No time to dye rice and make fancy sensory bins? No problem. While Instaworthy sensory bins with elaborate themes might be all the rage on social media, there are so many other ways to provide your toddler with sensory play opportunities. In fact, our favorite sensory play ideas require very little prep! Here are some simple, fun sensory activities for toddlers that come together in five minutes or less!
If your eighteen-month-old seems more interested in smushing sweet potatoes than eating them, don’t worry. That time in the high chair actually counts as sensory play! For one thing, meal times let your toddler safely explore new tastes, something that’s tough to do with most play materials. But it’s more than just taste! The smell, temperature, texture, and even sounds of all their favorite (and not-so-favorite) foods provide rich sensory experiences that help their growing brains…even if nothing actually ends up in their stomachs.
Play dough is a great way to combine sensory play with constructive and creative play, allowing your toddler to squish, feel, and mush as they create and build.
Between squishy fingerpaint, sticky glue, fuzzy pipe cleaners, and more, craft materials provide a wide variety of sensory experiences – not to mention plenty of fine motor practice too! Keep a variety of materials on hand and create a mess-friendly craft space. Easels or dedicated craft tables can help keep the mess contained while still giving them a space to explore!
Sound Shakers & Musical Instruments
Old spice jars and other small containers make great shakers for little hands! Add different materials like dried rice, beans, marbles, or craft supplies so your toddler can explore the different sounds each object makes. To avoid messes and choking hazards, be sure the lids are on securely and hot glue them closed if necessary!
Did you know that the liquid from a can of chickpeas can be whipped into a foam that’s perfect for sensory play? Next time you crack open a can, save the liquid, add food coloring if desired, and let your toddler help you whip it with your electric mixer. In a few minutes, you’ll have a taste-safe foam for squishing, splashing, and playing.
We like to think of sandboxes as the original sensory bin! And unlike a plastic bin of colored rice in your kitchen, they keep the mess outside! They’re also more versatile as your toddler can dig, bury, and build with sand in ways they can’t with an indoor sensory bin. Consider adding a sandbox and a few gardening tools to your backyard play setup, so that you have a zero-prep sensory bin ready to go at all times!
Set out a few bowls with water of varying temperatures (none too hot, of course!), a bowl of ice cubes, and a few kitchen tools like spoons, measuring cups, and tongs. The slippery ice and stark differences in temperature provide tons of fun sensory input. Plus, your toddler will love transferring ice with the different tools, and you’ll love the fine motor practice they get along the way!
For a simpler version, simply provide a bowl of ice at their next bath! They can play with a few at a time so the cubes don’t all melt at once.
Balance, Climbing, & Swinging
While we usually think of sight, taste, touch, sound, and smell when we think of sensory play, play that develops your child’s vestibular system actually counts as sensory play as well! The vestibular system is responsible for our sense of our bodies in space. It’s how we keep our balance and sense where we are even when our eyes are closed. Balance beams, swings, and climbing materials are all great for vestibular development! For equipment-free activities, play games where you and your toddler spin around, balance on one foot, or find an object while blind-folded.