Toddlers are at a busy stage in their development. They’re growing and learning so fast that it can seem like they have completely changed in only a week or two. As parents, it can be hard to keep them entertained and happy for long periods of time. These 35 hands-on sensory activities for toddlers are a great place to start. Most are simple DIY projects that can be made with items you may already have around the house. A few do require a little preparation, though.
Sensory activities are appropriate for babies and toddlers in a wide age range – and older kids can benefit too. These activities help with the five main senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. They can also be beneficial for the other three senses, which are not as well-known. These are proprioception (body awareness), vestibular processing (balance) and interoception (self-awareness). Exercising each of these is important for healthy development and these activities make it fun and educational to do so.
1. Fluffy Textured Bubble Bath
Image source: Busy Toddler
Bubble bath and water can be mixed up with a kitchen stand mixer (like a KitchenAid) or hand mixer to create a surprisingly fluffy texture that will keep toddlers busy for a while. Be sure to get the tear-free version. You can choose any brand and even add food coloring to create unique colors like the rainbow foam pictured. Choose a few toys or kitchen utensils for your child to play with in the foam. Be sure to set it up somewhere that can get wet too! A big plastic tub, a water table or even the bathtub will do. Busy Toddler has the ratio and tips on mixing.
2. Chilly Pom Pom Ice Cubes
Image source: The Paige Dairies
Pom poms are a fun kids’ craft supply, but have you considered using them for sensory play? This fun idea from The Paige Dairies is simple, but requires a little planning. Grab an ice cube tray and drop one pom pom in each. Then fill them the rest of the way up with water. After you freeze them into cubes, dump them out into a bowl. Your kids will love the contrast between the cold ice and their warm hands, and as they melt, between the hard cubes and the soft pom poms inside.
3. Calming Sensory Bottles
Image source: Rhythms of Play
These calming bottles are perfect for kids who need a break from overwhelming emotions. The hypnotic effect of watching the tiny items float and move inside the bottle is very soothing. You might find that you enjoy watching the pieces settle too. To make them, combine a few liquids, like water and soap, with a few solids, like glitter or beads. Experiment with different combinations and be sure to test it a few times before gluing the lid closed permanently. Rhythms of Play has “recipes” for over a dozen different sensory bottle ideas.
4. Plastic Animal Bath
Image source: Coffee Cups and Crayons
Toddlers love getting messy! This creative sensory bin idea from Coffee Cups and Crayons starts with a mess and ends with a bath. Start by gathering a few of your child’s favorite toy animals. Farms animals are pictured, but feel free to use zoo critters or whatever you have in the playroom. Next you will need a bin of dirt for getting messy and a bin of soapy water for getting clean. Lay out bath supplies, like a washcloth or toothbrush, and encourage your child to have fun and explore the two bins. This is a pretty messy activity, so you may want to set it up outside.
5. Mystery Texture Sensory Box
Image source: The Little Learning Club
Have you ever noticed that when you buy your baby a new toy, the box ends up being more exciting? Making this mystery texture sensory box from The Little Learning Club is a great entertainment idea that doesn’t need to cost anything. Gather a few toys or other items from around the house that have an odd or unique texture. Cut holes to reach through or cover the box and then hide the items inside. Encourage your toddler to reach in and describe what they feel without peeking! Make up different games with the items, such as guessing what’s in the box or finding an item with a specific texture.
6. Stained Glass with Water Beads
Image source: Parenting Chaos
Water beads are small little porous balls that absorb water to become soft and squishy. They are a fun sensory object for supervised kids to use at a water table or in a bin with other objects. To make this stained glass window activity, Parenting Chaos recommends you fill a plastic zip bag with them and tape it to a window. Your child can move the beads around inside the bag, exploring the texture and creating a gap to see through. When playtime is over, cleanup means simply removing the bag from the window.
7. Edible Slime from Marshmallows
Image source: Teach Beside Me
Slime has been a trendy kids activity for a while and there are so many creative recipes on the internet. This one by Teach Beside Me is made from marshmallows and resembles the fondant you might enjoy on a cake. In fact, it is made from baking ingredients you likely already have in your pantry. This slime is entirely edible, though you may want to discourage eating too much since it is made with sugar! Combine the ingredients and heat them to melting. Stir thoroughly and allow it to cool a few minutes before letting the kids dig their hands in.
8. Textured Tongue Depressors
Image source: The Baby Bump Diaries
Baby books with different textures on each page are fun because they encourage your child to explore the world around them. You can make your own set of textured sticks by adding a variety of materials to tongue depressors or popsicle sticks. The Baby Bump Diaries suggests contrasting materials to glue on each stick, such as different types of fabric, cotton balls or sandpaper. This is a pretty quick toy to make, but your child will probably want to play with them over and over. Look for other unique items that you can add to your sticks over time.
9. Homemade Fake Snow
Image source: The Best Ideas for Kids
If you live in an area that doesn’t get snow very often, your child may never have gotten a chance to play in it. You can easily whip up a batch at home with one of these recipes from The Best Ideas for Kids. The first recipe makes a soft, fluffy snow for a sensory bin. Ask your child to collect items to add to the winter scene, like toy animals or pinecones. You could even include a bit of glitter! After playtime ends, this snow can be stored in an airtight container and reused a few times.
10. Water And Oil Baggies
Image source: Everyday Chaos and Calm
You may remember making a toy in a bottle that combined oil and water when you were a kid. Shaking the bottle to mix the two together and then watching them slowly separate was mesmerising. You can make a similar sensory toy using a plastic zip bag with this tutorial from Everyday Chaos and Calm. The smaller baggies make this a great distraction item to take in your bag when you know you might be waiting in line or at a restaurant. Make sure you use a sturdy bag and secure all the seams with duct tape to make sure it doesn’t leak.
11. Paint With Shaving Cream
Image source: Nanny Jenni
Shaving cream has a great fluffy texture that kids find appealing. This painting activity from Nanny Jenni uses shaving cream and food coloring. Just take a muffin pan and spray a little shaving cream into each cup. Add a few drops of food coloring and stir it to color the shaving cream in various shades. Set out paper and paint brushes, or let your child try finger painting. Encourage them to explore the texture of the paint while spreading it around the paper.
12. Dyed Rice For Sensory Bins
Image source: The Imagination Tree
Sensory bins can be made with any combination of textures and uncooked rice makes a great alternative to sand. Use this easy idea from The Imagination Tree for making colored rice to use in your next sensory activity. Portion the rice into plastic zip bags and add a large drop of craft paint. Securely seal the zip bag and let your child squish it around to evenly spread the paint over the rice. Dump the rice on a shallow tray to air dry.
13. Outdoor Walking Path
Image source: Raising Dragons
Summer is a great time to get outdoors, enjoy the sunshine and get messy. Gather your child and their friends for this fun outdoor walking path idea from Raising Dragons. Start by laying out several empty bins in a path through the yard. Fill each bin with different items of contrasting textures, such as shaving cream, bubble wrap, river rocks or water of varying temperatures. Have the children line up and walk through the path. They’ll probably want to walk through several times and don’t be surprised if it gets messy!
14. Toilet Paper Dough
Image source: Growing a Jeweled Rose
Has your toddler ever tossed a whole roll of toilet paper into the toilet? It melts into a slimy mess almost instantly! For this sensory activity from Growing a Jeweled Rose, combine toilet paper with water and grated soap to create a squishy dough texture. As your child kneads and stretches the dough, it will become silmy and mud-like. After they have exhausted the activity, you can add more water and turn it into a soapy bath.
15. Colored Pasta Beads
Image source: Tightwad Mama
Let your child explore their senses and practice fine motor skills by threading colored pasta beads onto pipe cleaner or a string. Tightwad Mama has instructions on coloring dry pasta. Set up a station with the pasta and different items that the pasta can be strung onto. Start with something larger, like paper straws or pipe cleaner, for younger toddlers. After your child has done this activity with those items a few times, switch to something more challenging like string.
16. Mermaid Scale Writing
Image source: Lemon Lime Adventures
Mermaid sequin fabric is trendy for a reason. It feels great to run your hands across the fabric, feeling the texture as the sequins flip back and forth. You can purchase this fabric at most craft supply stores. Cut a large piece and put it in a picture frame with the glass removed. The frame will hold it in place while your child traces their finger over the material. Practice drawing shapes and writing letters – or for kindergarteners practice writing their name and sight words. Find detailed instructions from Lemon Lime Adventures.
17. Baby Shark In A Bottle
Image source: Stir the Wonder
The baby shark song may be stuck in your head forever now, but that doesn’t mean you should skip this cute shark in a bottle activity from Stir the Wonder. Like most calming sensory bottles, this one has a few items floating in a liquid that will mesmerise children and adults alike. To make the shark bottle, pour glue, glitter and water into an empty water bottle. Cut a shark shape from gray foam and slip it into the bottle. Secure the lid with glue and watch your child make the baby shark “swim” back and forth.
18. Hot And Cold Contrast
Image source: Mama Papa Bubba
Teaching your child the difference between hot and cold is something you might only think about for safety, but this sensory activity is a fun and safe way to explore it. Start with two plastic water bottles with secure lids. Mama Papa Bubba simply removed the labels from two VOSS artesian water bottles. Fill one bottle with ice and water, and fill the other one with water that is appropriately warm. Set them side by side and let baby feel the difference.
19. Edible Green Slime
Image source: A Cotton Kandi Life
This edible green slime from A Cotton Kandi Life looks kind of crazy, but not only is it a fun activity for babies and toddlers, it is also completely safe to eat a little bit. Of course, you probably don’t want them to eat a lot of it. The recipe includes tapioca pearls, hot water and food coloring. Soak the pearls in hot water and then allow them to cool. Add some food coloring – optional but fun – and let your child dig in with their hands. The texture is starchy and sticky, so it will get pretty messy.
20. Rainbow Music Shakers
Image source: Kids Craft Room
These rainbow shakers from Kids Craft Room can be used for a lot of different educational activities. Use them as a starting point to talk about colors, shapes and numbers. Like many of these sensory activities for toddlers, this one starts with an empty plastic bottle. Fill the bottle with colorful pom poms, rice, beads and other small objects. As you make this activity with you child, ask them to count the pom poms as they put them into the bottle or sort the objects by shape or color. To make the lid, poke a hole in the top and thread ribbon through it. Tie a knot so it stays in place. Secure the lid on the bottle and watch your child shake it and make some music!
21. Bean Bag Toss
Image source: Pink Oatmeal
Pink Oatmeal has an easy way to help your child practice their vestibular sense with a simple indoor balancing activity. This fun game is basically a bean bag toss, but using their feet instead of hands. All you need are a few containers and some bean bags. You can make your own or purchase pre-made ones. Line the containers up in a row and have your child stand on one foot while placing or tossing the bean bags into the containers with the other one.
22. Hop And Jump
Image source: Little Bins for Little Hands
Toddlers often seem to be fueled by an everlasting battery. To help them burn off a little energy and practice proprioception, tape off a few lines on the floor. Space the lines at different intervals, some close together and others further apart, and encourage them to hop from one line to the next. To add a little extra activity, your child can try walking along a line, moving sideways or walking in different “styles.” Little Bins for Little Hands says you can even add objects like pillows or cones to turn it into an obstacle course.
23. Toddler Yoga Moves
Image source: Nerdy Mamma
Mommy and me yoga classes are often open to parents with babies only a few months old to preschool age. For an easy way to do yoga with your tot at home, learn these six poses from Nerdy Mamma. She recommends you start by doing the poses yourself, then slowly engage your child and encourage them to try too. She even includes a set of yoga pose cards that you can print off to show your child what you’re doing.
24. Squishy Balloon Game
Image source: KC Edventures
This is a great party game to play with several kids together. It tests their sensory skills as well as encouraging creative thinking. To set this balloon game up, you will need a package of balloons and several different items to fill them with. KC Edventures includes sugar, coffee grounds, unpopped popcorn, shaving cream, and a long list of other items. Use a funnel and fill each balloon with one of the items, being careful not to overfill them or trap any air in the balloon when tying it closed. Gather the kids and have them take turns guessing what is inside the balloons.
25. Pretend Cocoa Station
Image source: Play Learn Everyday
Set up a sensory bin and extend an invitation to play. You may be surprised to see what your kids come up with and how long it keeps them entertained. This hot cocoa station from Play Learn Everyday is a large tub with dry pinto beans, cotton balls, and play dishes. Let the kids try scooping the beans and cotton balls with spoons, filling cups and pouring them out – hopefully back into the bin! Ask them to count the cotton ball “marshmallows” that will fit in a mug or to pour from one mug to another.
26. Ocean Sensory Bin
Image source: Powerful Mothering
This ocean-themed sensory bin is pretty cute. The base is a plastic bin filled with blue colored rice. The next level of fun comes from the free printable sea creature pictures from Powerful Mothering. Print them double-sided, cut them out and laminate each sea creature. Then you can either hide the animals in the rice for your toddler to hunt for or let them set up an ocean scene for imaginative play.
27. Oobleck ABCs
Image source: The OT Toolbox
Prepare to get messy. This activity from The OT Toolbox is fun and the science behind it will have you wanting to join in too. Oobleck is a viscous material made from cornstarch and water. When you move your finger through it slowly, it easily moves; when you move fast, it feels more solid. It makes a fun material to try writing letters or drawing shapes. Mix up the recipe in a shallow tray. Let your child use their finger or the eraser end of a pencil to practice writing and doodling. If you found this activity fun, you will absolutely love our 100 cool science experiments for kids too!
28. Make Your Own Balance Beam
Image source: The Keeper of the Cheerios
A balance beam is a fun activity and will help your child develop the vestibular sense. They can be pretty pricey to purchase, but you can make an inexpensive one following this tutorial from The Keeper of the Cheerios. Supplies include boards, insulating foam, fabric and a staple gun. Cut the boards to measure and wrap them in insulation, then cover them with the fabric to create a smooth surface for walking. The finished balance beam can be used indoors or out.
29. Musical Pallet Wall
Image source: Kooky Kronks
Music is the universal language. We sing to our babies, sometimes even before they are born. Toddlers love exploring sound and you can encourage that by setting up a musical pallet wall. Kooky Kronks begins with a wooden pallet and attaches nails and screws to hang the various musical items on. You can use a combination of kitchen utensils, bowls, wind chimes and toy instruments. Let your child explore the different sounds each one makes.
30. Fruit And Veggie Scavenger Hunt
Image source: Life Over C’s
This activity will keep your toddler entertained for hours. It’s a combination of a sensory bin and a matching game. You’ll need a plastic bin, some black beans and the printables from Life Over C’s. Print and laminate the fruit and veggie game board and the individual cards. Fill the bin with beans and hide the cards inside. Have your child dig through the bin, searching for the cards. When they find one, match it to the game board.
31. Peek-a-Boo Texture Wall
Image source: Motherhood and Other Adventures
Kids love the suspense of opening things and finding out what’s inside. For this project by Motherhood and Other Adventures, you’ll repurpose baby wipe container lids and flooring samples from your local hardware store. Save the lids from about a dozen baby wipes containers. Attach them to a large piece of foam board. Inside each lid, glue a flooring sample. You can use different carpets, tile, or other fun textures. You can hang this texture wall up with removable hooks or leave it on the ground so your child can explore with hands and feet.
32. Sensory Twister Game
Image source: Cane and Compass
With a few modifications inspired by Cane and Compass, the classic Twister game turns into a sensory processing adventure that’s fun for all ages. Start with a Twister mat and spinner. Purchase four different textured materials in the game colors: blue fur, yellow fleece, red felt and green astroturf. Cut each piece and glue it over the circles on the mat. You’ll also want to replace the colors on the spinner. Play the game according to the original rules or adapt it for younger kids to have fun too.
33. Textured Tag Blanket
Image source: Amber Oliver
This precious textured tag blanket from Amber Oliver makes a wonderful baby gift. To make this blanket, you’ll need two contrasting soft fabrics and a variety of ribbons. Cut the fabric into matching pieces and cut the ribbons into short sections. Fold each ribbon section in half and pin it to the right side of one fabric. Lay the second fabric face-down on top and carefully sew around the perimeter, leaving a small gap to turn the whole thing right-side-out. Close the gap and stitch around the perimeter again for a finished appearance.
34. Textured Building Blocks
Image source: Red Ted Art
Do you have a set of wooden blocks sitting around the house? Use repurposed materials to turn them into a sensory activity. Collect a variety of small items with different textures to attach to each side of the blocks. A few ideas include buttons, pebbles, coins, velcro, sandpaper, fabric, or foam. Your creativity is the limit! See examples from Red Ted Art. Set the textured blocks out and let your child explore how each different side feels. Make a game of closing eyes and guessing, or seeing how different textures stack together.
35. Find-and-Seek Bottles
Image source: Mommy Suite
I spy with my little eye… a rainbow, a strawberry and the letter G! Make this simple find-and-seek bottle by Mommy Suite to keep toddlers busy while waiting in line or traveling in the car. All you need is a clear container, rice and a handful of tiny items. You can use items found around your house or purchase miniatures and charms to put inside. Place the items inside the container and fill it about halfway with rice. Glue the lid on for security, especially if you’ll be taking this outside the house. Encourage your little one to explore and see what they can find hidden inside.