Sensory play is critical for toddlers’ and babies’ developing brains, and you’ll enjoy watching as your child discovers new textures and learns about cause and effect, all while having tons of fun. So the next time you’ve got some sensory play on your mind, try these easy DIY ideas you can put together in a jiffy. Many use household items you already have on hand, like baby-safe paint, to stimulate babies’ senses and satisfy their need for exploration. Others may require you to grab a few things the next time you’re out at the store so can create these sensory activities for toddlers and babies when the time comes. Either way, planning sensory play at your house has never been easier.

Sensory Activities for Toddlers

sensory play

1. The Sweet Sound of Velcro

The family at Mama.Papa.Bubba discovered their little one’s fascination with VELCRO and share lots of creative ways to use it to engage your curious kid. VELCRO can be used on its own, so kids can learn about how it sticks together and comes apart, or with different materials (think shoelaces, stuffed animals, socks) so they can figure out what sticks and what doesn’t. This is a no-mess activity, making it a great choice for days when you just can’t clean up another spill.

backyard waterpark ideas
Inner Child Fun

2. Sponge Bombs

On warm days, these sponge bombs are fun for kids of all ages. Your littlest explorer will be fascinated by the shape, color and texture of the sponges, and how they absorb and release water, while older kids can play catch, surprise friends with an unexpected shower, or score baskets. These can also be enjoyed in the bath or in your kitchen (perhaps with cookie sheets or towels to contain the water). Find out how to make them at Inner Child Fun

sensory play
Mama. Papa. Bubba.

3. Bubbles & Blocks

And speaking of bubbles... Mama.Papa.Bubba put them together with DUPLO bricks for an easy way to keep kids entertained for a long time. Lay down a towel or plastic tablecloth, and fill a plastic container with blocks, soapy water (use baby wash or dish soap), and a dish brush or sponges. Then watch as your child explores the bricks, splashes the water, plays with the bubbles, and picks up the scrubber to get those bricks clean. 

Domestic Mommyhood

4. Cool Painting Trick

On a warm day, try out this idea from Domestic Mommyhood: painting with colored ice cubes. Using ice trays from your freezer, liquid watercolor, and tap water, make ice cubes and then head outside with some big sheets of white paper and watch kids use them like crayons to make their own masterpieces. Holding onto slippery ice cubes is a great way for little fingers to practice their grip strength, and we love that any mess from this activity is left outside.

Related: 20 Baby Games to Play with Your Child From Birth to Age 1

sensory play
Meri Cherry

5. Wonderful Water Beads

Pop by any preschool classroom and you’re likely to find kids and parents equally enamored with water beads. Something about their squishy texture just screams “play with me!” However, because they aren’t edible, sharing them with young children means getting creative. Meri Cherry has the great idea to fill resealable bags with these beads, seal ‘em up with duct tape, and let your little one squish, mush and roll to their heart’s content (under your supervision, of course).

sensory play
Little Bins for Little Hands

6. A Rainbow of Exploration

Fill a container of any size and shape with almost any assortment of objects and voila! Instant entertainment for your little one. Little Bins for Little Hands tells you all you need to know to make one (or several bins), using items already in your home. Raid the pantry for beans, rice or cereal; head to the kitchen for measuring cups, spoons and whisks; duck into the yard for flowers, grass, pinecones and rocks; or hit up your closet for bracelets, shoelaces, old keys and buttons.

sensory play
The Imagination Tree

7. Spectacular Spaghetti

What’s colorful, slimy and completely fascinating? Cooked spaghetti. Spice it up with a bit of color, throw in some alphabet shapes, and you have an afternoon of sensory play for wandering toes, exploring mouths and bright eyes. It's another great idea from Anna at The Imagination Tree.

sensory play
Anna via The Imagination Tree

8. Make It Rain

Rain sticks take some time and work to create, but this is a musical instrument that will keep kids engaged for a long time. The Imagination Tree shares the instructions, which involve putting nails into a cardboard tube and filling it with small items (like rice, lentils, and barley) to make interesting sounds. Use one item per tube so each will make a different sound, just perfect for an impromptu jam session.

Happy Hooligans

9. Welcome to the Coffee Shop

This coffee shop activity from Happy Hooligans combines two of our favorite things: imaginative play and sensory exploration. With just a few ingredients, including sand, water, dish soap and coffee cups, your toddler can set up a play coffee shop and explore mixing ingredients in different proportions and serving your family, all while learning about cause and effect, textures, and the basics of running their own restaurant.

Fun at Home with Kids

10. Cotton Ball Bonanza

Want to take a quick shower? Let your child entertain themselves with a container of water and some cotton balls. As with most sensory play, simpler is often better when it comes to engaging little minds. Kids can explore how cotton balls absorb water, how the water comes out when you squeeze them, and how dry cotton balls stick together and come apart. This easy, inexpensive idea comes from Fun at Home with Kids.

sensory play
Fun at Home with Kids

11. Super Seeds

Also from our friends at Fun at Home with Kids comes this edible, safe-for-little-mouths activity uses basil seeds instead of the more common water beads. These seeds absorb water, resulting in a squishy, jelly-like consistency, and can be dyed any color you like. From there, your little one can scoop, pour, fill, empty, press, swirl, and more, all without you worrying about a choking hazard.

Sensory Play for Babies

sensory play
Little Bins for Little Hands

12. Foamy Fun

Bubbles! Grab your hand mixer, dish soap, water, and food coloring to make this foamy soap that will entrance your child. Spoon it into a tray or low plastic bowl and add plastic animals or bath toys for even more fun. If you can't play outside, lay down a large towel underneath or put your tray in the bathtub for minimal mess. This good, clean fun doubles as an easy way to clean some kid toys. Get the instructions for this sensory play idea at Little Bins for Little Hands.

Related: Let's Play! Sensory Activities for All 5 Senses

Hands On As We Grow

13. Jiggling Jello

Hands On As We Grow has an anthropological spin on the snack-time favorite by suggesting you insert small toys (or beans, rice, or beads) into the Jell-o, let it set, and then let your little one study how objects are suspended inside, and dig into it to see what they can extract. Your child will probably smell the fruity Jell-o, but if they take a nibble, watch closely for any choking hazards. It can get messy, so you might want to lay down a towel or tray or take this project outside or into the tub to minimize clean-up.

Toddler Approved

14. Toddler Tunnel

The folks at Toddler Approved are onto something with this simple yet brilliant idea to attach ribbons of varying lengths, widths and textures to an old box and letting your little one crawl in and out, feel the ribbons passing over their body, drag the box around, and play peek-a-boo with it. This creation can be left out and re-used or re-purposed, given it extra longevity and entertainment value.

Fun at Home with Kids

15. Rice, Rice, Baby

One of our favorite bloggers, Fun at Home with Kids, came up with a fun and super-easy idea for rice play. Why rice? It makes a neat swishy sound and is safer than sand for babies who put everything (and we mean everything!) in their mouths. Just add a tray and some wooden toys and your tot will be occupied for a good chunk of time.

Kate via Laughing Kids Learn

16. Pinterest for Babies

Make a cool "pin" board in a flash. Just grab the hot glue and some kid-friendly scraps you may have lying around the house for an eclectic collection of textures and colors. Check out Laughing Kids Learn for the DIY guide.

Related: The Best Age for Baby's First Music Class, Flight & More

sensory play
Dayna via Lemon Lime Adventures

17. Star Light, Star Bright

Fill a jar with twinkle lights for your child's own personal light show! Watch them roll it, bang on it, even gnaw on the jar. Just make sure that the top is on tightly. Dayna and the gang at Lemon Lime Adventures show you how it’s done.

sensory play
Dayna via Lemon Lime Adventures

18. Rolling in the Dough

Soft and shimmery, light and flaky, this baby-safe cloud dough is made with just two ingredients (whole-grain rice cereal and coconut oil) and is safe for wee ones to get in their hands, hair and even mouths. Head to the Lemon Lime Adventures blog for supermom Dayna's recipe for cloud dough.

Make sure to capture all the messy fun—and share it with your family and friends near and far—with the Tinybeans app. The secure platform puts parents in total control of who sees and interacts with photos and videos of their kids.

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