Sensory Activities

Sensory Activities Fascinate
Most Toddlers!

We just love sensory activities! Most active toddlers love to spend time doing this too. It is amazing how long your little one will be absorbed in these toddler activities (by toddler standards). It’s great fun for you and your toddler to be playing together.

What are Sensory Activities?

Well, other labels are messy play, sensory play or tactile activities. Basically it’s getting stuck into stuff that feels gooey, soft, rough, interesting, and…. well, generally making a mess but most importantly it’s enjoying learning about the world and it’s wonders”

Sand and water are the most popular sensory activities and you’ll find information on water play here and sand play here. However you can turn loads of stuff you have at home into a sensory activity for your toddler.

Edible Play

If everything goes straight in your toddler’s mouth, it’s best to stick to the edible sensory activities. So cook and cool when appropriate.

  • Pasta shapes or spaghetti
  • Baked beans – straight from the tin
  • Lentils
  • Tapioca
  • Semolina
  • Plain Yoghurt (our aim is to NOT make it yummy
  • Mashed potatoes (we use packets)
  • Jelly or made up geletine (watch out, it can make the floor slippery!)

Put them in a wide, shallow bowl or onto a tray and let your toddler squidge it about, fill containers with it, make swirls in it or whatever he thinks of doing with it.

Parenting tip for toddler: Do these sensory activities in a different place to where she normally eats or you could find her a little confused and starting to play with her food too! The best place is on the floor. Put newspaper under the bowl to make cleaning up easier.

Or you could try this sensory activities…

  • Flour, cornmeal or oatmeal (we’ve let many one-year-olds play with them just as they are)
  • Gloop (cornflour and water) This is great stuff! You’ve got to try it. If you put some on your hand and keep it still the gloop will drip right off. Yet if you keep moving your hand, it becomes firm until you stop moving, then it drips again.

Parenting tip for toddler: The best way to clean gloop is to let it dry, then sweep it up with a stiff bristled brush (broom) and then wipe what’s left. It’s worth the effort though. 🙂 Let your toddler help with this and make it another activity.

Nil By Mouth

These sensory activities will need close supervision because it’s important that they are NOT eaten.

  • Bird Seed (From my experence this is the only messy play that toddlers don’t tend to eat, but some toddlers who suffer from asthma may have trouble with the dust in this stuff.) Give him containers and spoons and scoops so he can fill them and pour seed from one to the other. See the dry sand page for ideas on this.
  • Shaving Foam – Simply squirt this onto a table top or tray. (A brightly coloured non-patterned surface works best with this.) Then let him move it about with his fingers and hands, whilst you could draw pictures and write his name. This is one of my favourite tactile activities and there are not many toddlers who do not like it.
  • Dried Beans – Perfect for practicing their pincer grasp to prepare the hand to be able to hold a pencil. Give her two small bowls and let her move the beans from one bowl to another. Or put one bean into each little bowl of an egg carton or an ice cube tray. Or you could have a large quantity of them for a filling and pouring activity.
  • Dried Pasta Shapes – Use the ideas stated above for pasta sensory play too.
  • Dried Lentils – This is possibly the best pouring substance. The little orange lentils form a very satisfying flow when poured from one container to another.
  • Fake snow* – INSTA Snow, mixed with water is amazing, especially if strayed with different food colouring because the colours don’t mix so it becomes multi-coloured!
  • Cloud dough* – Mix 8 cups of plain/all purpose flour and 1 cup of baby oil or canola oil. Great for molding or just feeling!
  • Epsom salts* – It’s an interesting texture when dry! Epsom salts are usually sold with bath products. Add food colouring and mix with your hands to dye it, which your toddler could help with.
  • Poly-fil pellets or packing peanuts* – It’s a free toddler activity if some have been sent to you with a package or with a bought item.
  • Ice Cubes or Crushed Ice – Dyed or plain. Perfect prop for play figures! If salt is added the ice makes ‘snap, crackle and pop’ sounds. Fun! (Just make sure the ice doesn’t stick to their skin – wetting their hands and/or the ice often prevents this.)
  • Silly Putty* – Add equal amount of liquid laundry starch and school glue slowly and use food colouring or glow-in-the-dark paint if you like. It does need a lot of kneading. Lovely gooey slime!
  • Water beads* – They’re tiny water-retaining polymers, just like contact lenses, they are safe to play with but some brands stain. Water beads are sometimes found in large department shops along with fake flowers and vases and many websites sell them too.They start small and when soaked in water they ‘grow’ larger as they hold the water and then feel dry when the excess water is drained. They come in many colours and can be play with in water or dry. Perfect for toddlers to explore with plastic clear tubes from a hardware shop or pouring among other uses.
  • Aquarium rocks* – Found at pet shops or pet-care departments, many come multi-coloured too! Perfect ‘habits’ for play animals or more pouring practise. 🙂
  • Baking Soda and Vinegar* – Letting your tot add vinegar to baking soda with a squeeze bottle or using a shaker to add baking to a deep tray of vinegar will be exciting because it fizzes when mixed! Again adding food colouring would add even more fun. Warning: vinegar tends to help food colouring dye skin (and clothes).
  • Soil or Compost – Don’t forget the good old fashioned soil from the garden! This is a great free toddler game. Just check for things that you don’t want him to be playing with like animal droppings and glass.

Most of these tactile activities can be explored on their own, or combined with the objects talked about in the sand play and water play ideas.

Simple Equipment

Of course a commercial sand and water tray table is ideal as it is the correct height for your toddler and the least messy. But don’t let the lack of one stop you from doing these activities. A cat litter tray is a really good buy (not the one your cat uses of course) or you can use a washing up bowl, turkey roasting tin or baby bath. The best container is shallow enough to play in with those short arms and deep enough not to spill contents everywhere. Placed on the floor she will be able to reach in better than if it was on a table.

Parenting tip for toddler: If you put newspaper under the container that they do the sensory activities, cleaning up is quicker and easier.

Older Toddlers and Children

This next sensory activity is for your older toddler. It is wonderful fun and older children will love it too.

Rainbow Jelly

You will need
– clear gelatin powder
– hot water
– spoon
– a high sided bowl and a shallow bowl
– syringes – you can use the ones you get to administer medicine to your children
– poster paint made to a pouring consistency. (You can use water colored with food colouring but the gelatin disintegrates faster and the colours aren’t so dramatic.)

Make up some clear gelatin using the instructions on the packet and put it to set in a bowl.
When set, turn out, upside down into a shallow bowl so it resembles a hill or mound.
Let your child push the colours into the mound using the syringe.
If you use two or more colours she can see them mix. For instance you can use blue and yellow and she can see that when they meet the colour changes to green.
When all the colour in the syringes are used up then she can just squidge it all together with her hands. Ooh, gooey!

As we mentioned, we love playing with sensory activities. Roll your sleeves up and have a play… you may love it as much as your child. Model different types of play and you’ll be teaching her a variety of ways they could experiment with whatever you’re playing with.
If you haven’t yet checked these pages out splash across to the water play or the sand play areas.
This page was written by Patricia Hope, who is a mother of two whom is trained and experienced in teaching the early years. Then this page was later added to by Claire Battersby, who is a qualified and experienced childcare worker and nanny.

*Credit goes to Play At Home Mom for sharing and inspiring the ideas on this page which are marked. 🙂