Thursday, February 11, 2016

Shaving Cream

For many teachers. shaving cream is one of those “go to” sensory activities. But I have mixed feelings about it, because it’s one of those materials that asks the question, “What am I supposed to do with this?” Not “What can I do with this” or “How do I make this work?” but “What do you expect me to do with this blob of stuff?

You can squish it. You can spread it. Usually children are captivated by the initial sensation of the texture, but after that, there’s not much more to do. A few gross motor waves of their hands on a tray or a tabletop, and they’re done.

So, what can we do to make shaving cream play more engaging?

Two of the strategies I like to use with sensory materials in general is defined space, and planning specific tools to use with the material. Particularly tools that require some thinking about how to use them. A big tray or deep table of shaving cream suggests sticking your hands into it, but now what? Or, if you’re not someone who wants to stick your hands into goop, is there even any way you can participate?

I set up the shaving cream in individual bowls, so each child could start with a small amount. Enough to squish and handle, but not so much as to be overwhelming. I colored the shaving cream with liquid watercolor to add the visual dimension of mixing, combining, and matching colors. And I put the shaving cream out with tools that suggest a purposeful task: paintbrushes and foam blocks.

Most of the children went straight to painting the blocks. Painting a three dimensional shape is a novel sensory challenge.

 Shaving cream was a perfect substance for holding stacks of blocks together.

Observing the swirls of color as the contents of the different bowls was interesting too.

Of course, sometimes squishing and squeezing is all you need.

Note: I’m aware that there is some disagreement about whether shaving cream is safe for children to use. The label says “Keep Out of the Reach of Children”, but it’s unclear whether that warning applies to the can (and the propellant inside), or the shaving cream itself once it’s not in the can. I’m not a chemist, but the ingredients don’t appear to be any different than the ones in soap or even diaper wipes, and the same warning is on other aerosol cans, like whipped cream, which is obviously non-toxic. So I’ll leave the decision about the safety to individual teachers, but I couldn’t find any universal “rule” saying shaving cream shouldn’t be used in classrooms. As with any material, if your licensing or accrediting organization or your center policy doesn’t allow it, use something else instead. And, as with any material, always supervise children while they’re using it – even non-toxic materials require supervision, especially for children young enough to put things in their mouths.


  1. I love the idea of using shaving cream but our sadly our state doesn't allow it to be used in child care centers. How do you think Cool Whip might work? I"m tempted to use it but also don't want the kids eating it once they figure out it tastes good (because I"m pretty sure after all those hands it in it would be full of germs!)

  2. Anything squishy would work. I personally wouldn't use Cool Whip because using food items (especially tasty food items) can be confusing to kids in terms of what is okay to eat, and what is okay to play with (take a look at my post about eating playdough). And there's the sanitation part - anything that encourages children to put it in their mouths does get full of germs.

    Another option is cornstarch and water - yes, cornstarch is a food item, but by itself it's not anything a child would recognize as food and it wouldn't taste good.

    There's also different mixtures you can make with glue, paint, and other materials. Toilet tissue and glue makes a goopy paste, but you need to clean it right away before it hardens. And there's always good old plain dirt and water to make mud. There's also different commercial items that are similar to shaving cream but made specifically for art uses with children, like foam paint. Depending on the regulations you're required to follow, that might be something you can use. Good luck - and post back about what material you tried!