50 Sensory Activities for Toddlers
Young children use their senses of sight, touch, smell, taste and sound to explore their world. Developing senses are crucial for keeping toddlers safe, healthy and happy as they grow.
Sensory play has many benefits, including brain development and even calming children down. They can learn math skills by counting small items and spatial skills like capacity by filling up a cup with sand. Kids can also use sensory play to hone their fine motor skills by pouring, scooping, etc., and their gross motor skills by playing in a ball pit, for example.
Here are 50 sensory activities for toddlers that will help kids dial into all five senses.
Touch: Sensory Bin Ideas
Sensory bins are an easy, small-scale way to tap into your child's tactile sense. All you'll need is a small- to medium-sized container to fill with sensory-stimulating materials.
Ten easy bin ideas:
- Water World - Keep the towels nearby and fill the bin with water. Be sure to include plenty of cups, squeezable toys and other waterproof items for splashing.
- Pantry - Dried food like rice, beans and pasta may seem like the beginnings of a yummy meal for us, but they can also provide the perfect sensory experience for kids. In your bin, include small cups and sand toys so kids can scoop, shovel and sprinkle to their hearts' content.
- Nature - Bring the outdoors in with leaves, bark, grass, dirt and other found items from the yard.
- Holiday - Pick items specific to an upcoming holiday, like tinsel and soft ornaments for Christmas or candy wrappers and pumpkin seeds for Halloween.
- Rescue - Bury small toys like mini-dinosaurs inside a bowl full of sand and rice, and have children search for them with a spoon or shovel and rescue them by moving them to a different area.
- Soft Touch - Fill with pom-poms, stress balls and silky, squishy or otherwise pleasant-feeling items of various textures.
- Gardening - Fill a bin with sand or potting soil and plastic worms, snakes and other creatures, as well as faux plants and flowers for kids to plant. Provide gardening gloves and mini shovels and rakes for kids to garden just like mom and dad!
- Bubbles - Mix water and dish soap to make lots of bubbles and add in cups and floating toys like rubber duckies. Encourage kids to make bubbles with bubble wands and more.
- Winter Wonderland - Pick up a jar of instant snow and let kids mix it with water to make snowmen, snow angels and other winter staples.
- Construction - Fill a bin with your chosen filler (sand or rice work well) and several mini construction trucks. While kids lift and dump with their mini trucks, talk to them about how the mega-sized trucks do it in the real world. What color trucks have kids seen? What sounds do they make? What kinds of things do they build? These questions will help unlock your kids' curiosity.
Schedule preschool motor skills evaluations with an online sign up. View an Example
Other Ideas for Touch
- Sandbox - This playground staple is a classic for a reason. While kids scoop, pour and play, they're also learning concepts like capacity (how much sand will fit in this bucket?).
- Water Table - If you don't want to buy one of these, make your own with a giant bowl or bin on top of a kid-height table outdoors. Use the hose to fill it up and let kids splash and play. Water tables are a great way to beat the heat in summer.
- Slime - Slime exploded onto the scene a couple of years ago, and the thought of it has some parents squeamish. But the fact is this squishy substance helps kids tune into their sense of touch, as well as being a mini chemistry experiment in your kitchen. A basic recipe includes simple ingredients you might already have, such as school glue and saline solution. Try adding beads, glitter or other small objects to up the tactile ante.
- Clay - Whether you make your Play-doh or use more sophisticated modeling clay for older kids, clay sculpting is a great way to dial up your kids' fine motor skills. Help them cut the dough with scissors, roll with a kitchen roller and mold it into silly versions of their favorite animals while you try to guess what they're making.
- Legos - These blocks are fun to build with, and their variety of shapes and sizes make them incredibly tactile. You can add a math angle by counting the studs or taking blocks off a tower one at a time to see subtraction in action.
- Ball Pit - Head to a children's play area, buy or make one yourself. Colorful balls will also be a treat for your child's sense of sight.
- Kinetic Sand - This physics-defying sand sticks together, falls apart and generally doesn't behave like normal sand. Kids will get a kick out of squeezing, smashing and molding. Be sure to include sand toys like molds and rakes so kids can experiment with this sand's wacky texture.
- Ice Scooping - Need to cool down on a hot summer day? Fill a large bowl with ice and water and have kids use a slotted spoon to move the ice, one cube at a time, to a nearby cup. If playing with friends or siblings, make it a contest.
- Car Wash - Provide a bowl of soapy water and a few cleaning tools like old toothbrushes for kids to clean up their toy cars of all shapes and sizes. Think they're not that dirty? Let kids roll them through the dirt or sand so they can have a well-deserved wash afterward.
- Doll Bath - Have your tots give their baby doll a bath in a bowl or bin using tactile items like soft washcloths, bath brushes and a gentle soap that makes lots of bubbles.
- Gardening - Enlist the kids' help in easy yard maintenance activities like scooping dirt to plant flowers, picking up sticks from the yard and even pulling weeds. Encourage kids to use their ears to listen to nature sounds like bees buzzing and their noses to smell scents like fresh-cut grass.
- "Oobleck" - If you're ready to get messy, mix cornstarch, water and food coloring to create a gooey substance that feels solid when you punch or squeeze it but liquid when you drip it.
- Spaghetti Worms - Cook spaghetti noodles until they're al dente and separate into several small bowls. Then drop a few drops of food coloring in each bowl to transform the noodles into colorful "worms" kids can twirl, squish and dangle to their hearts' content.
- Sand Foam - Mix equal parts of sand and shaving cream to create a gritty, foamy mixture that kids will love. Add small toy dinosaurs for a prehistoric theme or seashells for something beachier.
- Frozen Fossils - Freeze mini toy dinosaurs or insects in ice cubes and let kids play with them as they melt. While they play, talk to them about fossilized evidence of dinosaurs in the real world.
- Rainbow Rice - Color dried rice using water and food coloring, then mix the rice together for a sensory rainbow.
- I Spy - This road trip classic is great for helping kids focus on the world around them. Best of all, you can play it indoors or out. Take turns spying objects of varying colors and letting your kids guess what you see.
- Paintbrush Play - Swallow your fear of messes and let kids do some good old-fashioned painting. Unroll butcher paper, newspaper or an old cardboard box to cover as much area as possible, give kids a bunch of paintbrushes and let them get to work. Talk about what they think will happen when they mix certain colors and then mix to see if their hypothesis is correct. Add in the element of touch by letting them finger paint.
- Sensory Glitter Bottle - Kids will love this quick craft project that only has a few ingredients: a clear plastic bottle, glitter and some water. Get kids involved with making it and experiment with adding different sizes and shapes of sparkles. Seal the top to prevent messes and have kids shake, swirl and tip the bottle over to watch how the glitter behaves.
- Alphabet Match-up - Perfect for the toddler just learning to identify letters, in this activity you simply mix up a bunch of letter magnets (or cut out alphabet shapes) and write the alphabet on a large piece of paper. Have your child search for each letter and place it in its corresponding spot.
- Magnets - Pick up a set of magnetic blocks or tiles and add a scientific angle by having your child hypothesize what will happen when she gets the magnets close to one another.
- Squishy Bag - Squeeze primary colors of puff paint into a zip-top bag and seal it tight. Have kids squish the bag and watch as the colors mix.
- Math Whiz - Teach basic math concepts by sorting small objects like jellybeans into differently numbered piles (or ice cube trays). Then have kids add those piles to other piles and count up the new total — they'll be doing math without even realizing it.
- Block Stack - Buy a Jenga game or simply use rectangular blocks and encourage kids to make a tall tower, then take it down one block at a time without knocking the whole structure down.
Organize preschool volunteers with an online sign up. View an Example
- Scented Markers - Combining the senses of smell and sight, let your kiddo make a masterpiece while smelling each color along the way.
- Pungent Play Dough - Make play dough with powdered drink mix for a treat that will delight your kiddo's senses.
- Spice Painting - Use a muffin tin to make "spice paints." Simply put a little water in each compartment and sprinkle in a healthy shake of each spice in your cabinet. Give kids a paintbrush and paper and have them go to work, talking to them as they go about how each paint smells — sweet, salty, spicy, etc.
- Jell-O Scratch and Sniff Art - Using glue and different flavors of Jell-O, help kids create their own scratch and sniff art. Kids can use the glue to draw a picture or outline and then sprinkle the Jell-O powder on top. Let it dry overnight and encourage your kids to gently scratch and sniff the finished product the next day.
- Podcasts for Kids - Search your phone's podcast app for titles geared toward children. Whether they sing funny songs or tell stories, the hosts will keep your children entertained (and educated) through your earbuds.
- Instruments - If you've got instruments laying around the house, that's great! Let your kiddos pick, blow and play away. If not, don't worry. You can make a mini orchestra with household items. Try filling plastic Easter eggs with rice or beans for an instant maraca or creating a guitar out of rubber bands and a shoebox with a hole in it.
- Storytime at a Library - Take your kids to the local library to hear the story while learning to listen, sit still and show respect to others. If visiting in person isn’t an option, consider virtual opportunities or planning your own and inviting your friends with a sign up. Don’t forget to include the Zoom link directly in your sign up.
- DIY Rain Sticks - Use empty paper towel or wrapping paper tubes filled with rice to create the sound of rain indoors (seal by taping plastic wrap at both ends). Show kids how to slowly tilt the sticks to make a gentle shower or shake them fast and hard to create a storm.
- Sing-along Time - Sing childhood favorites like "Old McDonald Had a Farm" or "Wheels on the Bus" and encourage children to sing and dance along.
- Listening Walk - Take kids on a walk and encourage them to talk about what they hear. They'll hear everything from a bird's song to a car horn and beyond once they "tune in" with their ears.
Coordinate playgroup meet ups with an online sign up. View an Example
- Blindfold Cereal Test - A fun way to teach kids that taking away one sense will amplify the others — pick up a variety pack of mini cereal boxes and blindfold your kiddo before having him or her taste a small bite of each of the cereals. Have your child describe how the cereal feels, smells, sounds and of course, tastes. Then have your child try to guess the name of each cereal.
- Cookies from Scratch - Help kids bake a batch of cookies while touching, smelling and tasting along the way. Talk about the difference in texture between sugar and flour, for example, and take a good sniff once the cookies are in the oven.
- Jellybean Taste Test - Buy a pack of jellybeans and let kids guess the flavors. Talk about whether they are sweet or sour, and if they taste similar to the real-life fruit they're emulating. To make it extra fun, get the Harry Potter Bertie Botts and feed them crazy flavors.
- Edible Finger Paint - Make some edible finger paint that's safe for babies and toddlers of all ages to create with.
- Tea Party - Throw a tiny tea party complete with tea, mini cookies, fruit, petit fours and more. Talk about each food and drink's tastes and textures and use this opportunity to remind kiddos about proper table manners.
- Sweet and Sour - Line up a few food items like a lollipop, a lemon, some sour candy, a strawberry and more, and have kids guess whether each will be sweet or sour. Then let them taste the food to see if their guess was correct.
When thinking of sensory activities, many parents probably focus on the sense of touch. While touch is an essential part of sensory play for kids, don't forget sight, sound, smell and taste. No matter how you choose to get your child involved in sensory play, you're helping them tune in to their senses so they can better understand their world.
Sarah Pryor is a journalist, wife, mom and Auburn football fan living in Charlotte, N.C.