Toys can be a great facilitator during play. Certain toys can be more beneficial than others depending on the type of play children are engaged in. Let’s take a look at some of my favorite sensory toys for toddlers. But first, we will talk about what exactly sensory play is, why it is important to your child, and how to identify toys that can be helpful for children with autism. If you would like to skip ahead to the list, click here.
What is sensory play?
Sensory play can be any activity that stimulates a person’s sight, smell, hearing, touch, or taste. Most people are familiar with these five senses. Engaging in movement and balance is considered sensory as well.
Why is sensory play important for toddlers?
Much like breathing, we often don’t even realize we are using them to process the world around us. During sensory play, young children build neural connections in the brain. This helps them accomplish increasingly more complex tasks. While any play has its benefits, this type can further strengthen motor skills, problems solving, social skills, and language development.
For toddlers with autism
Children with autism tend to have sensitivity with their senses. Sometimes this can result in sensory seeking, in which they will look for things to chew, smell, touch, etc. Other times there will be sensory avoidance where the bright, flashing lights and loud sounds might be too much for them. The toys that I find suitable for toddlers with autism or sensory issues are marked with a star (*).
30 Sensory Toys for Toddlers
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Rainbow Pop It*
These silicone toys are the newest fad among children of all ages (and even adults!) What makes them great is the material they are made from, which allows for easy cleaning when you know these will end up in the mouth.
The pop buttons work the fine motor skills and the slight click is just enough sound to keep it appealing. These come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, so you can use them for many activities.
Kidkraft Bead Maze Cube*
This activity cube offers five sides of different tasks to explore. Made of sturdy wood, it features a bead maze, track maze, shape sorter, gears, and spinning blocks. The top is also removable for separate play. It repeats only five colors through the farm theme, so it is not overwhelming to the eyes.
Rainbow Window Blocks*
A great open ended toy; these blocks would make a wonderful addition to a block center or collection. Looking through each color window individually provides a whole new experience. Experiment with putting colors together and watch how they change. The possibilities are endless!
Infantino Textured Multi Balls/Sensory Pals*
Which ever set you choose, these Infantino toys will provide several textures to explore. The multi ball set includes six ball with nubs, ridges, and voids, while the Sensory Pals give the extra bit of fun with animal shapes and friendly faces.
Even though these are recommended for as young as 6 months, toddlers will enjoy playing their games with unusual balls and will gain sensory experience as they pretend play with the pals.
Hape Beaded Raindrops*
The soothing sound from rain makers can be a great calming toy for sensory seekers. This one from Hape provides wooden construction in addition to a bit of a curved shape, making it easier to grasp with toddler hands. Watching the beads fall in conjunction with the sound will stimulate meaningful sensory development.
Baby Teething Tubes*
I know you have lots of questions about this one. If you have already checked out the price tag and immediately clicked back, I want you to hear me out.
While it is true that you could click on to find teething tubes for less, I believe this one is worth it.
It is made from medical grade silicone here in the USA and is FDA cleared. I, myself, may be hesitant to offer this to an infant with less autonomy, but I feel toddlers would benefit from a product like this. Not only as relief from those emerging two-year molars, but also as they explore things orally and work on strengthening the muscles in and around the mouth for language development.
As with all toys on any list, always supervise young children when in use.
Poke-A-Dot Old MacDonald’s Farm by Melissa & Doug*
Any of the Poke-a-Dot books in this collection by Melissa & Doug are great tools for exploring the senses. Sometimes the touch and feel books can get a bit redundant when it comes to sensorial experiences. In these books, children can practice fine motor skills by poking the dots on each page, but also by hearing the different clicking or popping sounds they make. In this particular story you count the animals on the farm, which brings in additional levels of learning and fun.
B. Toys ABC Block Party Soft Blocks*
Not only does this set of soft blocks have various textures to feel like corduroy and minky, but it also has removable block inserts that make this a well-rounded sensory experience. There are rattling sounds and textured silicone for chewing. Plus, toddlers can work at fitting the shapes into the blocks, which is great practice for hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.
Light Up Musical Shape Sorter
This toy is like several toys in one and not like any of the ordinary shape sorters. Not only do you have six shapes to sort, but each shape is its own sensory experience. There’s rattling balls, a mirror, and lumps, but the base also lights up and plays music. It also has a game mode. Don’t worry, though. There is a switch turn the lights and sounds off if you need to tone down the sensory play.
Bright Starts Shake and Spin Balls*
I was a big fan of the Roll-a-Rounds by Fisher Price. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be manufactured anymore. Bright Starts makes this set, which is similar and a good substitute.
This set includes five balls – each with a different sensory interest. Three have items inside that either make noise or are visually stimulating. The other two make sound when the rings are twisted, so this is great for fine motor skills as well.
However, if you are lucky enough to snag the some of the FP Roll-a-Rounds from a thrift store or garage sale, I would highly recommend it.
Water Doodle Mat*
Art is definitely a sensory experience. Sometimes we, as parents, just don’t feel up to the mess though. A water doodle mat solves this problem. This mat comes with six pens – two of three different types – so you don’t have to worry about losing any. But wet fingers would work too, for toddlers not yet able to grasp a pen. It would also work great for multiple children as the mat has plenty of room. This set comes with stencils and even a storage bag.
My First Crayola Musical Doodle Board*
We have an earlier version of this at our house and still gets used by the 7 year old. The no mess, sealed gel drawing is fun by itself, but when you add in the 12 color options and 6 songs, it can be even more enjoyable. While it may not hold a detailed picture very well, toddlers will mostly just want to squish and slide the gel around.
Easy Grip Dough Rollers*
Play dough is an excellent material for toddlers to touch and manipulate. These rollers will provided added texture to the tactile experience. With easy to grip handles that are perfect for toddlers, they will be able to create different patterns. It comes with three different designs, but the mix and match possibilities are exponential.
Sensory Star Bean Bags*
Bean bags can be used in a number of activities so these are an awesome open ended toy. Each of the six star shaped bean bags is a different color and texture. I would highly suggest keeping these in a cozy corner or other calm down space. Squeezing, poking, or stroking the bag your child finds the most soothing can be greatly beneficial in learning to regulate emotions.
B.Toys Musical Instruments Jungle Jam
A good set of musical instruments is probably one of the best ways to stimulate the sense of hearing. They can also encourage gross motor skills with movement that almost always goes hand in hand with music. I like this set because there are several different pieces which make varying sounds and the types and jungle theme can spark conversation about cultures and animals.
Skip Hop Let’s Roll Activity Table
When it comes to activity tables and sensory play, I prefer this table by Skip Hop. It comes with eight balls, where three of which have something extra inside. In addition to the lights and sounds, there are 20 different activities to partake in that include sound and movement. It can even start out as a floor toy if you want to pick it up in the infant stage.
Juicy Fruit Scented Dot Art Painters*
There aren’t too many scented toys outside of stuffed animals. That’s why I felt I needed to include these dot painters. Along with the obvious visual aspect, toddlers can enjoy the scents of six different fruits as they paint, creating an additional experience.
Grimms Wooden Rainbow Sorting Board*
This board is another open ended toy that can be used a number of ways. Purchase the coordinating peg dolls, rainbow balls, or just allow your child to use their imagination. Whichever you choose, the possibilities are limitless.
Fat Brain Toys Inny Bin*
Not your average shape sorter! This cube does not have holes in which you are to match the shape to. Instead, your child will have to work the six different shapes through stretchy bands to get them inside. This is excellent for dexterity practice. Each unique shape is also textured for added benefit. Toddlers will love trying to fit other things from around the house in the Inny Bin.
Vtech Latches & Doors Busy Board
A standard latch board, taken up a notch. This busy board features five different latches that toddlers can fiddle with. When they get them open, they will be rewarded with a fun sound, music, or counting depending on the mode you are in. The carry handle makes it great on the go and the latches can still be manipulated while the sound is off.
What’s Inside Soft Feely Box*
This soft box comes with 10 different objects that can be hidden inside. Toddlers reach their hand through the opening and feel around for a specific object or try to guess what they are feeling. This sensory toy really allows toddlers to focus on their sense of touch by itself.
Much like the Rainbow Window Blocks above, these present basic, primary colors to block time. However, these add a bit more movement with sand or water. Shake them and hear the different sounds they make. Compare the colors or shapes. Have fun with all the materials. This is what makes open-ended toys so great!
Color Changing Touch Board*
Watch as this heat sensitive board changes colors with a simple touch. Toddlers can place their fingers, hands, or feet on the board and see beautiful rainbow colors appear. This can be a fun way to develop fine motor skills and excite senses at the same time!
Melissa & Doug Soft Pull Back Cars*
A great intro to Melissa & Doug toys! Soft and squishy cars are awesome because they won’t mar up any walls or floors and will be comfortable for toddler hands to hold. These will inspire pretend play, but will also enhance motor and language skills. The pull back and release feature will have little ones laughing and chasing. Plus, they are machine washable!
Fat Brain Toys Fruit Friends*
A watermelon, pear, and an orange. No, this isn’t the start of a silly joke. These are the fruit friends included in this set. Each fruit has its own feature. The watermelon pieces stack, the pear wobbles and jingles, and the orange comes together with magnets. The adorable little faces are also a-peel-ing. I’ll see myself out.
Playable Art Ball*
This toy is a series of 12 wooden balls all jointed together ready for manipulation. The name says it all on this open-ended toy. I would also highly recommend it as a fidget or calm down toy as it can bring in the focus while moving the smooth colored spheres around.
Fisher Price Lil’ Snoopy Puppy Pull Toy
A pull toy may not seem like much of a sensory toy, but Lil’ Snoopy doesn’t just follow along. He also makes noise and moves his head. This creates a basic sensory experience while engaging in movement.
Musical Piano Play Mat
The giant piano from the movie Big looked like fun didn’t it? Now we can try it out with our kids! Step on the piano keys to make fun music. There are many options available on Amazon and I can no longer find the one that we own, but this particular one is highly rated and recommended. You can change the instrument sounds as well as record and play back. My kids love it and I’m sure yours will too!
Fat Brain Toys Teeter Popper*
A wobble board taken to the next level. This board has suction cups added to the bottom to create a popping sound as your child rocks back and forth. For toddlers, I would recommend only using it while sitting as they are still working on their balance. However, the suction cups may keep it more still than others.
Melissa & Doug Giddy Up & Play horse*
This horse is full of little sensory gadgets. Crinkling, rattling, clicking and even neighing and galloping are some of sound you can expect to hear. There is even more to touch and feel. Toddlers will enjoy manipulating zippers and working buttons. Pretending to be a cowboy or cowgirl will definitely be on the list with this one.
I hope you have enjoyed this list of sensory toys for toddlers and are able to walk away with the confidence to help your child(ren) grow as they engage in sensory play.