Although as adults we often forget that we didn’t always know the bounds and possibilities of our sensory system, the five senses and their properties are not instilled in babies from birth. Rather, they must be learned through a series of trial and error (and error, and error, and error!) until a baby or toddler masters its basic sensory abilities and realizes the true power of being able to touch, taste, smell, hear and see. Because these are the invaluable skills that will allow them to unlock the rest of the world’s mysteries, it is important to immerse toddlers and babies in fun and playful activities from an extremely early age that introduce them to the world around them. Here are 10 Fun DIY or purchasable activities that you and your toddler can engage in together — maybe you’ll even learn a little something along the way!
1. Cloud Dough
This homemade shimmery dough is very simple to make: combine whole grain rice cereal and coconut oil and you have a fun material that can go on skin, in hair, and even in mouths! We all know how important that is for toddlers who have just figured out that they can taste and want to try everything out all at once! Toddlers will be able to mold this extremely malleable substance into any shape their little hearts desire — and older siblings are sure to enjoy the playtime too.
2. Finger Paint
Finger painting is an excellent way to let toddlers feel the paint on their fingers and then let them create something at the same time. Many different blogs have creative recipes for paint that will not be toxic or dangerous for toddlers — some suggest mixing yogurt together with other liquids or simply using extremely watered down paint. Paint made out of food can look cool while also tasting good! Just right for your silly toddler and their whims.
3. Sensory Bags
Sensory bags are the new hot sensory toy for babies and toddlers, and they can be created with only ziplock bags, hair or body gel, and any spare knick-knacks that you have lying around the house. Sensory bags allow your developing youngsters to mush all of the bag’s items around without having them all fall to the bottom of the bag together. Small buttons, pieces of string, cloth segments or moth balls are all good ideas for items to put in your bag, but the beauty of the idea is that you can fill the bag with anything you can scrounge from the bottom of your “stuff” drawer.
4. Fun Foods
Although you’ll spend the rest of their lives telling them to eat their food rather than playing with it, when you’re thinking of sensory activities some of the best ideas will come from your kitchen. Try cooking spaghetti, or another type of pasta, so they can feel the differences between many different shapes and sizes. They’ll be able to play around with spaghetti, penne, ravioli or linguini without having potential issues posed to their health, and once again, if they decide all of a sudden to make a quick move for their mouths — who cares? Food games take the worry out of parental supervision, and put the fun back into playtime.
5. Sensory Bottles
These are more focused on sight than any other sense, but can be invaluable in terms of learning the alphabet, the numerical scale, or other important signs and signals. Simply fill a water bottle with water or another more viscous liquid, and add some fun letters or shapes. Ask your toddler to point out the ones that they recognize, and then engage with them in an effort to begin teaching them the basics of their learning system. More advanced toddlers can even move onto shapes and basic math!
6. Water Activities
Although toddlers probably can’t handle themselves alone in the bath yet, this does not forestall them from playing with this splishy splashy liquid. As a parent, there are many ways to facilitate this activity. Perhaps you could pour a bit of water down onto a baking sheet and let the toddler crawl around in it — they’ll love to splash about, and aside from a bit of toweling, your cleanup will be as easy as can be. Toddlers will also surely enjoy playing with small plastic bowls of water (make sure not to use anything breakable!) or little inflatable balls full of the clear substance.
7. Texture Boards for Toddlers
Toddlers love to touch things, and they’ll be entertained for hours by boards featuring all of the different textures that they’ll encounter later in life. Make sure to include smooth, grainy, soft and fabric-y materials for endless fun! Old sleeves of shirts and sweatshirts, mild sandpaper, or wax paper all make for very interesting and creative additions.
8. Bubble Baths
For infants that are old enough to take baths, bubbles in the bath are sure to blow their fresh little minds! Splashing in bubbles and seeing their reflections in the bubble material are all brand new and exciting experiences for your little one, and simple sensory fun should not be overlooked. As an added bonus, they’re sure to emerge cleaner than they were when they entered the bathtub!
9. Textured Crawlspace
Similar to texture boards, but more suited to toddlers who really love to motor around the living room. Put down different types of floor mats, including welcome mats, non-stick shower mats, gardening knee rests, carpets and anything else you’ve got around the house. After you layer the floor with these different materials, watch as your adorable toddler or baby explores its new world with excitement and gusto (just make sure to watch out for rug burn)!
10. String Instrument Exploration
We haven’t included a ton of sonic exploration ideas on this list, so here’s a good one for any parents who might double as musicians. Although you might not trust your child to handle a Les Paul or a Martin, if you’ve got a cheap guitar or mandolin on hand, your child will delight in randomly strumming the strings to create sound patterns. Remember, a well-rounded sensory education needs equal attention to all of the emerging senses, so make sure that you stimulate each part of your toddlers growing brain!
So there you have it 10 great fun DIY Sensory activities you can do with your toddler at home or at play. Check out our other pages for more ideas or suggestions for sensory play.