The 21 Best Sensory Toys for Toddlers

Building a Strong Foundation for the Future


I’m so pleased you’re searching for the best sensory toys for toddlers because it means you understand just how important they are for your little one.


best sensory toys for toddlersDough is perfect for sensory play


In the early years of a child's life, playtime is not just about having fun – it plays a crucial role in their physical and cognitive development. To ensure optimal growth during this stage, toddlers need lots of different play experiences, including access to a diverse range of toys, especially sensory toys.

So, let’s explore this type of toy and discover how to identify the very best sensory toys for toddlers.

What is a Sensory Toy?

A sensory toy is a type of toy specifically designed to engage and stimulate one or more of a child's five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste.

Sensory toys come in a wide variety of forms and incorporate a range of features to provide sensory input. For example:


1. Sight – Sight-focused sensory toys have vibrant colors, high contrasts, or visually captivating elements to attract attention.


2. Hearing – Toys designed for hearing stimulation make sounds when played with, for example, musical instruments, and books with crinkle pages and push-button audio sounds.


3. Touch – Touch-oriented sensory toys offer a range of tactile experiences through different textures, for example, soft, hard, rough, smooth, fluffy, and bumpy textures.


4. Smell – Some sensory toys incorporate aromas to trigger the sense of smell.


5. Taste – There are also toys designed to stimulate the oral sensory system, such as teething rings and other toys that a baby or toddler can put in their mouth.




Why is Sensory Play Important?


From birth, children rely on their five senses to make sense of the world around them. By playing with interactive toys that stimulate and help them to explore their senses, they build a strong foundation for all future learning.

To help you understand the specific ways in which they do this, here are some of the key benefits of sensory toys. These are in addition to the wide range of benefits gained from play in general that I cover in detail in my other toy review articles, namely,

  • Language and Communication
  • Motor Skills Development
  • Emotional and Social Development


kids playing with pop-it sensory toysPop-it sensory toys comes in many different shapes, sizes and colors




The Additional Benefits of Sensory Play


1. Cognitive Development

Engaging in sensory play promotes brain development by stimulating the sense centers in your toddler’s brain. It also helps to strengthen memory, enhances their ability to tackle complex tasks, and improves hand-eye coordination.


2. Fine and Gross Motor Skills

Tactile play with sensory toys aids the development of fine motor skills as your toddler strengthens and gains greater control over the small muscles in their hands and improves muscle coordination. Fine motor control is necessary for tasks like picking up and holding objects, doing up buttons, tying shoelaces, and writing. Additionally, sensory play supports the strengthening and coordination of larger muscle groups for activities like crawling, walking, running, and jumping.


3. Awareness

Active sensory play enhances your toddler’s awareness of their surroundings, making them more alert and helping them distinguish useful information from background stimuli. This is a massively important life skill they will need to help them navigate their path through life and stay safe from things and situations that might harm them.


4. Calming and Comfort

Playing with sensory toys can help soothe your toddler when they are restless, unhappy, or distressed by calming them, providing comfort, and helping them to regulate their emotions. For this reason, sensory toys are of huge benefit to children with autism and other special needs. Many adults also use sensory and fidget toys to help them overcome stress, anxiety, and overwhelm.


5. Fun and Excitement

Above all, sensory toys are fun, exciting, and stimulating for your toddler to play with and thus encourage them to explore the world around them.




The 21 Best Sensory Toys For Toddlers


In one respect, all toys are sensory toys as each toy your toddler plays with engages at least one of their senses.

The toys I want to introduce you to in this list of the 21 best sensory toys for toddlers have been carefully designed to engage and stimulate a specific sense or a targeted combination of your toddler’s five senses.

I’ve categorized them loosely under the headings ‘hearing’, ‘touch’, ‘smell’, and ‘taste’, or indicated where a toy has been designed to engage and stimulate two or more senses.

Most of the toys are visually stimulating due to their bright colors or the fact that they have moving parts, so I’ve just noted those that have features particularly beneficial for sight stimulation rather than creating a separate category for them.


Touch



1. Sensory Balls and Stacking Cups

These six brightly colored sensory balls in different sizes and with differently textured surfaces, provide a wonderful sensory experience. They are soft, lightweight, easy to hold, and safe for mouthing. I especially like the set of stacking cups that comes with them. Each has small holes in the bottom making them perfect for bathtime sensory play. Your toddler will love filling them up with water, then watching and feeling it pour through.




2. Water Bead Sensory Toy

Stimulate your toddler’s senses of touch and sight with this set of six colorful, squidgy water bead bean bags. They will be fascinated by the way the water beans move as the toy is manipulated and squeezed. It’s a very tactile toy and will keep them mesmerized for ages. It’s also great for learning colors and shapes.




3. Sensory Board

This sensory board is a great choice for exposing your toddler to a range of textures whilst also helping them develop the fine motor skill required to master basic skills like learning to dress and tie laces. The board comprises 16 items including a zipper, various buckles, buttons, gears, a snap pocket, shoe laces, and a clock. It’s all neatly contained in a folding carrier so an ideal travel toy for sensory play on the go.






4. Kinetic Sand Kit

Kinetic sand is such fun that I guarantee you’ll be playing with it yourself. The unique formula of this magical sand makes it stick together for easy shaping and molding. Form it in a mold or in your hands and then watch it magically loosen and flow. It feels lovely to handle and is totally engaging. What’s more, because kinetic sand sticks together, it doesn’t end up all over the place. This set includes 1lb blue sand, a sand tray, a scoop, and 3 molds.






5. Play-Doh

No list of the best sensory toys for toddlers could be complete without Play-Doh. Your toddler will get a major sensory hit from manipulating it with their hands whether squashing it, rolling it, or just squeezing a big lump so that it squishes through their fingers. With 10 different colors in this set of 2oz cans, your toddler will have hours of creative fun.

I recommend getting a pack of modeling tools as well to enhance their creativity.




6. Spike the Hedgehog

This is an excellent example of a sensory toy designed to develop fine motor skills. The shape of the hedgehog’s chunky spikes makes them pleasing for your toddler to hold, and their bright colors provide visual stimulation. Your toddler will gain great satisfaction from pulling the 12 multi-colored spikes out of the hole and replacing them back in. The spikes store inside the hedgehog’s body when playtime is over.


Books


Tactile books are one of the best sensory toys for toddlers. They are visually stimulating, include different textures to feel, and often include materials such as crinkly fabric that makes sounds. Here are 3 of my favorites:




1. Jungle Tails Sensory Book

This is a delightful cloth book with crinkly pages and a squeaker for audio stimulation. Best of all are the adorable tails of the jungle animals poking out of the page inviting your toddler to explore their shapes and textures. There is also a Farm Tails version and a Rainforest Tails version which are equally colorful and engaging.





2. Wild Animals Touch and Feel Book

Touch and feel books offer loads of sensory stimulation and this wild animal themed book ticks all the boxes. Your toddler will love the rhyming text and eagerly explore the touch and feel area on each animal as they listen to you read. Each texture is different, ranging from soft and fluffy, to scaly and leathery. The board pages also have a nice feel. A lovely book.




3. Cloth Activity Book

This soft activity book is packed with exciting tactile treats for your toddler to discover and explore. Get ready for buttoning, buckling, peek-a-boo fun, counting, matching, and telling the time. This colorful cloth book Includes a removable hand puppet, two finger puppets, a clock with movable hands, a shoe with self-stick tab buckles, and a crinkling surprise. It also has built-in handles for your toddler to carry with them wherever they go. A real gem of a sensory book.


Hearing



1. Musical Instrument Set

A percussion instrument set has to come top of the list of the best sensory toys for toddlers in the hearing category. This excellent pack of instruments will enable your toddler to create a wide range of different sounds using a number of different methods including shaking, tapping, scraping, and blowing. It comprises a xylophone, a harmonica, a triangle, maracas, egg shakers, castanets, a tambourine, sleigh bells, a rainbow bell stick, a bird whistle, and a few other fun instruments. More than enough variety for hours of creative sound making.




2. Rainmaker Rain Sticks

The second of our sensory toys for hearing stimulation is a twin pack of rainmaker rain sticks. They make the wonderful, soothing sound of pattering rain when turned over to allow the brightly colored beads to trickle down. The movement of the beads is also visually captivating. At 8” tall, and slim enough for your toddler to grasp, your little one will enjoy turning them over and over to control the flow of the beads.




3. Ball Run

This ball run is a great choice if your toddler loves to get active with toys they can give a good bash. I particularly like the combination of sounds it makes – the hammering sound as the balls are pounded with the hammer, followed by the sound of the balls rolling down the run, ending with a click as each one connects with the previous ball at the bottom. Tracking the movement of the balls also provides a visual sensory experience.





4. Sensory Tubes

This set of 3 sensory tubes is designed to develop three different sensory skills – sight, hearing, and touch. Your toddler will be entranced watching and listening to the colorful tumbling beads, watching the swirling glitter and smiley faces, and following the movement of the falling sand and feeling the sensation of it pouring from top to bottom as they hold the tube. The tubes themselves are very tactile, with molded textures on the top and base.




5. Pop Tubes – 8 Pack

This is another type of sensory toy that targets sight, hearing, and touch. Encourage your toddler to stretch and shrink them to hear the popping sound that gives them their name. They can also bend them, join them together to create shapes, blow through them to make a horn sound, whip them through the air for a swish and a whistle, and run their hands over them to feel the ribbed texture. A simple, but highly recommended sensory toy.


Smell



1. Scented Kinetic Sand

We return to Kinetic Sand for the first in our smell category of the best sensory toys for toddlers. On top of all the excellent attributes of regular Kinetic Sand that we looked at earlier, the sand in this ice cream themed kit is scented – strawberry (pink), chocolate (brown), and vanilla (white). Also included are a sand tray, scoop, ice cream cone, sundae cup, spoon, waffle press, and 6 topping accessories. All the kit your toddler needs to create wonderful-smelling ice cream sundaes, waffles, ice cream cookie sandwiches, and ice cream cones.






2. Scented Pop it Fidget Toy

This is a fantastic little toy to have handy when your toddler is restless, stressed, or just bored, especially on car trips or when out and about. Not only will your toddler find the soft, knobbly surface calming to run their fingers over, but they’ll also love the popping sound as they push the bubbles in and out. Finally, there are the lovely fruity aromas of strawberry, pineapple, pear, and grape for them to smell. This 4-piece set is made from food-grade BPA free silicone so it’s safe for little ones looking for an oral sensory experience to put in their mouth.






3. Scented Bath Slime Body Wash

Although this isn’t a toy, it’s such a great sensory product that I simply couldn’t leave it out. Never will you have to coax your toddler into the bath again, in fact, you’ll have a job getting them out. This gooey, slimy, scented body wash stretches just like normal slime before turning into a creamy, sudsy lather to gently wash your toddler clean. There are 4 x 10oz pots in this pack – blue (blueberry), red (strawberry vanilla), purple (wild berry), and green (watermelon). Never has bathtime been so much fun.


Taste


The sensory toys included in this category are designed for sensory stimulation when explored with the mouth rather than for activating the taste buds.

Right from the earlier moments that a baby is able to grasp and manipulate objects, they put them in their mouth. It is through mouthing that they first learn about texture, shape, and density, as well as taste. By the age of 6 months, babies acquire more information about the world around them through their mouths than via any other sense.

Toddlers still do this to some extent and enjoy interacting with sensory toys, such as teething toys, that might be thought of as just for babies.



1. Pull Sting Teething Toy

This great little toy was a favorite with my toddler testers, even the older ones. They loved the feel of the different textured plastic pull strings with their varied grips that were easy to hold. They had great fun pulling them through to create a range of vibration sounds and soon discovered that doing this with the ends in their mouth created a whole new sensation. The textured spinning circles and pop-it buttons are an added sensory bonus.




2. 8-in-1 Sensory Ball

This is another type of sensory toy that has been created primarily for babies but is popular with and beneficial for toddlers. This sensory ball provides lots of tactile stimulation with crinkle paper, colorful tags of different fabrics for curious little fingers to explore, grasp rings, and a rattle. Although it’s a multi-sensory toy, I’ve included it in this section because it has many parts that can be safely explored with the mouth as well as a teething ring.



Multi-Sensory Toys





1. 8-in1 Multi-Activity Cube

There are a multitude of excellent multi-sensory toys available. I’ve chosen this one to include in my list of the best sensory toys for toddlers because it’s an exciting toy that stimulates several different senses as well and is brilliant for fine motor skill development. It’s bright and colorful and comprises a bead maze, xylophone, spinning gears, abacus, shape sorter, learning clock, sorting and stacking frame, and word cards. Lots to play with for hours of sensory fun.







2. Sensory Shape Sorter

This is a simple version of the classic shape sorter toy in that your toddler has to push the shapes between colored elastic bands rather than fit them into matching shaped holes. I’ve picked it not for its sorting attributes but because it is a first class sensory toy. It comprises a cube strung with elastic bands, 6 chunky textured shapes, and 6 smooth balls. The textured shapes are wonderfully tactile and rattle together inside the cube. More sensory experiences await as your toddler pulls on the elastic bands which then ping back into place. The shapes are also safe for mouthing and can be played with in the bath.



Final Words

Babies and toddlers are rapid learners, absorbing copious amounts of information from their surroundings. Much of their learning experience comes from tactile exploration and sensory stimulation. Consequently, the toys they interact with significantly influence their development.

I hope that this article on the best sensory toys for toddlers has helped you to better understand which types of toys will offer your little one the best sensory experiences.


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About Jacky Spear

Jacky Spear passionately promotes learning toys for child development. With 30+ years of teaching experience, she understands the power of play in engaging and nurturing children, including those with special needs. Drawing from personal experience in both the school and home environment, Jacky helps parents to select the best learning toys to unlock their children's potential and create a lifelong love for learning. Learn more about Jacky >>


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