Sensory play is for all children, as organizing and learning through stimuli is a key part of understanding the world. Babies and toddlers love to touch and feel everything, and are constantly putting things in their mouths. Choosing the right toys and sensory tools can help them to explore the world, and can offer you a variety of ways to engage with infants and toddlers as they learn.
Why Are Sensory Activities Important for Infants and Toddlers ?
Sensory play and using toys that are made to engage infants and toddlers are an important part of developing the five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Providing opportunities to explore helps them to develop creative, social, emotional, and physical skills. The use of multiple senses when exploring their environment helps infants to retain more information and can help with the development of problem solving and communication skills.
Infant Sensory Toys & Activities
Encouraging sensory play in infancy helps to foster brain development, laying the foundation for learning as they grow. Children of all ages can benefit from engaging in sensory play, and the specialized tools and toys below offer many ways to interact with infants as they learn through sensory experiences.
As young brains develop, adults need to provide infants with lots of opportunities to stimulate and use all their senses. The TOLO Education Baby Large Rattle Set, for infants 3+ months, gives caregivers lots of choices for intentionally playing with baby.
How to Play: Sing songs while helping baby hold and keep rhythm with the different sounds each rattle makes. During diapering, allow baby to hold and explore a rattle while talking about what s/he is doing. While sitting on the floor, hold baby in your lap and gently help him/her roll a rattle back and forth talking about all the sounds and colors you’re experiencing. With five rattles to choose from, you can easily have a different shake, rattle, and roll experience each day!
Who doesn’t love a good game of roly-poly? The balls within the Sensory Shapes and Balls Set will provide children ages 6+ months with learning and fun together with you!
How to Play: On a comfortable surface, sit across from the child, choose one ball, and see if you can push it back and forth to one another. With your help, the child will discover that some of the shapes easily roll, while others don’t. As you’re playing talk about tactile differences such as smooth and bumpy or visual differences such as round and oval. Children who aren’t yet sitting on their own will benefit from exploring the balls with all their senses while being read to, held or rocked to sleep.
Developing critical thinking while having fun is easy for infants 6+ months with the Tobbles Neo stacking manipulatives. With unique texture and colors, these weighted pieces provide children lots of opportunities to use their senses as they explore gravity.
How to Play: Sit across from the child and let them touch the pieces while talking about the different colors and heaviness of each. Then, model how to stack using descriptive phrases such as, “this orange circle is heavy” or “this yellow piece is so bumpy on top”. Remember to allow children to play with the pieces in their own ways and share it the joy of learning with praise and laughter!
Infants require many different experiences to help strengthen their bodies and develop their senses. Interactive tummy-time provides opportunities to do just that! Placing infants on their stomachs allows them to use arm, back, and neck muscles in preparation for sitting, crawling, and standing.
How to Play: The ECR4Kids Softzone Picture Me Play Mat with a mirror for exploration, gives visual sensory input during comfortable tummy-time. Adults can encourage this by sitting on the floor near the child, asking questions about the child’s eyes, mouth, nose, and what s/he is seeing in the mirror. Remember to engage the child in a turn-taking conversation by waiting for responses even if they aren’t yet actual words. To further stimulate the senses, place family photographs, magazine pictures, or textured fabric within each of the plastic pockets for additional feeling and talking prompts.
Indoor Sensory Play Ideas for Toddlers
Toddlers are excited to play and these sensory activities can help them to stretch their brains and practice using their senses. Encourage exploration and the development of fine and gross motor skills with these toddler-oriented sensory activities:
Linking, stringing, and connecting activities abound with the Childcraft Toddler Manipulative Set with four different types of sensory objects each offering different textures while developing tactile skills. The Fishies and Linkets are great for independent time.
How to Play: Caregivers can create color patterns such as ABC Pattern: blue, yellow, red, repeat or AB Pattern: blue, yellow, blue, yellow, repeat. When finished, encourage the child to share the similarities and differences they see, and then create a pattern of their own. Older toddlers will enjoy working with a friend to build creative structures using the Young Brix while exploring the unique surface texture of each piece. Finally, the smooth Baby Beads make stringing an imaginary necklace, slippery snake or wiggly worm a calming form of fine-motor learning for a child who may need some quiet time.
Toddlers love to wiggle while they work, and we have a safe seat just for that. The Vidget is a flexible desk that can be turned over to use as a seat or a stool.
How to Play: During read aloud time, line the seats up in a row making children into a train, a bobsled, or a line of ants while reading a corresponding book. The side handles feature sensory bumps which will provide children with sensory input as they strengthen their listening skills during reading. Add extra fun by asking children to shout out or whisper particular sounds heard in the story or make hand and arm motions similar to what the book’s characters are doing, and then immediately return their fingers to the sensory bumps praising them for following directions.
Strike up the band with our Early Years Rhythm Set perfect for shaking and dancing with toddlers.
How to Play: Gather in a circle and use the 12 pieces to play along with your favorite songs, encouraging children to keep rhythm with the beat. Give each child a ‘solo’ by encouraging them to step to the center of the circle to dance and wiggle while playing their instrument. Use the instruments by themselves asking children to alternate between fast and slow, loud and quiet with you as the conductor modeling the way. Combine this listening experience with some extra gross-motor skill development by safely marching in a circle or line through the hallway or taking the band outside while singing your favorite songs!
Colors, colors, everywhere! Toddlers 2+ years will enjoy experimenting with the different shapes, sizes, and colors found in the Guidcraft Rainbow Blocks Set.
How to Play: To prompt awareness of shapes, caregivers can ask children to name each shape as they build both upright structures and flat structures, such as on a table-top. To foster a love of science and develop children’s visual and tactile senses, place small different-textured objects found in nature such as smooth rocks, wrinkly leaves, and rough acorns beneath each colored block. Ask children to explain how the color of the object changes and why. Expand further by having children find objects around the room that are also smooth, wrinkly, and rough during an indoor scavenger hunt!
More Infant and Toddler Activities & Learning Tools
If you’re looking for more ways to ramp up engagement and learning opportunities for toddlers and infants, be sure to stop by the Early Childhood category page to see what’s new. Also visit the online store to shop hundreds of high-quality products for young learners.