7 Sensory Play Ideas for Toddlers

Few methods of play are as important for toddler development as sensory play. When a kid is involved in a sensory-stimulating activity, they’re developing a number of important skills including math, independent thinking, gross-motor, and self-control.

But, coming up with the best sensory play ideas can be difficult. Plus, many sensory ideas for toddlers can be messy — or leave a hole in your wallet.

We’re former early childhood educators, and we’d like to share our favorite cost-effective sensory play ideas. (We now work at LifeCubby, the only childcare management software created by a former center owner.)

At LifeCubby, we’re all about making center life a breeze for educators like you (including by sharing this list of easy sensory activities to introduce to your classroom).

Go on a sensory safari

Your kiddos will love exploring the wild world of animals and senses with this animal sensory bin from One Lovely Life. Create animal habitats using different materials (like dried beans and corn kernels) and find plastic animals that belong in each one. Your students will have a blast decorating the bins to match each environment — and they’ll be able to use their imagination to tell different stories with each animal toy. After playtime, incorporate a book featuring some of the sensory bin animals into circle time to keep the conversation going.

Calm the nerves

When it comes to easy sensory activities, there are few easier (or more effective) than these Calm Down Sensory Bottles from Rhythms of Play. Your students will be introduced to basic science concepts while making their bottle — and they’ll get to express their individuality by selecting the colors/items they want to be included. Once your class has completed their bottles, store them in an easy-to-access place. That way, any time a student is upset or overwhelmed, they can reach for their bottle to help calm their emotions.

Wade through the alphabet

This alphabet water sensory game from Fun Learning for Kids will enthrall your students so much they’ll forget they’re learning in the process! Have your students race against the clock (or each other) to pick up as many letter beads as possible from the bin and place them into a cup. Then, once the first student has filled up their cup (or time is called), have them spill out their letters and practice recognition drills.

Blast-off to outer space

Introduce your students to the wide world of outer space with this DIY space sensory bin from Learning Resources. After creating a faux space surface using dried beans and other found materials, give your students the option of doing free play in the bins or taking up a space challenge. Should they opt for the challenge, have them practice color identification and fine motor skills by sorting different chips into the matching color rocket ship. Go all out by creating a full space-themed day for your classroom, complete with rocket ship crafts and an extraterrestrial storytime.

Get sandy

Turn any day into a beach day with this taste-safe sand bin from Fun-A-Day. This bin can either be done on an individual basis (to allow each student to express their creativity) or you can do it in a large kid-sized play pool to allow the entire class to play together. As with all great sensory ideas for toddlers, these bins can be created with whatever sea-related toys you have around the classroom — meaning fewer additional costs for you.

Start jamming

Help your younger kids explore sounds with this interactive Sound Treasure Basket from Childhood 101. Made almost exclusively from items you likely already have around your classroom/home, these treasure bins are a cost-effective way to walk your students through the different sounds items can make. The treasure basket can be something you make for each student, or you can include it as an option for students during free play. Either way, they’ll love jamming out with the items inside!

Escape to the (slimy) rainforest

No sensory play ideas list would be complete without a slime activity — and this jungle slime recipe from Buggy and Buddy is one of our favorites! Take your classroom outside, give them each a container and the ingredients, and have them create their own slime to play with and take home at the end of the day. By incorporating washable liquid watercolors and glitter, you’ll be able to create a rainforest-themed slime. You can then have your students pick out their favorite jungle items to incorporate into their slime mess. Before starting your slime adventure, be sure to walk your students through The Great Kapok Tree for inspiration.

No matter what sensory play ideas you end up incorporating into your classroom, be sure to capture photos of your students as they engage their senses and show off their creativity!

Don’t have a way to quickly and easily send photos to parents during the school day? LifeCubby’s top-rated childcare management software can help. Click here to schedule a free demo today!