30+ Gifts That Inspire Sensory Play – The Tot Guide

Sensory play is any type of play that allows babies and children to see, touch, smell, taste and hear. In this article, we look at the numerous benefits of sensory play and share our top sensory toy picks!

A little girl playing with the Let Them Play Dough Kit and Dough Parlour's non-toxic play dough.

One of the most important things you can do for your baby’s development is to facilitate sensory play.

Defined as any type of play that stimulates the five senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch), sensory play is what allows children to make crucial nerve connections between their body and brain, master balancing and gain spacial awareness.

Studies show that when children (or adults) participate in an activity that introduces them to a distinct smell, sound, taste or feeling, they are more likely to retain and recall the experience. This is particularly beneficial for expanding vocabulary, gaining coordination, forming opinions, encouraging creative thinking and developing social skills.

Scroll down to learn more about the benefits of sensory play, variations and our favorite sensory toys.

 

Benefits of sensory play

  • Helps form nerve connections between the body and brain.
  • Aids in honing hand-eye coordination and the development of fine and gross motor skills.
  • Demonstrates opposites such as: wet and dry, smooth and rough, hot and cold.
  • Helps kids develop a sense of self and build confidence.
  • Encourages critical thinking and the development of problem-solving skills.
  • Strengthens memory.
  • Can be calming for anxious kids.
  • Can help a fussy eater overcome food texture issues.

 

Variations of sensory play

 

Sprout Dish Washing Station / Sensory Table

 

Instrumental in both cognitive and physical development, sensory play comes in many different shapes and sizes:

  • Tactile: This type of sensory play allows children to explore an object with their hands, which enables them to learn if something is smooth or rough, hot or cold, big or small and much more.
  • Vestibular: A child’s sense of balance and coordination comes from their vestibular system, which is located in the inner ear. Sensory activities like swinging, jumping and hanging are a great way for children to work on their balancing abilities.
  • Proprioception: When it comes to developing spacial awareness, nothing is better than providing kids with toys and activities that allow them to discover how their limbs relate to the rest of their body. For example a wagon they can pull, a ball they can throw or a walker they can push.
  • Auditory: In order for babies and kids to strengthen their hearing, making music, which may sound more like noise, is key!
  • Visual: When babies are born, they can usually only see in black and white and only eight to twelve inches in front of them. By using sensory illustrations, you’ll help your baby and child develop depth perception.
  • Olfactory and Taste: This type of sensory play is going to allow children to discover how something smells and tastes.

When it comes to choosing toys and materials for sensory play, it can be as simple as a bucket, sponge and water or recipe for baking cookies. However, many early learning educators recommended using toys that are specially designed to trigger your tot’s senses.

 

Arts & crafts sensory play

 

Let Them Play Play Dough Kit

 

One of the most popular sensory activities is play dough. Getting to squish, smooth, sculpt and smell dough can help strengthen fine motor skills and provide both a creative and calming experience. It also helps strengthen the tiny muscles and ligaments needed to hold a pencil, zip a zipper and button a sweater.

Dough Parlour takes the activity a step further by providing aromatic scents like vanilla, bubble gum, chocolate and lemon! All non-toxic and produced in hand-made batches, they’re a must-have for every home and classroom! We particularly love using it with the Dough Kit stamps and tools from Let Them Play.

Activity Idea

For a nature sensory experience: Have your tot gather a few large leaves from outside. Place them under a white sheet of paper and use crayons to imprint the veins and silhouette of the leaves onto the paper!

 

 

Let Them Play Playdough Kit

Let Them Play Dough Kit

 

$25.50

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Dough Parlour Collectors Set

Dough Parlour Collector Set

 

$80

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Dough Parlour Parlour Set of 6

Dough Parlour Parlour Set – 6 Pack

 

$40

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Dough Parlour Custom Name Mats - Girl

Dough Parlour Personalized Name Mat – Rainbow

 

$40

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Dough Parlour Custom Name

Dough Parlour Personalized Name Mat – Sail Boat

$40

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Dough Parlour Unicorn Set

Dough Parlour Unicorn Set

 

$45

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Dough Parlour Americana Set

Dough Parlour Americana Set

$25

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A box of kids Non-toxic crayons shaped like rocks

 

Just Rocks in a Box – 64 Crayons

 

$30

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Small parts sensory play

 

Let Them Play Rainbow Disc Threading Set

 

When kids play with small balls, discs, rings and people, they’re able to hone fine motor skills in a highly effective way.

Toys like the Rainbow Disc Stack & Thread Kit from Let Them Play and Papoose Rainbow Ball Set are great for learning colors, pattern making, counting, classifying and feeling different textures.

 

Let Them Play Rainbow Disc

Let Them Play Rainbow Disc Stack & Thread Kit

 

$25

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Let Them Play Rainbow Tree People

Let Them Play Tree People – Rainbow

 

$29.50

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Papoose Rainbow Ball Bowl Set

Papoose Rainbow Ball Set

 

$160

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Papoose Rainbow Gnomes

 

Papoose Rainbow Gnomes

 

$52.50

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Sensory blocks, stackers and shape sorters

 

PlanToys Water Blocks

 

Blocks like the water blocks, river stone blocks and sensory blocks from PlanToys and Guidecraft add an element of science and fun to the classic game of blocks. From learning color mixing to texture exploration to even sound, kids will love using these block sets to create visually exciting structures.

The Green Toys Stacker is great because it can be used in a number of ways. From water-play to sand play, its sturdy (and non-toxic) design will help kids hone their hand-eye coordination, learn shapes and colors and interact with the world around them.

 

Miniland Sensory Balls

 

Miniland Sensory Balls

 

$41.98

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Grapat Bowls and Balls

Grapat Bowls & Balls

 

$63

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Guidecraft Wood Stacker River Stone

 

 

 

Guidecraft Wood Stackers River Stones

 

$39.95

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Green Toys Shape Sorter

 

Green Toys Shape Sorter

 

$19.99

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Mushie Stacking Cups - Retro

 

Mushie Stacking Cups

 

$14.99

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Outdoor sensory play

 

PlanToys Sand Play Set

 

When it comes to sensory play, there’s so much to explore outside!

The Explore Nook Wooden Water & Sand Wheel is a fun way for kids to feel tiny granules of sand, make buckets of mud and explore the ever-changing physical properties of water and sand, while the Gardenuity My First Garden kit has everything your tot needs to plant a veggie patch.

 

 

Gardenuity My First Garden Set

 

Gardenuity – My First Garden

 

$98

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Explore Nook Wooden Water & Sand Wheel

Explore Nook Wooden Water & Sand Wheel

 

$59

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Wooden Water Ways – Starter Family Set

Explore Nook Wooden Waterways

$149

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Gross motor sensory play

 

Two kids playing in the wishbone wagon

 

By climbing, hanging and swinging, kids are able to develop a sense of balance and gain spacial awareness.

We love toys like the Pikler Triangle from Wiwiurka, Wishbone’s 3-in-1 wagon that kids can ride, push and pull as well as the classic board swing from Babai!

 

Wiwiurka Foldable Triangle With Rock Climbing Board

 

Wiwiurka Foldable Climbing Triangle With Rock Climbing Board

 

Ranging from $545 – $570

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Babai Swing Color

Babai Swing

 

Ranging from $36.99 – $39.99

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Wishbone Wagon

 

Wishbone Wagon

 

$399.99

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Sensory play & food

One of the easiest ways to encourage sensory play is to get your tot in the kitchen! One of the best ways to encourage fussy eaters to eat, is to let them smell, touch and feel all of the ingredients. This is also a fun way to demonstrate how some things can be sweet or sour, hot or cold, bland or spicy and so on!

Does your tot LOVE ice cream? You have got to try this one ingredient banana ice cream from Healthy Little Foodies!

We know it’s not always easy for kids to reach the counter, which is why we’re loving the Toddler Tower from HART + LAND.

 

Ekobo Ice Cream Cups and Spoons

 

EKOBO Bambino Ice Cream Cup + Spoon Set

 

$25

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Franklin + Emily Toddler Tower

 

Franklin + Emily Learning Tower

 

$185

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HART + LAND Toddler Tower

 

HART + LAND Toddler Tower

 

$179

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Available in more colors

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Musical sensory play

When it comes to helping your child develop rhythm and hand-eye coordination, there’s nothing quite like a musical toy!

BabyNoise is one of our favorite brands because their simple and sweet instruments are both non-toxic and ideal for little hands.

 

 

BabyNoise Rain Maker

 

BabyNoise Rain Maker

 

$45

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BabyNoise Wooden Double Maraca in Natural & White

 

BabyNoise Double Maraca

 

$19

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Babynoise Hand Held Drum

BabyNoise Hand Held Drum

 

$32

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Sensory necklaces, bracelets and teethers

 

January Moon Cotton Candy Sensory Bracelet

 

Both January Moon and Loulou Lollipop have fabulous silicone teether options for both babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers. Beneficial at every age, the necklaces and bracelets can sooth sore gum, offer something to touch and fidget with when nervous or simply add style to your tot’s fav look.

The HART + LAND Double Silicone Teether has been wildly popular and it’s no wonder why. The combination of silicone and wood is a wonderful juxtaposition for babies to explore with their hands and mouths.

 

 

January Moon Cotton Candy Sensory Necklace

January Moon Sensory Necklace

 

$34

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January Moon Cotton Candy Sensory Bracelet

January Moon Sensory Bracelet

 

$25

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HART + LAND Double Silicone Teether Grey

HART + LAND Double Silicone Teether

 

$25

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The Tot play & learn sets

 

Wee Gallery Bath Book

 

For newborns and babies, sensory play is important for strengthening eyesight and helping them reach important developmental milestones such as tracking an object, grasping an object, responding to a sound, turning their head towards a noise and babbling.

With nine sets available up to six years of age, the first three Play + Learn Sets (0 – 3 Months, 3 – 6 Months and 6 -12 Months) have been created by early learning educators to provide the optimal age-based sensory toys and activities for babies.

 

The Tot Learn & Play Set 0-3 m

The Tot Play + Learn Set 0 – 3 Months

 

$120

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Developmental Milestone Activities + Educational Toys

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The Tot Play & Learn Set 3-6 months

The Tot Play + Learn Set 3 – 6 Months

 

$120

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Developmental Milestone Activities + Educational Toys

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The Tot Play & Learn Set 6-12 months

The Tot Play + Learn Set 6 – 12 Months

 

$120

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Developmental Milestone Activities + Educational Toys

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