Supporting Your Child’s Development: The Best Sensory Toys for Babies and Toddlers
If you’re the parent or guardian of a baby or young child, you’ll no doubt have noticed the sheer range of toys on the market for these age groups. Sensory toys are a great choice for babies and toddlers as they provide entertainment and support key developmental skills, combining fun and function!
Navigating the range of sensory items available may seem like a tricky task: how to best choose the ones most suitable for the stage your little one has reached? Don’t worry, we can help! Grab a drink, relax, and stick with us as we discuss all the benefits that sensory toys can deliver and give you a list of the best-in-class sensory toys by category.
- What are Sensory Toys?
- Best Baby Sensory Toys
- Sensory Toys for Toddlers
- Sensory Fidget Toys
- Calming Sensory Toys
- Vibrating Sensory Toys
- Tactile Sensory Toys
- DIY Sensory Toys
- Picking the Perfect Sensory Toys for Development-Focused Play
What are Sensory Toys?
A sensory toy is designed to stimulate the senses, encouraging learning through sight, touch, movement, sound, and smell. Sensory toys for babies and toddlers can support the development of motor skills, hand-eye coordination, focus, concentration, and interaction—they help children make sense of and explore the world around them through play. Sensory toys have also been linked to reducing anxiety, both in kids and adults alike, and in the promotion of social skills, self-control, and self-awareness.
Every young child can benefit from sensory toys; they may also be particularly useful for children (and adults) on the autism spectrum, enabling them to connect with the world in a way they feel comfortable with and promoting focus and calm.
Best Baby Sensory Toys
The whole world is brand new to your baby! Help them to explore it safely with these sensory toys designed for the littlest of hands and minds.
Sassy Bumpy Ball—$17.27
Age: 6 months+
A satisfyingly squishy ball that features lots of chunky bumps in varying textures and bright colors for baby to grab hold of, this toy has been designed to help very young children to develop motor skills. The bright colors, interesting feel, and tiny rattling balls within a couple of the bumps will keep baby’s attention and encourage them to manipulate the toy and move it between both hands, promoting hand-eye coordination.
The Sassy Bumpy Ball is BPA, phthalate, latex, and paint-free.
Star Night Light Projector—$16.26
Age: From birth
With eight color options and 360-degree rotation, this beautiful projector nightlight will fascinate and soothe newborns and toddlers alike. With three settings, you can create a stunning starry night effect, magical underwater scene, or gorgeous horse montage in your baby’s nursery; the moving patterns promote baby’s developing vision, while the gentle projections help your little one to relax and drift off to sleep.
The projector can be powered via the mains, USB, or battery—please note that the plug adapter will need to be purchased separately.
Age: From birth
During their first nine months, babies’ eyesight is still developing, and they respond particularly well to simple black-and-white patterns, such as those that feature in this sturdy board book. Looking at black-and-white images can stimulate the optic nerve in this very early stage of your little one’s development, helping the eye muscles and brain to work together effectively.
You may be surprised at just how well this board book captures and holds your baby’s attention and focus, and it’s sturdy enough to survive the teething stage, too!
Age: 3 months+
This soft-touch activity cube features black and white patterns, smooth ribbons, crinkly butterfly wings and a peek-a-boo mirror to help develop baby’s sight and promote a journey of self-discovery.
The cube also has a motion-sensor, interactive puppy, and buttons that baby can press to listen to sounds, phrases, and fun songs. As your child’s motor skills develop, they will be able to manipulate and explore the toy in new ways, such as grasping the handle and the puppy’s paws.
Sensory Toys for Toddlers
Once your child has reached the toddler stage, they’ll be ready for some new challenges and experiences, and the sensory toys available for this age reflect this. Choose one of the special sensory items below to help support their development as they grow—each option offers plenty of entertainment value, too.
Montessori Matching Eggs—$14.99
Age: 18 months+
These eggs are the perfect size and shape for small children to hold and manipulate; they will enjoy the action of ‘cracking’ them open to reveal different colors and shapes within before slotting each back in the case.
This toy is great for developing fine motor skills and dexterity and is also educational, as it helps with color and shape recognition. Plus, it’s made from environmentally-friendly (and child-friendly!) ABS plastic.
Click and Link Beads—$50.45
Age: 18 months+
This set of forty multicolored beads aims to allow your toddler to manipulate and connect the pieces in a variety of ways.
The beads are durable and have been designed to help your young child to develop creative play and fine motor skills.
Age: 18 months+
Spike is perfect for play at home or on the go: take him with you for peaceful car journeys or for your infant to fidget with while riding in their pushchair!
There are lots of different ways for kids to explore this toy: they can have fun spinning the wheel, pressing the button, turning the crank, twisting the knob, pushing the plunger, and shifting the switch—all of these things help them to improve their fine motor skills, coordination, and build their hand strength. Best of all? Spike is easy to clean—just give him a quick wipe with a damp cloth between play sessions!
Freebear Busy Board—$19.99
Age: 2 years+
There’s plenty here to keep little hands busy and little minds learning! The busy boards come in a durable case with a useful carry-handle, and feature a range of activities that’ll help your little one as they learn basic skills such as tying shoelaces and fastening buttons.
Eight felt bases are incorporated with different themes, such as the alphabet, numbers, puzzles and colors.
Do not worry about your child when they are in kindergarten or playing without your participation! Listen to what is happening around them and see on the map where they are and what surrounds them with the Find My Kids app.
Sensory Fidget Toys
Fidget toys are designed to provide sensory stimulation, help promote focus, relieve stress and anxiety, and, of course, provide fun and entertainment! Older kids and adults, too, often find fidget items useful to regulate mood and maintain concentration.
Age: 3 years+
This set of four easy-grip tubes helps kids to engage calmly with their environment and to manage their emotions. The swirling colors and soothing nature of the gravity spinner can assist children in dealing with their feelings and coping with social situations.
When your child is stressed or upset, encouraging them to move or spin the tubes and to focus on the swirling movements and fascinating patterns within can help slow down their heart rate and respiration, and become calm.
Suction Cup Spinners—$14.99
Age: 1 year+
Attach these toys to any smooth surface and they’ll adhere, so your child can have fun spinning, pressing, and manipulating the moving parts. Toddlers will enjoy the various tactile sensations offered by the spinners, which encourage the development of fine motor skills, grip, and hand-eye coordination.
For extra fun, attach the toy to the side of the tub at bath time—your little one will be fascinated by the way the water keeps it spinning!
Pop Tubes Sensory Toys—$7.99
Young kids can manipulate these tubes in a variety of ways, all of which will help hone their fine motor skills while keeping them busy! Each of the tubes in this set of twelve can be twisted, squeezed, and connected—they’ve also been designed to make a satisfying sound when stretched, which will grab your toddler’s attention.
A booklet containing ideas on different ways you can encourage your child to play with the sensory tubes is included, for some handy inspiration for keeping the fun coming!
Age: 3 years+
Perfect for relieving anxiety or to prevent meltdowns, this fidget popper is educational, too: it features a different number on each section of the popper.
Kids will love the bright colors, and the satisfying feel and sound of the dimples when popped in and out. Fidget poppers are now being widely used both in home and classroom settings to help kids regulate their emotions and promote better concentration.
Calming Sensory Toys
Sensory toys help babies and children to make sense of the world around them, and they’re a great way of engaging the senses and introducing physical input in a non-overwhelming fashion. The toys below are focused on providing a calming experience for very young children and can even help to regulate behavior, where needed.
Sensory Floor Tiles—$99.99
Age: 1 year+
These liquid-filled sensory tiles offer little ones a relaxed way to interact with the world. The liquid moves and changes color when pressure is applied to the surface of the tile, and your child will be fascinated to see what happens when they stand, sit, press, or lie on them.
These tiles can be used to create a quiet corner, or incorporated into a sensory room, and are particularly helpful at helping kids to calm down if they’ve become stressed or over-stimulated. They feature an anti-slip backing, so they will stay in place whether your child is dancing, relaxing, or jumping on them!
Teddy Tunez Interactive Toy—$21.99
Age: 3 months+
Teddy Tunez is easy for even tiny hands to grip and plays a selection of soothing tunes to help babies relax. The glowing LED lights on the toy’s cheeks stimulate little ones’ curiosity, encouraging them to touch and explore, and it’s controlled by two large, child-friendly buttons located on the side.
Teddy Tunez is durable and made from non-toxic, phthalate-free, food-grade silicone—so it can happily tolerate a chew when baby begins to teethe!
Toddler Weighted Blanket—$35.99
Age: 12 months+
Weighted blankets have become really popular in recent years, helping both kids and adults to relax and even sleep better at night by providing a constant sense of security.
For parents seeking a way to help their child to settle for a much-needed daytime nap, or at bedtime, this weighted blanket, which can be customized according to your child’s age and the pattern they’d prefer, could be the perfect solution.
Mindful Maze Set—$13.87
Age: 3 years+
This set of mazes has been specifically designed to be therapeutic for kids—they provide stress-relief, and encourage children to be fully ‘in the moment’ as they engage with each puzzle. The finger tracing element of the mazes can help kids to pace their breathing as part of emotional learning and development.
As a tool to help children cope and deal with their emotions, this set of mindful mazes makes a great addition to a quiet corner or calm space.
Vibrating Sensory Toys
This type of sensory toy can offer unique benefits to kids and are now widely used by therapists as tools to help children with autism spectrum disorders, or who have sensory processing issues. As well as delivering an immersive sensorial experience, vibrating toys can help children to focus on their environment and to release anxiety.
Plush Vibrating Dog Toy—$17.44
Age: From birth
When this cute, snuggly dog’s heart is pressed, he’ll play up to ten minutes of calming music to soothe your baby, and the gentle accompanying vibration will help your little one to feel safe and secure. The soft texture of the toy engages developing senses, too.
Parents will appreciate that this toy can be machine washed for no-hassle cleaning by removing the electronic component first.There’s an otter, walrus, and koala bear in the same range, if it proves a major hit!
Age: 3 years+
Choose between a hand-size jellyfish, turtle, and cow—they each have different outer textures to keep little hands busy. When pressed, these toys vibrate, creating a sensation which can help children to relax and focus when they need to.
These massagers are great to take with you on the go, for calmer car journeys or to use if your child begins to feel overwhelmed when out and about.
Age: 3 months+
This vibrating teether can soothe baby’s gums during teething and is designed to be easy for little ones to hold.
The soft texture and colors of the teether provide additional interest for babies, and it’s BPA-free, too.
Tactile Sensory Toys
A tactile sensory item can introduce new textures to babies and toddlers, engaging their senses and helping them to understand the world around them and—crucially—how they connect and relate to it. Below is our pick of the best tactile toys for very young children on the market right now.
Age: 2 years+
Each of the wooden pegs has a slightly different texture, making them fascinating for toddlers to explore—the toy gives kids the opportunity to experience different textures at once while also helping with color and shape perception.
Durable and tough, the components of this set won’t warp or crack, and will provide hours of entertainment and interest for your young child.
Age: 1 month+
With its multiple textures and scales hiding things like mirrors and pictures for baby to find, the highly tactile Flip Fish is a wonderful way for very young explorers to discover new sensations. The toy promotes the development of skills such as grasping, and finger manipulation and the tucked-away treasures reward tactile exploration.
Made from high-quality materials and durable, the Flip Fish can be simply popped into the washing machine when it’s time for a clean.
Age: From birth
This soft tissue box toy is stuffed full of tactile delights for your baby to find, from crinkly, brightly colored silk scarves to patterned felt squares. As well as improving cognitive skills and hand-eye coordination, the toy also stimulates creativity, boosts concentration, and enhances imitation ability.
Plus, while your baby is engaged in pulling the items out of this tissue box, they’ll be leaving the real tissue box alone!
Gel Filled Squishy Toys—$14.99
Age: 3 years+
This five pack of gel and glitter-filled pads make learning a hands-on, visual experience for little ones. The squeezable shapes are perfect for engaging kids’ senses and curiosity, and are great for developing fine motor skills, too.
The durable pads are made from high-quality materials, are non-toxic, odor-less and waterproof; best of all, they’re wipe clean!
DIY Sensory Toys
One of the wonderful things about sensory toys is that it’s easy to make DIY versions for your child that they’ll love just as much as store-bought items. Here’s our roundup of the best DIY sensory toys that are simple to create yet effective.
Sensory trays are a wonderful way to help young children develop a wide range of skills, while providing plenty of entertainment, too. Best of all, you can adapt these trays to reflect your toddler’s personality and interests, and even the time of year, so that they continue to provide interest. As well as helping with fine motor skills, playing with a sensory tray can also improve confidence and self-esteem, as kids figure out how to go about completing tasks.
All you need is a large tray or plastic container, and the things to fill it with! In terms of the latter, it’s vital to only include items that are safe and pose no hazard to your child—it’s also important to supervise your little one while they’re engaging with their sensory tray.
You could make a sensory tray filled with, for example, dried rice, dried pasta, some small plastic toys, a couple of plastic cups, and measuring spoons. Or how about a seaside-themed sensory tray? For this, fill your container with shells, small pebbles, a small dish of water, and a couple of handfuls of sand from the sand pit. Give your toddler a pair of plastic tweezers and a small plastic jug, so they can practice picking up and manipulating the items you’ve included.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to creating sensory trays; the idea is to give your toddler the opportunity for free play and to explore a variety of different items, and their properties. You may be surprised at the range of activities your toddler comes up with as they have fun with their tray.
Edible Finger Paint
No need to worry about little fingers finding their way into mouths when you’re using edible finger paints!
To make them, all you need to do is mix half a cup of cornstarch with two and three-quarters cups of cold water in a saucepan, stirring until the mixture is a smooth paste. Next, soak one envelope of unflavored gelatin in a quarter cup of water until it’s needed.
Now, cook the cornstarch mixture over a medium heat, stirring constantly, until it begins to turn clearish. Remove from the heat and stir in the softened gelatin. Once this mixture has cooled down, divide it into several jars and pots, and add different food coloring to each to finish creating your edible finger paints!
These bags are almost as fun to make as they are for your baby or toddler to play with! The idea is to incorporate plenty of different types of textures and colors for your little one to explore—they’re great to take in the car or on the go, too, to help keep your child calm and occupied.
You can use either laminating pouches, which you then heat seal once filled, or Ziploc bags for these DIY sensory items. Filling these bags with hair gel and a range of small, interesting objects is really effective. Before giving to your child, ensure that the bag is securely sealed and that there’s nothing that could cause a choking or other hazard.
At What Age Can I Give My Baby Sensory Toys?
There are lots of sensory toys on the market that are suitable to give to babies from birth—you’ll find some included in the list above!
The key thing is to carefully check the age suitability when buying any new toy for your child, to ensure it will be safe for your little one.
When children are very young, they may still need supervision, even with toys that are listed as being appropriate for their age, particularly if they feature small parts.
Are Sensory Toys Safe?
As long as you choose a toy that is appropriate for your child’s age, and check it before every use for damage or wear that could constitute a danger, then sensory toys are just as safe as other toys on the market.
And the application for caring parents, Find My Kids, will take care of the physical safety of the child, wherever they are.
Can Sensory Toys Help with Speech?
Sensory toys can offer a way for very young children to find their voices; sensory toys that encourage chewing have also been linked to strengthening the mouth muscles, ready for eating solid food, and speaking.
At What Age Do Kids Grow Out of Sensory Toys?
The beauty of sensory toys is that various versions appeal to older kids and even adults—their ability to aid concentration and focus and release stress is something that can be helpful to all ages.
Children with autism spectrum disorders, especially, are likely to find the continued use of sensory items beneficial.
Picking the Perfect Sensory Toys for Development-Focused Play
So, how to choose the very best sensory toy for your child. As we mentioned, age-appropriateness is the key consideration. As well as looking at the age suitability of the online details or packaging, it’s also worth bearing in mind a few other things to help you make the best selection.
From birth to six months, choose toys with highly contrasting colors, that make soft sounds. Very young babies’ eyesight is still developing, and their world is blurry: high-contrast colors and patterns will not only be easier for them to see, but will help develop their vision.
Between six and twelve months, your child will have developed better hand-eye coordination as well as full color vision and a better ability to hear. Introducing more complex sensory toys, such as peg puzzles—or the Montessori Matching Egg toy we mentioned above—is a great idea.
Once your child hits the one year old mark, and up to three years of age, they’ll likely be ready for problem-solving toys and systems, to help fire their imagination, and promote critical thinking skills. As we explored in the section on DIY sensory toys above, it’s easy to innovate sensory toys out of everyday household items, or even things like leaves, feathers, or seed pods found whilst out on a walk together.
Let us know your thoughts on the best sensory toys below—which sensory items suited your child best? We’d love to know, too, your own ideas for DIYsensory toy makes!
The picture on the front page: Studio Romantic/Shutterstock.com
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