If you think you’re busy, just observe your toddler closely for a day.
Toddlers are constantly busy.
From making piles of toys all over the house to chasing the dog, climbing the furniture, and mimicking those push-ups and stretches they saw you doing the other day, the fun doesn’t end until it’s lights out at the end of the day.
Although parenting a toddler is exhausting, it’s also an amazing privilege and joy to see children learn as they play and explore the world around them.
Sensory activities are a great way to introduce new skills, improve brain function, and enhance development.
But what exactly are sensory activities and how should parents introduce them?
In this article: 📝
- What are sensory activities?
- What are the benefits of sensory activities for toddlers?
- What are sensory-seeking behaviors in toddlers?
- What’s a good sensory activity for toddlers?
What are sensory activities?
Simply put, sensory activities are activities that provide stimulation to the senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste).
They also enhance a sense of body movement and awareness.
Although toddlers naturally engage in lots of sensory activities throughout the day (petting the dog, cooking with mom and dad, banging their spoon on the table to make “music”, etc.), providing your child with organized sensory activities can provide your child with an added dose of excitement and a much-needed break for you to sit while your tot focuses on a task.
What are the benefits of sensory activities for toddlers?
Sensory activities offer so many long-term benefits for toddlers.
In addition to providing tons of awesome hands-on learning and fun, sensory activities also:
- Engage children and help them focus
- Can settle and soothe anxious or worried children
- Enhance motor development skills
- Enhance emotional development and social skills
- Improves language development
- Provide opportunities for kids to use their five senses
What are sensory-seeking behaviors in toddlers?
Toddlers are sensory seekers!
They love to explore the world around them through their senses.
But if your kid is feeling the need for something sensory, here are some of the tell-tale signs:
- Running around like a maniac. Toddlers need to move! They love to run, jump, and climb. It burns off their energy and gets them in touch with their bodies and how they move.
- Spinning in circles. Spinning is a great way for toddlers to get proprioceptive input, which is information about their body’s position in space. It can also help them to feel calm and relaxed.
- Chewing on everything. Toddlers are curious about the world around them, and they learn a lot by putting things in their mouths. Chewing helps them to explore textures and tastes.
- Making loud noises. Some toddlers love loud noises. They find them stimulating and exciting.
- Getting angry at loud noises. Others aren’t so keen on bangs and shouting ‒ they can find them overstimulating, so a sensory activity can refocus them on the here and now.
- Avoiding being touched. Another sensation that can lead to overwhelm, which can be helped with a sensory activity.
- Touching everything. If your explorer wants to touch everything they can see, they’re keen to experience new sensations.
What’s a good sensory activity for toddlers?
We get it ‒ you don’t have time to set up elaborate sensory activities (you know your kid would lose interest by the time you had it all set up anyway) and your priorities are: easy, cheap, and effective.
Well, we’ve got you covered.
Some of these activities are great for toddlers to do independently while others offer awesome opportunities for you to connect and bond with your kiddo.
And the best thing about this list is that you don’t have to make another shopping trip.
You probably already have everything you need for the sensory activities listed below.
1. Raid your spice cabinet
Introduce your toddler to lots of new and interesting scents by giving them access to your spice cabinet.
Monitor them closely but give them free rein to smell around to their heart’s content.
Use phrases like “big smells” and “small smells” to describe the different scents they discover along the way and talk about each spice you smell together.
It’s also useful for teaching your toddler new words, like “spicy” and “sweet”.
2. Cover the floor with bubble wrap.
Ah, bubble wrap.
The gift that just keeps on giving!
Simply tape a strip across your floor and encourage your toddler to walk across it barefoot, stomp, or jump on it.
Bubble wrap on the floor also makes an amazing road for matchbox cars ‒ you have to try it!
3. Make a sensory bin.
A sensory bin is essentially a box full of items that are fun for toddlers to touch, dig around in, mash up, or put into smaller containers.
Here are a few great ideas for easy and free or inexpensive sensory boxes you can make for your toddler:
- Rainbow sensory bin: Fill a box with colorful plastic eggs, buttons, beads, and fuzzy pipe cleaners and watch your toddler enjoy playing while they shake the eggs and play with the beads and pipe cleaners to develop their fine motor skills.
- Alphabet sensory bin: Fill a box or bucket with foamy shaving cream and hide Scrabble letter tablets inside it. Give your child spoons to dig around and find the letters.
- Seasonal sensory bin: Fill a bin with seasonal items, depending on the time of year, like gourds, small plastic ornaments, plastic leaves, beach shells, empty containers, and a small set of plastic tongs, and let the fun ensue.
4. Make space in your living room for a massive pillow pile.
Jumping is another excellent sensory activity for toddlers, but instead of jumping on the couch or bed, clear all the furniture out of the way and pile all the pillows in your living room or bedroom on the floor.
Let your toddler jump into the pillow pile and enjoy the sensations of climbing and crashing around, without you panicking they’ll get hurt!
5. Push a toy shopping cart or stroller.
If your toddler has a toy stroller or shopping cart, the act of pushing or pulling it can be very calming.
Whether you take it outside for a stroll or fill it with books or stuffed animals for a trip around the house, simply encourage your tot to push it around for a bit.
It serves as a great active yet calm activity for little ones who feel anxious or worried.
6. Give a baby doll a bath.
Of course, your toddler never wants to take a bath (or get out once you finally get them in), but they’ll love giving their baby doll one!
Fill the bathroom sink with water and soapy suds and let your toddler bathe a favorite toy or doll.
Giving them a step stool will ensure they can reach the sink and also allow for independence as they scrub away.
7. Rescue dinosaurs from a sandy pit.
Fill a large Tupperware container with play sand and bury plastic dinosaurs inside it.
Give your toddler an ice tray and a spoon so they can dig through the sand to uncover them (or to rescue them from the quicksand).
The ice tray is a great place to put them after digging them out of the box and it will keep them “safe” while they continue their rescue mission.
8. Build a star box.
Use a large box and a string of colorful Christmas lights to create a dazzling star box for your toddler to enjoy!
Simply poke holes through the top of the box with a pair of scissors and stick the string lights through the holes.
Plug them in and voila!
You have a beautiful box filled with colorful light for your toddler to touch and enjoy.
Just test your lights beforehand to make sure they don’t get too hot when they’re left on for an extended length of time.
This is also not a sensory activity for children to do alone ‒ they should always be supervised!
9. Go for a walk
It’s as simple as that!
Take your toddler for a walk in nature.
Let them explore the different sights, sounds, smells, and textures.
It can help remind you of the beauty of what’s around you, too.
10. Put your records on
Let your toddler dance and sing to their favorite music, or show them your favorite music.
Then it’s time to dance!
Encourage them to listen to each change in the music and move their body with how it makes them feel.
Plus, who can resist an impromptu dance party?!
11. Read a sensory book
There are lots of popular books out there with a tactile element to them.
We’re talking about the ‘That’s Not My…” series, with fluffy, scaly, squishy, or soft additions to touch and feel during the story.
It’s an extra way to get your toddler engaged in the activity while grounding them with a sensory activity.
If your toddler doesn’t want to participate in a sensory activity, it’s totally normal to be disappointed (especially if you spent hours researching the best sensory activities for toddlers…).
But it’s best not to force it.
Depending on the child, a sensory activity may be very enjoyable or it might just not be what they’re after in that moment.
However your child responds, just know that it’s okay for kids to react differently to these types of activities.
Just try again another time or introduce the activity differently.
For example, maybe finger painting isn’t your toddler’s cup of tea.
Give them a paintbrush to paint with instead.
And if you’re after more sensory activity ideas for toddlers, why not ask the moms of Peanut?