The Tot Guide to Sensory Toys & Play for Babies – Birth to 12 months

When it comes to a baby’s cognitive and physical development, sensory play is an integral component. In this guide, we look at the benefits of sensory play, outline important developmental milestones and share our favorite non-toxic sensory toy picks!

A baby playing with the Hevea sensory rubber star ball

If you’re looking for ways to help your baby’s cognitive and physical development, then sensory play is something you’re going to want to know about!

To help you fully understand the concept and find the right non-toxic toys for your tot, we’ll go over:

  • What sensory play is
  • The benefits of sensory play for babies
  • Sensory play & developmental milestones – The First Year
  • The best types of sensory toys for babies by age

Scroll down to learn more!

 

What is Sensory Play?

 

Wee Gallery Bath Book

 

While sensory play will look different as your baby gets older each day, it’s essentially any type of play that helps a baby develop their eyesight, hearing, touch, taste, smell and sense of balance.

Examples of sensory play with a baby include:

  • Playing peekaboo. (This shows a baby that even though they can’t see something, it still exists aka object permeance.)
  • Encouraging them to touch and explore a multi-textured teether. (This helps them prepare for trying solids.)
  • Filling up and dumping cups of sand. (This allows them to have a tactile experience with nature, while also honing their hand-eye coordination.)
  • Dribbling water onto a color changing surface. (This demonstrates cause and effect.)
  • Climbing on a Pikler Triangle. (This is important for developing a sense of balance.)
  • Smelling scented play dough, flowers or food. (This provides a pleasurable or calming aromatic experience.)

All of these types of activities are designed to help your baby understand the world around them while helping their physical and cognitive development.

 

 

The Benefits of Sensory Play for Babies

 

Wee Gallery Fox Rattle

 

The benefits of sensory play include, but are not limited to:

  • Building important nerve connections between the body and the brain
  • Developing both fine and gross motor skills
  • Developing a sense of self and relationship with the outside world
  • Ability to focus on an object and concentrate for a longer period of time
  • Building confidence and problem-solving skills
  • Demonstrates opposites such as: wet vs dry, smooth vs rough and hot vs cold
  • Can be calming for anxious kids
  • Can help a fussy eater overcome food texture issues

When done alongside active and open-ended play, sensory play will be an integral part of your child’s early learning and development.

 

Sensory Play & Developmental Milestones – The First Year

While it’s important to show your baby high contrast illustrations and help them touch and explore a range of textures and sounds from Day 1, babies don’t usually start grasping objects until around three months of age.

In the first few months of your baby’s life, it’s best to stick to lightweight toys (like a crocheted rattle) that your baby can easily handle and explore. You can also hang a mobile or toy over their play area for them to look and bat at.

Because it will take some time for your baby to gain the strength needed to reach for, grasp, shake, and bring an object to their mouth, it may not be until 6 or 8 months that they’ll be able to play with toys like balls, blocks and shape sorters, which allows them to use their imaginations and problem-solving skills.

Below is a breakdown of infant developmental milestones and when you can expect your baby to start hitting them.

 

By 3 months, your baby may reach the following developmental milestones:

 

  • Stretch out their arms and legs
  • Open and close their hands
  • Raise their head and shoulders 45 to 90 degrees when lying on their tummy
  • Support their upper body with their forearms
  • Bear some weight on their legs and push down with their feet when held in a standing position
  • Bring their hands to their mouth
  • Swipe at objects
  • Grasp and shake toys (but no reaching yet)
  • Follow objects 180 degrees with their eyes
  • Lift their head to look for sounds
  • Begin to babble, coo, squeal and make simple vowel sounds such as “ooh” and “ah”
  • Begin to imitate sounds, facial expressions and movements
  • Smile at the sound of a parent’s voice

 

By 6 Months

 

  • Hold their head steady
  • Lift their chest and part of their tummy off the floor by bearing weight on their hands
  • Roll over in both directions
  • Sit with their back straight when propped up or begin to sit unsupported
  • Bear most of their weight when held upright and they may even bounce
  • Rock back and forth when lying on their tummy and they might start to push themselves backward
  • Grasp and study small objects
  • Be curious about objects around them and try to grab things that are out of reach
  • Respond to their name
  • Respond to sounds and express their emotions by making sounds
  • String vowels together such as “oh” “ah” “eh” or try to copy your speech
  • Enjoy playing, especially with their parents

 

By 12 Months

 

  • Stand alone and attempt their first steps alone
  • Walk with only one of their hands being held
  • Sit down from standing
  • Use their hands and fingers to feed themselves
  • Explore objects in many ways, including, shaking, banging, throwing and dropping
  • Start to use objects correctly, such as drinking from a cup or brushing their hair
  • Turn book pages and recognize some pictures when they’re named
  • Put out an arm or leg to help when getting dressed
  • Follow fast-moving objects with their eyes
  • Find hidden objects easily
  • Say a few words, such as “mama”, “dada” and “uh-oh!”
  • Try to imitate words you say
  • Use simple gestures like shaking their head “no” and/ or waving “bye”
  • Respond to simple verbal requests such as “pick up the toy”
  • Repeat sounds or gestures to capture attention
  • Be fearful in some situations
  • Show affection
  • Show a preference for some people and toys

 

The best types of sensory toys for babies by age

At The Tot, we never use or recommended anything that hasn’t passed The Tot Safety Test. This means we’ve looked deep into third-party testing, examined ingredients lists and asked in-depth questions about a product’s composition.

When it comes to toys for babies, we always avoid the following chemicals because they have been suspected to cause a variety of health concerns such as cancer, endocrine disruption, allergic reactions, brain damage and behavioral issues.

  • Bisphenols (BPA + BPS)
  • PVC
  • Harmful Phthalates
  • Added formaldehyde
  • Pesticides + Herbicides
  • Carcinogenic and allergy-inducing dyes
  • Heavy metals

Click here for the full list of ingredients we avoid and why.

Scroll down to see our favorite Tot Tested and approved sensory toy picks for babies by age.

 

0 – 3 Months

 

Monti Kids Activity Gym Lifestyle Image with Baby

 

PlanToys Mobile

 

Made from solid and sustainable rubber wood, the PlanToys Mobile is a great way to add style to your tot’s play space while allowing them to strengthen their eyesight and learn to focus on an object.

 

Plantoys Mobile

PlanToys Mobile

 

$25

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The Tot Play & Learn Set 0 – 3 Months

 

Created by an early learning educator to specifically help babies reach important developmental milestones, The Tot age-based Play & Learn Sets include a booklet of teacher recommended activities as well as six non-toxic toys that can be played with in a variety of ways. Available in sets for 0 months to 6 years!

The 0-3 Month Set includes:

  • HART + LAND Swaddle
  • High Contrast Black and White Illustrations
  • Sensory Ball
  • Crinkle Toy
  • Silicone Teether
  • Interlocking Discs
  • Booklet of teacher-recommended activities

 

The Tot Learn & Play Set 0-3 m

 

The Tot Play & Learn Set (0 – 3 Months)

 

$120

EXCLUSIVE

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Monti Kids Level 1 Infant Montessori Program

 

If you’re looking for a Montessori approach to your infant’s development, the Monti Kids Activity Gym is for you!

 

 

Monti Kids Play Gym with Add-Ons

 

Monti Kids Level 1 Infant Montessori Program 

 

$297

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3 – 6 Months

 

PlanToys Sensory Tumbling

 

The Tot Play & Learn Set 3-6 Months

 

The 3 – 6 Month Set includes:

  • High Contrast Soft Book
  • Rubber Ball
  • Sensory Set
  • Knitted Rattle
  • Dumbbell Rattle
  • High Contrast Stroller Cards
  • Booklet of teacher-recommended activities

 

The Tot Play & Learn Set 3-6 months

 

The Tot Play & Learn Sets (3 – 6 Months)

 

$120

EXCLUSIVE

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HART + LAND Double Silicone Teether

 

Made of food-grade silicone and untreated, solid wood, the HART + LAND Double Silicone Teether is easy for little hands to hold, which means babies will be encouraged to reach for it, grasp it, and eventually bring it to their mouth to explore. It also does double time soothing sore gums!

 

HART + LAND Double Silicone Teether Blue

 

HART + LAND Double Silicone Teether

 

$25

EXCLUSIVE

Available in more colors

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Wee Gallery Explore Organic Playmat

 

Tummy time and play time on the floor is incredibly important for your baby’s development. We love the Wee Gallery Explore Organic Playmat because it’s made with soft chemical-free cotton and features high contrast illustrations that will help your baby learn to focus and track and object.

Once they’re older it can be used as a fun scene for small world play!

 

 

Wee Gallery Safari Explore Playmat

 

Wee Gallery Explore Organic Playmat

 

$89.95

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Cheengoo Veggie Rattle Set in Market Bag

 

While Cheengoo’s soft crochet Veggie Rattles are fun to hold and play with, they also help babies prepare for solids by getting them used to different textures when teethed on.

 

 

Cheengoo Rattle Veggie Bag

Cheengoo Veggie Rattle Set in Market Bag

 

$40

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6 – 12 Months

 

Lily & River Birch Climber White Ladder

 

The Tot Play & Learn Set 6 – 12 Months

 

The 6 – 12 Month set includes:

  • Shape Sorter
  • Color Changing Bath Book
  • Soft Teether
  • Stacking Toy
  • Maraca
  • Baby Beads
  • Booklet of teacher-recommended activities

 

 

The Tot Play & Learn Set 6-12 months

 

The Tot Play & Learn Sets (6 – 12 Months)

 

$120

EXCLUSIVE

BUY NOW

 

 

BabyNoise Egg Shakers

 

For an auditory experience that’s also going to hone hand-eye coordination and rhythm, the BabyNoise Egg Shaker Set is a must!

 

BabyNoise Wooden Egg Shakers in Natural & White

BabyNoise Egg Shakers

 

$18

Available in more colors

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Alpha Baby Designs Colors & Shapes Flash Cards

 

We love the Alpha Baby Designs Colors & Shapes Flash Card Set because it can be used to teach shapes, colors and counting! A must-have for expanding vocabulary, you can take the activity further by having your tot draw a card and then go and search for items in the backyard that are the same color!

 

 

Alpha Baby Designs Color & Shapes Flash Cards

 

Alpha Baby Designs Colors & Shapes Flash Cards

 

$24.50

EXCLUSIVE

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Dena Large Neon Rainbow

 

Available in different colors and sizes, the genius Dena silicone rainbow is an all-in-one stacker, nester, and teething set that provides fun from birth!

Dena Large Neon Rainbow

Dena Large Neon Rainbow

 

$49.99

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Guidecraft Hide & Play Hedgehog Tissue Box

 

Guidecraft’s tactile discovery game will provide loads of fun for curious little minds. Once your baby is confident about reaching inside, you can even help them count the satin cloths, play peek-a-boo and more!

 

 

Guidecraft Hide and Play Hedgehog Tissue Box

 

Guidecraft Hide & Play Hedgehog Tissue Box

 

$59.95

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Lily & River Birch Wood Climber

 

When it comes to Pikler triangles, we can’t get enough of the birch and bamboo options from Lily & River. Designed to encourage babies and toddlers to use their natural instinct to climb, they help strengthen muscles while helping children develop their sense of balance.

 

Lily & River Birch Climber White Rockwall

Lily & River Birch Wood Climber

 

Ranging from $350 to $533.95

Available in more colors and configurations

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Balu Organics Large Premium Ball Pit w/ 400 Balls

 

Balu Organics Ball Pits are a soft and tactile space for your baby to do tummy time and practice sitting up! Once they’re a bit stronger, you can add in the included balls for even more sensory fun.

 

a little girl playing in a balu organics ball pit

 

Balu Organics Large Premium Ball Pit w/ 400 Balls

 

$289

EXCLUSIVE

Available in more colors and sizes

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Swurfer Kiwi Baby Swing

 

Easy to hang on a swing set, under a tree, on the front porch, or even in your baby’s room, the Swurfer Kiwi Baby Swing will help strengthen your baby’s vestibular system, which is important for developing their sense of balance.

 

Swurfer Kiwi Baby Swing Blue FW19

Swurfer Kiwi Baby Swing

 

$79.99

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