If you’ve spent any time with a toddler, you know that sitting still for a learning activity really isn’t their bag. They’re curious little buggers, and sensory play has been proven over and over to be the best way to stimulate their senses and nurture their absolute sponge brains. Sensory play is any activity that stimulates your child’s senses and causes them to make connections. Their little brains are making new neural connections at an astonishing rate and experiencing new sights, sounds, and textures will encourage the process and allow adults to teach them new vocabulary during play. Alright, facts out of the way, let’s find some fun sensory activities for toddlers to get your little one learning like a champ!
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The Best Sensory Activities for Toddlers
Almost anything can be turned into a learning activity for toddlers. You don’t need to buy expensive water tables or specially designed sensory tables. Get creative with what you have at home. Can they smell it, taste it, feel it, or hear it? Then, it can be used to teach! The idea is to utilize their natural curiosity to expose them to new textures, colors, and foods. Allowing them to get hands-on with varied teaches the concepts of hot and cold, soft and hard, etc. These games naturally increase fine motor skills as they learn to manipulate new tools. You can work on sorting items or new colors or shapes. The options are endless!
1. Shaving Cream Art
Shaving cream is the perfect creative sensory game. First of all, it has a strong and soothing smell, so you can talk about what they smell. It feels squishy and cold, which are texture teaching points, and it boasts the extra benefit of cleaning the surface on which you spread it. Use the floor or a table that won’t be stripped by the shaving cream and let them go crazy. You can also hide alphabet letters or buttons in the piles of foam for extra fine motor work.
2. Sensory Boards
Sensory boards are a great option for infants and young toddlers. They are also easy DIY projects. Some boards are extravagant for older toddlers with zippers, buckles, locks, and chains. Others just contain several swatches of fabric with varying textures applied to a board for young toddlers to safely explore.
3. Scent Jars
Scent jars are super fun! Fill baby food jars or whatever you have (plastic cups work) with food or household items that have strong scents. Allow your toddler to explore the smells with you at their side, or poke holes in the lids of the jars and let them play alone. You can talk about what the smells are and whether they are pleasant or not. If you have a three-year-old, with more extensive language, you can blindfold them and see if they can guess what is in the jar just by the smell.
4. Food Coloring Cups
Grab a few clear plastic cups and perform your first science experience. Your toddler will be amazed as they drop in food coloring and the water magically changes. You can then mix the cups, working on the fine motor skill of pouring, and guess what colors the mixture will make.
5. Jewelry Making
If your toddler is passed the stage of putting everything they touch into their mouths, then bust out the pipe cleaners, buttons, and beads, and allow them to start creating some basic jewelry of their own. Pipe cleaners are a great option because they have an unusual texture, can be bent into a countless array of structures and shapes, and are easily turned into bead necklaces or keychains.
6. Jello Bowls
Jello is a weird texture and sensory experience. It comes in a plethora of colors. It’s edible (kind of), and you can easily freeze army men, race cars, or plastic animals in the suspension. Drop several different materials within the mold and encourage your toddler to squish the mold and see what they find. They can then their discoveries into appropriate piles.
7. Fossils in the Sandbox
Sand play is a classic sensory play idea for toddlers and preschoolers. From hiding sea shells or toys to wetting the sand and allowing them to make foot and hand prints, a sandbox gives you endless options. Older kids can learn to build structures and use molds, and younger ones will just like the texture.
8. Plaster Prints
Like making sand prints, you can also mix up some Plaster of Paris and allow your babe to get crafty. Make handprints or footprints. Paint it, mold it, cover a figurine in plaster, or sink something into the wet plaster, let it dry, and break it open tomorrow. Your options are pretty endless.
9. Rainy Day Antics
There’s no water play better than nature play. Take your little ones out and let them jump in puddles, feel the cold rain on their face, and watch as the water turns dirt into moldable mud. Make mud pies. Splash. Stomp. It’s messy play, but it gets out some aggressive energy, works on gross motor skills like running, twirling, and jumping, and teaches them about nature!
10. Traditional Sensory Bins
Sensory bins are very easy toddler activities to incorporate into your daily routine. You can use plastic tubs or shoe boxes, whatever you have. Fill them with items of different textures that cause your child to naturally compare. Sensory bin ideas include dry beans, water beads, rainbow rice, pom poms, cooked noodles,
11. Musical Shakers
Water bottles are a great sensory tool. Save your old water bottles and use them to entertain young children. While there are so many options for color play to sorting, one fun way to utilize water bottles is to make musical shakers. Allow your toddler to work on fine motor skills by pouring rice, water, beans, rocks (or whatever you have) into the bottles. Then, peak their sense of hearing by allowing them to shake the bottles and talk about the different sounds.
12. Fun With Slime or Playdough
Little hands love squishy things, and there are tons of taste-safe playdough recipes or slime out there. Most just use salt, water, and flour, and provide hours of fun. Use cookie cutters to make shakes and figures. Add food coloring to discover colors. Give older children a task to create a specific figure like their favorite cartoon or a sculpture of themselves.
13. Fruit Loop Sorting
Toddlers love to sort items. It’s a huge part of their learning process. If you need to entertain your little one for a bit, place them in the high chair or the floor if you don’t mind the mess. Pour out some Fruit loops or other colored cereal and show them how to sort by color. You might go through it a couple of times to help them understand, and then set them free.
14. Popsicle Painting
A fun summer activity is watercolor painting with popsicles. With a little food coloring and water, have your toddler help you make colored ice cubes. The next day, pop them out and roll out a giant piece of paper or canvas on the driveway and let get paint away with the slippery, cold, “paint brushes.”
15. Walking Through the Jungle
Take a sensory walk with your little one, and get some fresh air. As you wander the neighborhood or city park, sing or chant, “walking through the jungle, what do you see.” Your child will then answer, “I see a _____ looking at me.” Once you have conquered all the things you see, you can switch to “what do you hear” and begin listening for rustling leaves, running water, or traffic noise.
16. Ziploc Finger Painting
If the idea of cleaning up finger paint sends chills down your spine, design a slightly cleaner version for your toddler. Invest in good, gallon-sized Ziploc bags with sturdy zippers, and place a piece of heavy-duty paper inside with several dots of different-colored paint on it. Once it’s safely sealed, let your toddler squish, roll, or stomp the bag, creating their own artwork. Not only will they love the texture, but they will also be very proud of the artwork they have created.
17. Favorite Food Test
Older toddlers, who have had a chance to taste several foods, might enjoy this blind taste test. Toddlers are notoriously picky about eating, so if they rebel against this one on Monday, you may try again on Thursday. Put on a blindfold or tell them to close their eyes and open them wide. Give them small tastes of their favorite foods and see if they can guess what it’s just by the taste.
18. Blind Fold Challenge
Similar to the taste test, the blindfold challenge can also be used with sensory bags. Fill several Ziploc or plastic bags with sensory items and allows your toddler to stick a hand in. They will try to guess what is in the bag just by the feel. If they have trouble, you can let them smell it as a secondary tip.
19. Indoor Obstacle Course
With young kids, playtime often needs to be active. If you notice that your child is clenching fists, throwing tantrums, biting, or showing other normal toddler aggression, a specific type of deep-stimulating play can be helpful. Clapping aggressively, stomping on different items, jumping, or squeezing can help them regulate these intense surges. These activities help with spatial and body awareness and well as coordination. Set up dots for your child to jump on, tunnels to crawl through, a balance beam, a dance portion with clapping and jumping, and a race. Obstacles courses are pretty easy to create inside or outside with what you have at home. Just focus on activities that will encourage them to jump, balance, run, dance, or clap.
20. Walk the Plank
Balance is a skill learned in the toddler years. Help your little one master it by incorporating different balance beam activities into their playtime. This could be walking along a log, the perimeter of the playground, or even a sidewalk chalk line.
21. Build a Snack
Making creative snacks is a great way to interest your picky toddler in new food and expose them to several textures at once. A classic is ants on a log. Give your toddler a piece of celery or gingerbread cookie. Allow them to smooth their own nut butter of choice onto the “log.” They can then put cranberries, raisins, or dried fruit on the log, pretending they are bugs.
22. Temperature Bottles
Another great water bottle activity works on the sensation of temperature. Present your child with three water bottles, one with cold water, one with warm water, and one that you froze last night. Talk about the difference between cold, warm, and freezing. Allow them to crunch the bottles and feel how two are soft and one is hard. You can take it a bit farther by learning about floating and sinking by putting the bottles into a bathtub full of water.
23. Planting Seeds
Playing in the dirt has been linked to decreased inflammatory reactions, lower respiratory disease rates, and much more. While it seems counter-intuitive, allowing your kid to dirty can be good for their health and yours. Working with soil is a great texture activity, but it also allows you to teach your toddler about plants and the growth cycle. If you choose to plant herbs, you not only provide your child with multiple learning opportunities, but you also get free spices out of the deal, and your toddler gets a great sense of pride out of growing their own food.
24. Chubby Little Chefs
Cooking with toddlers certainly takes longer than doing it yourself, and there’s the constant “that’s hot” warning, but teaching your toddler to cook offers several valuable sensory lessons for them. From watching water boil and turn to steam, to the sensation and sound of breaking noodles, to guessing if they will float or sink are all amusing to toddlers. Most toddlers are very interested in helping, so cooking allows them to do while working on problem-solving and hand-eye coordination.
25. Bang a Drum
If you can’t handle the help tonight, that’s okay. Place your kiddo on the floor with some wooden spoons and a few pots and pans. Let them experiment with different utensils to analyze the sound, feel, and weight of the instruments. It’s annoying, but it’s good for them.
26. Ball Pit
Ball pits are wonderful for exposing your child to their senses. Take one of those little plastic kiddie pools and fill it with balls of different textures, sizes, and colors. Your child can sort, throw, swim, jump, or squish away. Work on sizes, colors, and counting. The options are endless, and they love it. You will likely be picking up plastic balls from under your couch for the rest of the week, but you probably need to sweep under there anyway.
27. Bubble Wrap Road
We don’t care who you are, bubble wrap is fun. Popping those rows of little bubbles between your fingers is excellent stress relief, and it works for toddlers too. Take a large strip of bubble wrap to the floor. They can stomp it, poke it, or drive their trucks on it like a road. It’s hours of education and cheap fun!
28. Snow Ice Cream
For a fun winter activity with your toddler, grab the vanilla extract and hunt for a clean patch of snow. You can talk about how water freezes to make snow, allow them to experience the cold, or see how long they can bear touching it. Then, go to the kitchen. Add some evaporated milk, vanilla extract, chocolate syrup, or your favorite ice cream toppings, and turn your science experiment into an afternoon snack.
29. Sorting Laundry
Put your toddler’s fantastic sorting ability to work. They can sort clothes by which family member they belong to or by item. Just know that once they sort them, they will likely mess it all up and do it over and over again, making your laundry chore take a bit longer than expected.
30. Fun With Tacos
Who doesn’t love tacos? We sure do, and perhaps your toddler will too. If they won’t eat them, at least they can learn with them. Give your kiddo a corn tortilla, a flour tortilla, and a hard-shell taco. You can work on textures, taste, color, shape, and folding. After you’re done, you allow them to choose one to eat for lunch!
Time to Play
The toddler and preschool years are the easiest and most fun when it comes to education. Utilize any of these 30 sensory play activities or modify them to make your own game. Some will be a success with your child, and others won’t. Every child is different. Just remember, they learn best by playing so don’t feel guilty or put too much pressure on yourself. Incorporate a sensory game every day or a few times a week, depending on your schedule, and watch your little one flourish!
What are your favorite sensory activities? Share your successes in the comments!
Get those kids outside with a few fun ideas from “20 Fun and Easy Activities and Outdoor Games for Toddlers.”
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Frequently Asked Questions
Sensory play is any activity that engages your child’s sense of smell, taste, touch, sight, or sound.
Sensory play is the most effective learning method for toddlers and preschoolers. Sensory bins, offer them opportunities for color distinction, texture sorting, counting, and much more.
Toddlers have an insatiable desire for adventure. Celebrate their inquisitory nature with curated family outings from Adventures From Scratch!