Explore!

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs from I Can Teach My Child!

Rainbow Spaghetti from The Imagination Tree

Spaghetti Worm Painting from The Chocolate Muffin Tree

Books on Amazon…


By |2018-12-06T11:59:38+00:00March 11th, 2012|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Suzanne Schlechte March 11, 2012 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    Oh, I wish I had thought to give my buddies scissors OR paint!! We played with rice noodles (which are cool because I didn’t need to cook them, just soak in water). I guess we will just have to do it again! Do you think that the spagetti (or rice noodles) could be kept for a couple of days? Maybe by adding peppermint oil, or alum or something as a preservative? It is like playdough – and we do store that.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. March 11, 2012 at 9:44 pm - Reply

      You know Suzanne – I just don’t know. Ours were so yucky from all the paint that I didn’t even try to save it. But I think pasta will spoil and not stay good. I haven’t tried adding anything to help but if you find the secret come back and let me know:)

  2. Pamela March 12, 2012 at 9:56 am - Reply

    Great idea!…I am going to try this with my early elementary art classes but will definitely try to pull prints off of the painted spaghetti. Also, did you try it with any other noodles? I would thing that the cork screws would also have an interesting sensory component.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. March 12, 2012 at 11:04 am - Reply

      I was so aggravated with myself when I got home and realized when looking at the photos that I did not think to pull off prints! I can’t believe I missed that opportunity! And – to answer your question – no I only tried this with the spaghetti but I think other noodle shapes would be wonderful too!

  3. Pamela Courtney March 12, 2012 at 3:13 pm - Reply

    Your site is absolutely amazing! I grin and laugh out loud at the pics you post. I share many of your ideas and am so happy that I found this site. Thank you for all your work, creativity, and passion!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. March 12, 2012 at 4:42 pm - Reply

      I am so happy to have you here with me Pamela:)

  4. Miriam Beloglovsky, MA July 20, 2012 at 8:47 pm - Reply

    It is not often that I post on websites. I decided to do it this time, because I felt I had a moral obligation to do so. GIving children Spaghetti to play with and paint send the wrong message. There are too many children and people who are hungry and the Spaghetti that is being painted would serve as a meal. We often tell children not to play with food and then we give them Spaghetti to play with. As an early childhood educator I believe that we have a responsibility to educate children to stand up for inequities and engage in social action. Learning that food is valuable at a young age, will help them help people who are hungry. I also do not allow any of my students to use food products when planning to support children’s interest. I encourage the use of play instead of play-dough. Any way just something to think about.

    Professor of Early Childhood Education

  5. Donna Young July 20, 2012 at 8:50 pm - Reply

    What about the concept of “playing” with food? I have heard that that is frowned upon by NAEYC…..

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 21, 2012 at 9:47 am - Reply

      The interesting thing is, NAEYC may “frown” upon the use of food in the classroom but many of their most popular speakers at their conferences have a different opinion. I hope you will take the time to read this article: In my opinion, the use of food for play or for other valuable sensory activities should be decided on class by class basis – not because someone else “frowns” upon the idea.

  6. […] You can use this project to keep the kids busy while you cook, it’s an activity that you can easily set in the kitchen and the fun is guaranteed! Here is the article where I first discovered this idea: Spaghetti sensory play. […]

  7. […] Spaghetti Sensory Play | Teach Preschool […]

  8. S March 23, 2018 at 8:23 pm - Reply

    Really? Half the world is starving and you think it’s ok to use food to play with? In NZ it is considered very bad tikangna (cultural practice) and unacceptable teaching practice and has been for many years.

  9. […] Spaghetti Sensory Play | Teach Preschool […]

  10. Fay January 19, 2019 at 11:27 am - Reply

    My child has sensory sensitivities and his treatment is these kind of messy food play. So it is not waste of food in a world where people are prescribed medicine due to illnesses caused by overeating. By the way do you have any idea about what to do if your child would not touch spaghetti?

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