Easy DIY sensory toys and activities to keep your baby and toddler busy, while developing and learning!
Wondering how to entertain your baby or toddler? From an early age, children are constantly seeking out sensory stimulation. Try out these activities for not only fun and games but to encourage learning and developing too!
What is Sensory Play?
Sensory play includes any activity that stimulates your child’s senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell, taste and movement. These activities also engage your child in developing their language skills, motor skills, and cognitive growth, foster social interactions and encourage experimentation.
Whenever children are seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, moving and jumping, they are engaging in sensory play. You can expose them to new sensory experiences with the activities shared below.
Sensory bottles, bags and bins
Sensory bottles, sensory bags and sensory bins are great DIY activities to have in your home. There are so many options on what to fill them with and can be tailored to your children’s age, development and interests.
For example, your child loves cars.
Sensory bottle – fill with sand and a few small toy cars.
Sensory bag – put some paint on a piece of paper inside a zip lock bag and invite your child to drive their toy cars over the paint.
Sensory bin – fill with water, soap, toy cars and brushes and offer a mini car wash to your child.
Note: ensure all sensory bottle tops are glued shut!
Any sensory bin items need to be safe to eat or your child is old enough to follow the instructions of not putting it in their mouth.
Sensory Activities for a 6 Month Old
At six months, your child is beginning to recognise faces and themselves in the mirror. They are making sounds, grabbing things and putting things in their mouth to explore. They can roll from their tummy to their back and will start pushing themselves from their tummy.
Add new stimulation to tummy time, and position your baby on their side with a book to entertain them, involving their visual sense. Your baby will be more inclined to stay in that position when some extra fun is included, like a book.
Engage your child’s listening skills on outings by identifying sounds. Ask them “Can you hear the dog barking?”. Depending on their development, you can show them where the dog is or have them find the dog independently. Watch how your child connects what they can hear to what they can see – look at the expressions on their face once they find the source of the barking.
Incorporate sensory play into your child’s bath time with the addition of toys, spoons, bowls, jugs etc. Encourage them to explore the feeling and sounds of the water. This is a no-fuss, no-mess activity your child will adore.
Rattles and bells:
Rattles and bells are a fun way to get your child moving while developing their hearing. Show them how you can shake the rattle fast and slow, loud and soft. Babies can be startled by loud and sudden noise, this gives them the experience of controlling the sound.
Edible art recipes:
If you want to introduce your six-month-old to art play such as finger painting and play dough, an edible recipe is essential. Luckily, these recipes tend to be quite simple and use ordinary pantry ingredients. Babies love to put things in their mouth, this is their way of exploring! With edible recipes, your child can be exposed to creative and messy play without you worrying about them consuming anything, as store-bought paint and play dough can often contain harmful ingredients if ingested.
Here are two recipes to get you started: Edible finger paint Edible playdough
Sensory Activities for a 1 Year Old
Your one-year-old will start actively interacting with you, waving goodbye, and saying common words, such as “mama” or “dada”. They will start pulling up to stand and walking while holding onto furniture. You’ll notice their fine motor skills beginning to develop as they start picking up small things, like small pieces of food, with their thumb and pointer finger.
Give them a tissue box filled with different textures. It could be a variety of fabrics or small toys. By hiding the items in the tissue box, you are taking away their sense of sight, heightening their tactile senses. Your toddler will enjoy the different sensations and pulling the items of the box and pushing them back in.
On a warm day, provide a bucket of water and some paintbrushes. Invite your child to paint outside on the walls or paving. Water painting is a creative, active play your child will love. We love mess-free painting!
Have your child walk barefoot on different surfaces. Grass, sand, carpet, wood, paving etc. Depending on your child’s development you could say, “The carpet feels soft.” Or you could ask them, “does the grass feel wet?” This will not only give them tactile experiences when barefoot but also developing their language skills, linking what they are feeling as they walk over the surfaces and describing it.
Paper towel roll chute:
This activity can be simple, with the option to change it up or make it more complex. The cardboard roll from a paper towel roll makes the perfect chute for small balls or pom-poms. One chute and a small number of balls are the perfect introductions. Later on, add another chute or two, and vary the size of the chute and/or the size of the balls. This can even be used as a colour matching activity – match the colour of the ball to the same colour chute. Tongs and spoons can also be added to handle the balls – really firing up the visual, tactile and movement senses and engaging the fine and gross motor skills.
Children at this age love threading activities. You can use a pipe cleaner to start, as this is more stable and rigid than string and thread things with a big hole such as rigatoni noodles. As your child progresses and becomes more comfortable with accuracy, you can swap for wool or ribbon with beads or cheerios – making the string more flimsy and thin and the threading material smaller. This is an excellent fine motor and visual exercise, they’ll have to focus to fit the string through the hole!
Sensory Activities for a 2 Year Old
Your two-year-old will be talking, waving and pointing more. They will be able to run, kick a ball and eat with a spoon independently. They’ll enjoy more complex toys – with knobs, buttons and switches.
Primary colour mixing:
Put a few blobs of two of the primary colours (blue and red, red and green or blue and green) on a piece of paper inside a zip lock bag. This is a tactile and visual mess-free art activity introducing primary colours, secondary colours and colour mixing.
Bubble wrap walk:
Who doesn’t love playing with bubble wrap? Lay bubble wrap on the floor for your child to walk over. They will stimulate their auditory sense with the popping sounds and their tactile sense with the feeling of the bubbles under their feet.
Climbing up the slide:
Yes, this goes against most playground rules but have you ever wondered why children are so inclined to climb up the slide? It is so stimulating and fulfilling a child’s sensory needs, engaging their whole body strength to walk and pull themselves up.
Make play dough:
Similar to the younger child, play dough allows for great tactile play. With an older child you can involve them in the process of making the dough, which they’ll really enjoy. This adds another level to the sensory experience – pouring, spooning, mixing etc.
Toddlers love water beads. You simply soak them in water and they become slippery and squishy. The tactile experience is interesting and you can include spoons, cups and bowls to involve your child’s fine motor development.
Sensory play is so much fun, whatever your child’s age. Prepare the activities and enjoy their love of learning. Which of these do you think your child will enjoy the most?
Read more about sensory play here.