Activities & Crafts

Baby & Toddler Sensory Play

April 1, 2020
Sensory Play Ideas for Babies & Toddlers

With most of us on COVID lockdown these days, I thought it would be a good time to put out some sensory play ideas that you could utilize with your baby and/or toddler! Here’s some of our favorites. If you use any of these, make sure to tag us and let me know how it goes: @themommyofmayhem.

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    A word about activities with my 3 year old: they NEVER go the way I want them to. And I mean NEVER. And that’s alright. I think it’s all part of what God is teaching me through motherhood: that it’s OK to not be in control, that things will not go as planned and it will be alright. And sometimes, it’ll be even BETTER than I anticipated. Motherhood is messy, and at times turbulent, but I’m grateful for all the lessons God’s teaching me along the way.

    1. The Smelling Game

    This is one of my favorites, especially while cooking. I’ll take out different spices or ingredients and let the kids smell them (and, if they’re safe to eat, touch them). Our favorites are cinnamon, lemon, ginger, and coffee beans. When Finn was a baby, I had a spinning spice rack and we would put it on the floor and he loved to spin it around and shake the spice bottles. I would open up different spices and let him smell them. Now that Finn is older, we’ll play the “smelling game” where I blindfold him and he has to guess what ingredients I have based on the smell! He loves it!

    2. Water beads

    Water beads are so fun! They’re colorful and squishy, and it’s fun to watch them expand. I would recommend some caution with them, though, because they’re easy for little ones to ingest AND they can be messy. We only play with water beads on the porch these days. For Justus, I’ll put the water beads in a little plastic ziplock bag and tape it to the high chair tray so he can squish them around.

    3. Painting (in a bag!)

    Of course, you could just let your kids play with finger paint, but that’s really messy…

    …and this is why we suggest painting in a bag!

    So, if you want a fun but cleaner alternative, you can let them paint in a bag. Just squeeze out a few drops of paint on a piece of paper inside a large ziplock bag. Zip it and let them have at it. They’ll enjoy squishing it around and watching the colors mix. It’s a good art/science lesson on color mixing for your toddler, and just a fun sensory experience for your baby. To make the paint even squishier, you could add shaving cream to the bag!

    My adorable niece Lily playing with her paint!

    4. Water play

    Bath time doesn’t have to happen only before bed! My kids love to play in the water, whether that’s in the bathtub, shower, kiddie pool, kitchen sink…it’s all fun! For Justus (8 months) he just enjoys splashing around, but with Finn he usually likes to play with different toys in the water. We’ll sometimes play sink or float or have a truck bath.

    5. Grass

    When I say “grass” I mean…grass. Like on the ground outside. Now, hear me out: walking (or crawling!) barefoot in the grass is good for you. And it’s sensory play – it’s a unique sensation for your child to feel the grass on their bare skin and it stimulates them in a positive way (without overstimulating them). They may not like it at first, but if you do it with them, it should normalize it for them and they’ll get used to it pretty quickly. (If they really don’t like it, put a thin blanket down.) So take a picnic out and eat on the grass for lunch!

    “Physical contact with the Earth’s surface can help regulate our autonomic nervous system and keep our circadian rhythms — which regulate body temperature, hormone secretion, digestion and blood pressure, among other things — synchronized with the day-night cycle. Desynchronization of our internal clocks has been linked to a number of health problems, as evidenced by research on shift workers.”

    Carrie Dennet, MPH, RDN, CD
    Pin this!

    6. Sensory bottles

    Sensory bottles are really just anything that’s fun to look at…inside a bottle. This is especially good for things you’d like your baby/toddler to look at, but not eat. So if you have any extra water bottles on hand, you can load them up with fun things. We recently did a simple sensory bottle with glitter, baby oil and water. Both of the kids loved turning the bottle around to watch the glitter move through the oil/water mixture. It was mesmerizing!

    Sensory bottle ideas:

    • Calming sensory tube with water, oil, glitter
    • Color sensory tubes: find different objects of the same color and fill the tube with them. This is a great exercise for your toddler to go around the room and find anything that’s red (for example) that can fit into the bottle.
    • Noisy tubes: fill with dry rice, small rocks, shells, coins, buttons etc. to make a noisy sensory tube!
    • Holiday themed tubes
    • Beach themed tube with sand, shells, and sea creatures (I found mine at the dollar store!)
    • “I Spy” tube: fill the tube with random objects and play “I Spy” with your toddler! Your baby will enjoy shaking the tube in between rounds.

    7. Playing with ice

    Playing with different temperatures is always a good, easy sensory play idea. For example, playing with ice and warm water will help your baby recognize the different between warm and cold. Your toddler will enjoy dropping ice cubes into warm water and seeing what happens to them!

    Another way to play with ice is to color it with food coloring. Recently, I gave Justus a baggie of green ice to play with while Finn and I colored a whole container of ice cubes. To do this, you can either put a few drops of food coloring into some cool water and pour the water over the ice cubes OR you can put some food coloring into salt, shake it up and pour the salt over the ice. (The salt dissolves the ice and makes little craters, which is fun to look at too.)

    Finn being silly while we color our ice cubes!

    8. Nature play inside

    Have a collection of different items from outside on hand for days when you’re stuck inside: flowers, pine cones, moss, twigs, leaves, etc. and let your child play with them indoors. Your baby will enjoy exploring the different items – and probably putting them in his/her mouth (so be ready)! With your toddler, you can use your nature items to create some fun art. You can use leaves or moss to paint with, or do a leaf rubbing with a crayon. Try to create an animal out of your nature items or do a nature portrait. The next time you go for a walk take a bucket or baggie with you – your toddler will love to add to your collection!

    9. Musical instruments /dance party

    We’re not a musical family…but we all really enjoy listening to music! We’ve gotten a few different kid instruments from the dollar store (a recorder, harmonica and some tambourines) and Finn loves playing with them. Justus also loves shaking those little wooden eggs. If you don’t have anything like this at home (yet), put on some music and have a dance party! My kids LOVE this and it’s great sensory play – especially for their proprioception. I’ll hold Justus and dance with him while Finn dances beside us. It’s great exercise for me, too!

    10. Let them play with their food

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    Black bean baby 👶🏻 😆

    A post shared by Tiffany Chacon (@themommyofmayhem) on

    My kids are both messy eaters. It’s a hassle to clean up after them…BUT, their food does keep them entertained. And that’s not such a bad thing. When your kids play, they learn. So when they play with their food, their learning, too. Their learning about what their food feels like, smells like, tastes like. They’re learning fine motor skills. If you have a food that’s particularly squishy or fun to touch, let your kids play with it. You could also let them be part of the meal prep. For example, have your toddler pull cilantro leaves off for you, or have them help you crack an egg. When your baby eats, don’t dissuade them from getting messy. Just be prepared! 😉

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      I hope this is helpful and fun for your kiddos! If you liked this post, you’ll want to check out 7 Science Experiments You Can Do With Your Preschooler Right Now (using ingredients you have at home) as well as 8 Activities to Do During Meal Prep (AKA How to not lose your mind while making dinner!). Also, check back for an Easter activity we’ll have posted this weekend!

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