Living Sands: A unique sensory play experience!

I recently learned about a sensory play product called “Living Sands”. Have you ever heard of it? This stuff is incredible!

Living Sands: A unique sensory play experience!

Learning Express thought I might like to try out Living Sands, so they gave me a box of it to play with so I could share my thoughts with all of you!

101_3730 smaller text The texture and feel of Living Sands is almost impossible to describe. When I first looked at it, I thought it was kind of like Moon Sand, which is basically colored “sand” that you can mold and build with, without using any water. But once I started digging my hands into the Living Sands, I realized it was nothing like Moon Sand. It was soft like flour. But it didn’t sift and run over my fingers like powdery flour does. Unlike flour, it stretches and moves and then holds shape when molded. I told myself it kind of felt like “stretchy flour”, but what does that even mean?! I used my hands to pack it into a hard ball like you would do with play dough, and then my toddler and I flattened it out with the accompanying rolling pin and I realized it felt just like pizza dough.

101_3716 smaller text I let my parents and other family members play with it; they were all fascinated by it and also struggled to describe it.

What is this stuff?!

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As I continued to play with it, I realized the properties of Living Sands are very similar to that of Oobleck (you know, that classic 50/50 cornstarch and water mixture that hardens when you touch it but becomes runny when you let it fall?). This sensory play material is fluffy when left alone, and it is extremely soft to the touch if you use light pressure. It becomes hard if you hold it and apply firm pressure and then, after you release pressure, it becomes light and fluffy again as it moves and undulates and falls to the ground. It really does appear as if it has come to life.

I have searched all over the Internet to try and figure out what the ingredients are that make Living Sands so unique, but all I can find is that it is made of sand and “natural ingredients”, whatever that means. The recipe must be top secret.

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According to the box, Living Sands is antimicrobial, never dries out, and should be stored in a non-airtight container so it can breathe. I have been storing mine in a standard plastic container, and I just poked a few airholes in the top with a hammer and nail. Seriously, what is this stuff?

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Included in this box is 1.5 pounds of compressed Living Sands plus four tools for play. I love that these tools can be used to promote and practice a variety of grasping patterns, including a lateral grasp with the yellow rectangle. You can, of course, always add in your own tools to expand your child’s play experience!

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While I haven’t been able to use this particular sensory play material in my occupational therapy sessions yet (I’m still on maternity leave), I can see how Living Sands could be used and played with in a variety of ways:

  • It could be a good “transitional” sensory material for kids who don’t like to get messy, or for those who truly have issues with tactile defensiveness. Living sands is dry to the touch and is not wet or sticky. As mentioned before, it is soft and fluffy, so the truly defensive child will be more likely to engage with Living Sands than, say, Oobleck or instant snow. It also does not have any scent to it, which is an added bonus for those who are sensitive to smells and/or are picky eaters. 101_3722 smaller text
  • It could be a good sensory play material for those who are “seekers” of tactile input (that’s me!).
  • It could be a good stress-reliever. I have found that the act of slowly and repetitively running my hands through the Living Sands has had quite the calming effect on me, much like working with play dough or clay. It could also be a stress reliever for those who need to squeeze and compress something when stressed or anxious, much like squeezing a stress ball.
  • It could be used to work on fine motor skills such as tool use, fine motor grasp and manipulation, bilateral coordinationtactile discrimination, and hand strengthening as kids slice, flatten, roll, dig in, scoop, and build with the Living Sands.

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  • It could be used to work on all three parts of praxis: ideation (What should I do?), motor planning (How should I do it?), and execution (I did it!) 101_3743 smaller text
  • It could be placed in a sensory table in a therapy or classroom setting, which would allow several kids to play and explore with it together while working on basic play and social skills (such as sharing space, materials, and manners).

I am fascinated by Living Sands and am so grateful my toddler and I were given the opportunity to try it out. Living Sands can be purchased at many locations and websites, including your local Learning Express. I think this is a fantastic sensory play material that could be used with kids (or adults) for therapy, learning, or just plain fun!

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*Although I was compensated, all opinions, feedback, and amazement related to this product are 100% for real.

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Mama OT In addition to being mama to two sweet little boys and wife to a crazy awesome husband, Christie is a Registered & Licensed Occupational Therapist (OTR/L). She holds a B.A. in Psychology with a Minor in Education from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA...Go Bruins!), and an M.A. in Occupational Therapy from the University of Southern California (USC OT). She has experience working as a pediatric OT in early intervention (birth to 3), clinic-based, and school-based settings. Her mission with is to encourage, educate, and empower those who care for children. Christie loves that she gets to PLAY when she goes to work, is hopelessly addicted to Kettle Corn, and is known for being able to turn virtually anything into a therapeutic tool or activity, from empty food containers to laundry and everything in between. Learn more about Christie and what inspired her to become an OT.

Occupational therapy (OT) is a holistic profession that helps people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities, also known as “occupations”. Some OTs help people diagnosed with disability, injury, or disease. Others help prevent disability, injury, or disease. Because of occupational therapy, people of all ages are able to say, "I can!" no matter what their struggle. Isn't that amazing?!

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Please provide appropriate supervision to the child in your care when completing any activities from this site. You as the grown-up will need to decide what types of products/activities on this list will be safe for your child. If you’re not sure, check with your child’s occupational therapist or pediatrician. Appropriate and reasonable caution should be used when implementing any ideas or activities from this site, particularly if there is any risk of injury (e.g., falling, crashing), choking (e.g., small parts), drowning (e.g., water play), or allergic/adverse reaction (e.g., materials/ingredients). The author and blog disclaim liability for any damage, mishap, or injury that may occur from engaging in any activities or ideas from this site. 
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62 thoughts on “Living Sands: A unique sensory play experience!

      • Is anyone else concerned that this company refuses to disclose what exactly is in this stuff? I have been researching, but all I can find out it that it is made of unnamed “natural ingredients” which by legal definition according to the FDA here in the US, doesn’t mean that they are safe or even natural, only that they are derived from nature OR “manufactured artificially and produced more economically, with greater purity and more consistent quality, than their natural counterparts”, such as Vitamin C or Absorbic Acid. This stuff really concerns me especially when the company won’t actually say what is in it. Shouldn’t you know what exactly your kids are putting into their mouths? Are you really, seriously trusting a company who sole purpose is to make a profit off you and yet refuses to disclose what it is your children are coming into contact with?

  1. The pulverized seashell is actually baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and the binder is either mineral oil or baby oil. However, the secret ingredient must be 100% glycerin – their are small fibers when observed under magnification. I am very close to making my own for a lot less money! Also, the living sands scratches a metal spoon. This must mean that a small amount of very fine silica sand (quartz) that has been added. I will keep you updated on my results!

      • I am an OT and was working with a young student in EI and the mom is the one that told me about the new store opening (finally) in our area (Buffalo, NY) and mentioned she saw the Living Sands and was so impressed with it. I figured it was like Moon Sand, but went to take a look at the new store. WOW! Love, love, love this stuff. I’ve tried everything in the clinic that I’m just not super impressed with, from the oobleck to Bubber. This will definately be used in the clinic in the school I work at. If the gentleman does come up with a DIY recipe…do share!! It’s not cheap, but as an OT, well worth it for many kiddos. (I wish they had sold a container with it though, like pictured on the box…the smaller box.)

    • This is amazing stuff and I have also been scouring the net to find out how to make it.

      Couple thoughts: Could there be diatomaceous earth in it? And what about corn starch/flour? Also, it has antibacterial properties, where would that come from?

      Please do keep us posted!! 🙂

  2. Pingback: The Ultimate List of Gifts for Sensory Seekers -Mama OT

  3. Is this different than kinetic sand? Only two I’ve seen that have anti-microbial properties. Sounds really interesting. And we’ve played with kinetic sand at our children’s museum.

  4. We just got the living sands for Christmas. Cool “stuff”, but what’s in it?? Is it me or does the sand smell like turpentine???? As a father first and an environmental consultant second, I am VERY concerned about the potential toxicity of this product. Really, mineral oil??? Perhaps mineral sprits?????? I would like to see the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) on this product. I wonder why they tell us to air it out and let it sit for 12 hours?? Sounds to me that they want the mineral spirits to volatilize and not stay adsorbed in the sand. Remember when China had high lead in their toys? This product is made in South Korea. I am skeptical about whether there are any regulations about adding mineral oils or spirits to a product. Please, tell us what’s in it for the safety of our kids!!!!

    • John, my Living Sands does not have a smell to it at all. Perhaps you should check with the store/company you purchased it from?

      • Hi Christine and thanks for the reply. I don’t mean to be skeptical, but weren’t you compensated for your review and comments on this product? I am curious to hear from other parents as to whether their living sands has a turpentine-like odor. Incidentally, the package was new and sealed, so I don’t understand why or how contacting the store/company from which I purchased it would matter much. I would think contacting the manufacturer of the product would be a more prudent recommendation, but I doubt I would get any information as the ingredients are a secret and are all natural. Crude oil is all natural as well.

      • As disclosed in the post, Learning Express provided me a free box of Living Sands to try out for myself. They did not tell me I had to review it, but I chose to do so because I found it to be such a unique sensory material and I wanted to share about it with others! Glad to hear your package was new and unsealed. Please let us know if you hear anything from the manufacturer!

      • I purchased some in December of 2013 and mine did not have a smell when I opened it. I have it on my desk at work and people stop by all the time to play with it.

      • I recently bought the kinetic sand which is very similar. In doing my research for the best price, I kept coming across stuff from china. I was very wary and decided to go with the “real” stuff made in Sweden. I’ve been reading about the knock off products that are made in Asia and it’s not very good. Seems you get what you pay for? I could have got 4x the kinetic sand for 1/4 the price if I had gotten the Chinese stuff. Glad I didn’t!

    • Mine smells the same right out of the package and I have the same concerns, John. I’m also a former environmental consultant, ha. Haven’t had a chance to scroll to the bottom but will check back to see if anyone got the assurance regarding the ingredients.

  5. I gave my grand daughter her living sand for christmas. Ours had no smell and keeps her busy for hours and the adults can hardly keep their hands off it. So if yours had a smell i would suggest returning it to the location you bought it from. I just wish that there were more than a little bag of sand included in the large 80.00 kit. Guess most of the price is packaging

  6. My bag of living sand smells terrible…I couldn’t figure what the smell was…but I was surprised at the smell..I am really interested in the ingredients. How can a company not post the ingredients, not just say Non-Toxic?

  7. Got ours today after seeing it at a few local stores ,ours also has a chemical type smell to it (like turpentine or that hand cleaner stuff), letting it air out tonight to see if it helps with the smell ,my son -age 7 got a bit on his lip while playing and said it tasted awful & salty ,also curious of the ingredients before I let my 2yr old and my daycare kids play in it ,what keeps it from not drying out. Its pretty amazing stuff, before then the kinetics sand we got in the summer ,would love to make some myself ,enough to fill our sand table would cost a fortune at $25 per 1.5 pounds

  8. Just figured I would post a comment on the smell…my 6 yr old daughter has always had a very acute sense of smell (as does her father). She cannot stand the smell of Living Sands…describing the same sort of smell as others described. However I cannot pick up a smell on it at all. Maybe a very slight one, but not really. Definitely not something I would have noticed on my own. Anyway, just thought I would mention this. Maybe those who can smell it just have very acute senses 🙂

  9. We just received some Living Sand from Grandma and my daughter loves it. I’m super skeptical of it as it smells really bad like some petroleum product is in it. Super frustrated not being able to find any details about toxicity. All of my neices and nephews Living Sand smells bad too.

  10. Based on the feedback in the comments section of this post and the feedback posted on customer reviews of Living Sands, it seems that the smell issue is quite inconsistent. Some people report a terrible smell, while others report no smell at all. Sounds like we all need some more information at this point.

  11. My son and I love living sands, and I have been trying to figure out the ingredients so I can whip it up at home. I also work with preschool aged kids with autism, and would love to get some for the classroom, but I am concerned about the toxicity (the kids sometimes put random things in their mouth). My research found that it was made out of limestone. Hmmm. That is what my google search turned up. I do think it is the same as kinetic sands (which I have seen at the science museum in Portland, OR). This stuff is really amazing!

    • Kinetic Sand is actually different than Living Sands since it is made of 98% sand and 2% polymer. Living Sands is much softer feeling than Kinetic Sand, and Kinetic Sand has more of an actual “sand” feel, but they do both have similar properties in that they look like sand but act more “alive” than sand. Both are very cool!

    • I know the mixture you’re talking about. I have made it as well and it is actually NOTHING like Living Sands! Flour and baby oil mixture is more like Moon Sand. Living Sands has an extremely unique property that can really only be understood if you feel and it and experience it for yourself!

  12. I saw Living Sands yesterday at the craft store and fell in love with it. I want to buy some but am concerned about the lack of transparency from the manufacturer regarding the ingredients. Unfortunately I’ve grown to be pretty skeptical of ‘corporate-speak’.

    What exactly does ‘non-toxic’ mean? There’s a lot of room between ‘won’t kill you’ and ‘completely harmless.’ Since the incidents of lead in toys imported from China, it’s obvious that corporations are way more lenient with other people’s health as they often place profits above people.

  13. I’m the only one in my house who can even faintly smell the “chemical” / turpentine smell mentioned by some other posters here. Our package has been open for a couple of days so it’s not an airing-out issue. Very curious about the ingredients/recipe as well.

  14. Anyone know what to do if it gets wet? I put ours in an outdoor sand table with a cover, but the rain got in anyway and its now a slimy, goopy, cement like substance on the bottom and smells strangely sweet. Am trying to dry it out to see if it fluffs up again, but am fearing all is lost! and the best place for the wretched stuff is the bin!

  15. We recently went to a local craft store and had the opportunity to play with ‘living sands’ for a while… after a bit of research and some trial and error, I found that six cups unbleached, unbrominated flour and a cup of baby oil (thoroughly mixed and left to sit out overnight) produced a product that is so similar to living sands that my wife and kids couldn’t tell the difference (except for the part where mine cost $1.50 for 2.5 pounds of it… my wife definitely noticed THAT difference!) We’ve been using it for a few days now and it has held up better than I’d hoped 🙂 This recipe may not be exactly the
    same as living sands, but if you’re looking to save money… it works great!!

    • Sounds like you figured out how to make your own cloud dough! “Cloud dough” is a simple sensory play material consisting of flour and baby oil (such as found here: and is a great inexpensive alternative. You’re tight, it is definitely not exactly the same as Living Sands — it doesn’t have that “moving” or “kinetic” sort of property that makes Living Sands so unique — but it’s a fun and inexpensive alternative. Thanks for sharing!

      • perhaps the ‘sands alive’ in this area is different than yours? The product that we played with in the store was pretty indistinguishable from the end result of that baby oil/flour mixture… but I’ve never heard of kinetic sand – I’ll have to look for it, it sounds very cool 🙂

  16. I am an OT and love the Living Sands. All the kids I work with love the Living Sands because there is no “feel” to it. The Kinetic Sand still feels like sand and not all of them are willing to play with it.

  17. My grandchildren (3, 4 year olds) love it. I hate it. It is so messy and worse, it sticks to their colthes. I have to wash their pants and shirts, clean up the floor, table etc. I have a large bin and a small one. I place dry cleaning bags on the kitchen table, then the bins on top. There still is a mess to clean up. Any suggestions? I’d throw it out, but they love it.

  18. My son just received Sands Alive, it sounds like it’s a similar product to living sands but I am not sure. It does not have a smell to it but does leave my hands feeling wiered after acting with it. Not sure if it just dries them out or if a residue is left. I could only do scribe the texture as similar to dryer lint. It does not feel or act like sand at all. This is a realy interesting product and my 5yo son loves it.

    • Yes, it is a very messy product. I find the clean up to be very annoying . It sticks to my kids clothes, and gets all over the table and floor. The kids love it, but I hate it.

      • Yes I find it’s important to avoid playing with it over carpet, similar to other “messy” products like play dough, sand, etc.

  19. Oh, for all the SoCal residents, 99 Cent Only stores have the same size bag, same exact product period (Sands Alive, 2 lb bag), for $1.99– that other stores (like Joann’s) sell for four times as much (ON SALE). The cashier at Joann’s even told me about it (wink). It’s a great way to introduce the kiddos to this product, and, well, have some for yourself as well without breaking the bank. Also, they sell lots of containers that work well for storage and for molding it… like an indoor sandbox!

    To color it, Wilton Icing Colors work well– a color chart is here:

So, whadya think?