Sensory play, a form of playful exploration that appeals to the children’s senses, supports all areas of development: physical development, cognitive development, language development and social / emotional development. Small children in particular are attracted to sensory play experiences because of their innate curiosity and their desire for independence. When toddlers are engaged in an open mind game:
Freely explore a wide variety of materials including natural elements
Experiment with STEAM principles, make predictions and solve problems
express yourself through a creative process
Have you ever felt intimidated by the picture-perfect sensory game ideas you see on social media? Are you struggling to accept the chaos factor of sensory experiences? Here are some of our favorite ways to introduce sensory exploration to young toddlers!
Simple and safe mind game for toddlers
Embrace “Playtime Au Naturale”.
If you play indoors or outdoors (weather permitting), encourage your toddler to take off a few layers of clothing or go barefoot. Wearing less clothing (or no clothing at all!) Enables children to experience different textures in their surroundings and to move around more freely.
Use everything Mother Nature gives you.
Go outside to play in snow, mud, or rain puddles. On dry days, your toddler can play in the dirt or sand. Invite your child to collect “tools” for their outdoor adventures, such as measuring cups, sieves or whisks. You can also bring natural elements into the house by filling a large container with water or snow and placing it on a thick towel in an open play area. If you are looking for less chaos, solid objects such as stones, shells, sticks or pine cones also inspire investigations!
Say “yes” to the water feature.
Half fill an ice cube tray with water. Add non-toxic paint to the remaining space and put the tray in the freezer. Encourage your child to experiment with the “frozen paint” on paper or cardboard. If your child is temperature sensitive you can try this process again and place a popsicle or sprig in the center of each cube before freezing. For a less messy water play experience, simply invite your toddler to stand on a step stool to play by the bathroom sink. You can offer small cups for pouring, utensils for mixing and bowls for filling.
Lots of frothy fun.
Cover a baking sheet with shaving cream and invite your toddler to use fingers / hands to draw lines and shapes, explore with kitchen tools, or just feel and explore. If your toddler likes to explore new materials by mouth, save this sensory play idea for the future.
It’s all about the dough.
Plasticine is one of the easiest ways to play sensory games. Sit next to your toddler and watch them stretch, roll, and flatten the dough. Together you can watch how the dough changes and how the dough feels. Making clay yourself is a sensual experience that the whole family can enjoy!
Get the glue out.
Offer your toddler glue + materials with different textures for a sensory collage experience. Think scratchy sponges, slippery scraps of fabric, and fuzzy pipe cleaners. The dripping, pouring or spreading of sticky glue is a very special sensory experience!
Set up a mini car wash.
Set up a foamy “car wash” station of soap or bubble bath that you plan to use on your child’s body. Collect vehicles that can get wet and offer your child sponges, scrubbing brushes, or tiny washcloths. Your child can dip the vehicle in a bowl of soapy water, scrub it and then park it in a designated “drying area” (towel) before moving on to the next! You can also do this outdoors or in the tub for less chaos.
You can find more inspiration for sensory play in our collection of toddler-friendly Sensory toys.