Sensory toys help children build awareness of their senses (primarily touch, sight, sound) and explore the world around them. We love sensory toys because they build off of a child’s natural sense of wonder and teach foundational concepts like problem-solving and cause-effect by tapping into their interests and sparking curiosity.
- Sensory awareness
- Spatial awareness
- Cause and effect
- Object permanence
- Fine motor skills (e.g., grasping, reaching, manipulating objects)
- Gross motor skills (e.g., walking, running, swinging)
- Hand-eye coordination
- Tactile exploration
Try these tips to add challenge, simplify, or switch up how you play with sensory toys. Bring in the whole family by simplifying for younger siblings or stepping it up with older siblings!
- Observation Station: Observe first. Watch how your child plays with the toy (there is no one right way!). This will show you their understanding and allow you to follow their lead based on interest and ability.
- Stimulation Overload: Be aware that your child may be overwhelmed by the different experiences, sensations, noises, and activities in a room, especially if a toy has a new sound, feel, or look. Try simplifying the space or introducing it at a different time of day.
- Toys that focus on touch: Spa Day: Give your child a mini massage and introduce them to the textures by rubbing the toy on their hands, feet, and belly. Notice their reactions. Stop if they seem uncomfortable.
- Toys that focus on sight: Pointer Power: Help your child learn where to focus their attention by pointing, gazing, or motioning in the direction of the toy. Move it around and practice placing it at different distances. Place it under blankets for a surprise reveal! Babies develop object permanence around 6-9 months old, which is the ability to understand that an object still exists even if it’s out of sight.
- Toys that focus on sound: Sound Surprise: Allow your child to discover that the toy makes noise. They may want to observe the color, texture, and design of the toy first and then discover the noise.
- Toy Twin: Sights, sounds, and textures found on the toys can all be similar to what you find outside in nature and inside your home with everyday objects. Find the toy’s twin and compare the toy with everyday/natural objects.
- Toys that focus on touch:
- Texture Time: Build their vocabulary of texture adjectives with words like fuzzy, silky, smooth, and hard. Practice saying it together or modeling what the word means with gestures and facial expressions.
- Opposites Attract: Help your child find an object that is the opposite feeling of the toy. Describe it and search for an object that is the opposite. Use clothing and other materials to compare the textures and describe them with new vocabulary.
- Toys that focus on sight:
- Color Safari: Use this toy to learn colors and find matching colors throughout the house. Pick up free color swatches from a local paint store to create your own color cards and find colors that match the toy.
- Toys that focus on sound:
- Music Maker: Turn the toy into an instrument and move it along to music. Try different songs and genres to see how tempo affects the sound. Practice following along to the beat.
- Follow the Leader: See if your child can repeat sound patterns with the toy (i.e., I shake, you shake) and then increase the challenge (i.e., when I clap once, you shake the toy twice, when I clap twice, you shake the toy once).
- Conductor Says: Play around with speed and volume by playing faster, slower, louder, and quieter. For older children, turn a game of Simon Says into Conductor Says (e.g., Conductor says to shake softer, shake louder!).
- Transition Time: Sensory toys can be great to introduce when something new is happening. These toys can provide comfort, interest, and distraction. Whether it’s a car trip, diaper change, doctor’s office, or airplane ride - sensory toys are helpful to introduce in these moments to ease the transition.
- Gallery Walk/Hide and Seek: Place these toys in interesting places around the house and walk around the home to find it/them. Change the height placement. Have older children play hide and seek to find the toy(s), and direct younger children’s attention to find the toy(s) under blankets or pillows.
- Sensory Bin: Create a bin of objects that are different colors, textures, and make different sounds. Include the toys in the bin. Grow the sensory bin over time.