Jell-o Excavation | Jello Sensory Play for Kids

Try jello sensory play for a fun and engaging sensory experience for toddlers and preschoolers.

Jello Sensory Play for Toddlers and Preschoolers

The basic ingredients are shared below, and yes, this experience can be set up with gelatin-free products! Details below.

Supplies: Jello Sensory Play

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Knox Gelatine (there are four bags in one box).

If you’d rather use vegan (gelatins-free Jello), try this product from Jeannie Prebiotics

Large Plastic Tub. This under-the-bed container is great.

Tools to excavate with: spoon, butter knife

Pipettes for squeezing colored water

Liquid Watercolors. This set from Sargent is fantastic for this project.

jell-o excavation | jello sensory play for kids

How I made the Jell-o Mold

Check your Jell-o package for best directions.

I poured a cup of cold water directly into the mold, sprinkled all four bags over the water and let it rest for one minute. Next, I added three cups of hot water and stirred it up. Then the animals were added. I placed it in the fridge to set, which takes three hours. To free it from the mold, I ran hot water over the back of the bundt pan for half a minute and the whole thing slid out. You could also spray the mold with cooking spray.

Set up your Jello Sensory Play Area

Begin my setting up little plastic toys in a bundt pan full of liquid Jello, and then refrigerated it overnight or until set. Be sure to follow the instructions on the box.

Release the jello mold into a large container. Provide excavating tools, liquid watercolors, and pipettes.

Make it an Invitation to Explore

Set the supplies up as an invitation and ask:

“What could we do with these materials?”

“How does it feel when you touch it?”

“How can we get the toys out?”

jell-o excavation | jello sensory play for kids

jell-o excavation | jello sensory play for kids

jell-o excavation | jello sensory play for kids

Once the allure of the jello has gone its course, introduce bottles of liquid watercolors and a bowl of water.

jell-o excavation | jello sensory play for kids

jell-o excavation | jello sensory play for kids

jell-o excavation | jello sensory play for kids

jell-o excavation | jello sensory play for kids

At this point, you could scoop and mix the slimy concoction. Follow the child’s lead and see what interests them.

Despite my art school background, I had no idea that lime green and magenta watercolors would mix together to make blood red (!!), and I’ll spare you from some of the more gory-looking snaps. After I guffawed at the mess, my daughter asked me what “gross” means. This was clearly a rich vocabulary lesson as well.

jell-o excavation | jello sensory play for kids


  1. We just made Jello gumdrops! Use a dropper to add drops of water to a bowl of dry jello mix – add then one at a time, waiting in between to let all of the water absorb fully! lift them with a fork and eat – don’t worry, they won’t want to eat more than a few, for a max total of around 1 T of jello consumed.

    • Jello Gumdrops! How fun! I never would have thought of that and we’ll have to give it a go.

  2. Oh that looks so fun. I have to try those jello gumdrops above too! So happy to see you and your little one enjoyed it!

    • thanks again! looks like jello gumdrops will be plastered all over the blog world in the next few months 🙂

  3. I love this! We used to do something very similar when I was teaching and I have been meaning to do this with my 2 year old. I cannot find the small toy bugs anywhere but may have a go with something else if all else fails!
    I am linking this to my Friday Favourites this week.

    • Ooooh, toy bugs would be fun…and thanks for the link 🙂

  4. Jello is soooo much fun. I made a JUMBO tub of it for my 22 month old boy not too long ago. It only needed one container of gelatine and a few hours in the fridge to make 15L of ‘gelly’. It was soooo much fun. He played in it for so long. I hid little things in the ‘gelly’ too which he enjoyed finding but mostly he enjoyed running his fingers, hands, arms (and then finally got in the tub!) through the ‘gelly’. I added more water than the container said so it wouldn’t set completely hard. It was definitely one of the best sensory tubs I have made for him and so simple.

    • Did you say 15L?? That’s an enormous amount of jello! I’ll have to try that next time, as our batch was really firm. Thanks for the good tip!!

  5. I love gooey, messy fun (and so do my kids)! Great idea.

    • Hey happy friends 🙂 I bet your kids would love it!

  6. Oops … meant to add that photo as an icon – sorry!

  7. SO much fun! Adam enjoyed the excavation part and “rescuing” his cars from the jello. But he really loved just playing with the jello, cutting it and squeezing it. (I enjoyed it too!) Thanks!

    • Diana! Thank you for sharing this great photo. Adam looks so happy!! And knowing about his love for cars, I must say that that’s an inspired addition to the activity.

  8. Thanks, rachelle! Looks like so much fun! At any time, did your DD try to eat the jello and would you have let her? I always have trouble figuring out where to draw the line in the exploration of a new thing. Thanks!

    • Haha! DD did not try to eat the Jello, but since it was plain gelatin it would have tasted pretty icky, probably stopping her from further eating. I’m pretty fearless when it comes to exploring new materials. I try to look to DD’s abilities and interests to gauge what’s appropriate for her. Of course, we sometimes have dark moments: When we made bubble prints by blowing into a bowl of paint with a straw, I stated that we absolutely could NOT suck in through the straw. I guess that the instinct to suck is so strong and instinctual that she sucked up paint anyway. Sigh. However, it was non-toxic, so again, it was a harmless lesson to learn. My pov with new things is to look to them as experiments — we’re trying it together for the first time and we’ll see what happens. This way, we’re co-learners without a specific outcome in mind, and the experience is a little bit of an adventure for both of us. I also believe that trusting her with free exploration (within reason, of course) leads to building confidence and developing creative thinking and problem-solving skills. Thanks for the great question — so much to think about!!

      • Thanks so much, Rachelle, for the thoughtful answer. That really helps and I’ll try to be more fearless (mess-tolerant) in our exploratory activities. Thanks for all your inspiration!

  9. How fantastic is this?! I just came over from The Artful Parent and I love what you have going on over here. I can’t wait to try this with my three year old daughter.

    • Hi Regina! I recently discovered your blog too, and I’m so glad you’re here. Have fun with the Jello.

  10. I’ve noticed so many of our blogging friends are into JELL-O at the moment. It’s not something I’ve ever thought of using before … but I will now!
    Donna 🙂 🙂

    • I can’t wait to see how you irresistible gals interpret this idea!

  11. Love this idea!! What a wonderful sensory experience — the addition of the colored water is awesome. We do this with frozen water but I don’t know why I never thought of jello. Wonder if I should float my older daughter’s plastic frog dissection model organs in some jello?? Could be awesome OR… completely gross! ; )

    • I was wondering the same thing, MaryLea, when I saw this idea on Time For Play. The frog parts could be completely gross, which is how ours looked when the jello turned blood red, but how fun would that be! I look forward to seeing your take on this!

    • Thanks, Melissa 🙂 You do, too. The toilet paper roll sculpture that posted to our Creative Experiment page inspired me to keep saving our rolls. My daughter will love that.

  12. We use jello in my preschool classroom we put the geletin in a bowl, and have it set over night. The next day we set it out with the medicine droppers and colored water….the children suck up the colored water with the dropper and then inject the color into the geletin. It looks so AWESOME…and the best part is use can reuse the geletin the next day by melting it back over the stove and resetting it in the fridge.

    • I’m so glad you mentioned that I could reuse the Jello – this never occurred to me and it was remiss to toss it out. And next time we try this, we’ll try injecting the water. What a good idea!

  13. How ironic that you are letting your child play with plastic animals inside of a wreath of real animal parts. Gelatin is the collagen of animals derived from their skin and bones. If you told that to your daughter, would she still want to play in it? How disgusting.

    • Hi Lindsay: I was a strict vegetarian for ten years, and appreciate your perspective. I did a little search on non-animal gelatin, and there are options! I haven’t tried any of these and can’t say if they’ll set up like gelatin does, but for the sake of such an experiment, one could try Lieber’s unflavored gel, Carmel’s unsweetened gel, Hain Superfruits, or KoJel’s unflavored gel. Thanks for bringing this to my attention; we’ll have to try one of these vegan varieties next time around. Cheers.

  14. Yeah!! Jello animals, how creative is that?! (last year Chanel and I made fresh picked flowers in jello as a contribution for the Forrest Fiesta @mommylabs)

    Thanks so much for sharing this activity with the World Animal Day BLOGHOP!

    Angelique and the WAD organisation

  15. I cannot wait to try this out with my twins! I was wondering, where did you get the squirt bottles for the colored water? 

    • They’re called Nancy Bottles, and I ordered them from Discount School Supply. Have fun, Starla!

  16. Hey Rachelle-

    I work at the ad agency that handles JELL-O social media and we’d love to talk with you more about this awesome kid friendly idea. Please email me back at the address provided if you’re interested.



  17. […] This project is part of the STEAM Summer Camp Series, a 5 week series with some of my favorite bloggers who all love STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math. Last week’s topic was SEE and this week’s topic is FEEL. Because I wasn’t able to participate last week I decided to combine this weeks project into both SEE & FEEL! Before we start this post deserves a little back-story: A couple of months ago I purchased a bunch of  industrial syringes  for a project idea I had. Problem was the idea I had totally flopped. So what the heck was I going to do with a dozen syringes now? Enter Club Tinkerlab…. Rachelle Doorley of Tinkerlab has set up an amazing online Facebook group/community called Club Tinkerlab. It’s basically a few thousand tinkering nuts all gathering in one cozy little spot on the internet, all of geeking out at what other like minded creative folks are working on. I love it because it’s a combination of bloggers, parents, educators, and just plain folks who like to make cool stuff all exchanging ideas and supporting each other. So I posted my dilemma and within a few hours I had loads of creative things to do with syringes, from art to making hydraulics, to pretend play to today’s project, suggested by Rachelle herself! She has also done Jello Excavations which you can see here. […]

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