25 Sensational Sensory Activities for Toddlers
By Patrick Flavin on 03/07/2022
Every parent knows toddlers can be messy. You turn around for two seconds and suddenly your little one is somehow covered in mud, happily plastering your new lipstick between the couch cushions or drizzling a trail of honey across the floor.
It may not be fun to clean up, but all of that messy play is actually an essential part of your toddler’s learning experience. It’s called sensory play, and it includes any activity that stimulates one of the five senses for a young child. These sensory activities give kids a chance to explore and investigate the world around them while encouraging creativity and scientific thinking.
Of course, just because this behavior is productive doesn’t mean it has to come in the form of a giant, unexpected mess. You can help facilitate your little ones’ sensory learning by providing them with plenty of fun opportunities to engage their senses.
We rounded up some of the best sensory activities for toddlers the web has to offer. These ideas will be sure to keep your toddlers engaged and learning!
25 fun sensory activities for toddlers
1. Flour sensory trays
This sensory activity from the Hands On As We Grow® blog couldn’t be easier—you likely have everything you need already in your pantry! Simply scoop some flour onto a tray, baking sheet or paper plate and let your kids go to town with finger drawings and handprints. Kids will love practicing their art skills with soft, powdery flour. Adding toy cars or measuring utensils to the mix will encourage imaginary play too!
2. Six smelly activities
Looking for some activities to help explore the olfactory system? Scholastic® offers six quick smelling activities you can set up with items around your house. Whether it’s a game of “smell and go seek” or a DIY stink bomb, these ideas are sure to engage you and your toddler in unique ways with this often-overlooked sense.
3. Flour & water dough
Once your kids have had their fun with plain flour, add water to make it a whole new experience! These instructions from TinkerLab will give you ideas for getting started, like including a spoon your child can use to add water or to mix the “dough.” Your kids will see science in action as they witness how the water transforms the flour.
4. Popcorn senses
An activity that involves all five senses and popcorn—what’s not to like? Play To Learn Preschool designed a five-sense activity for preschoolers around making popcorn! From hearing the sound of popping to tasting the final product, this activity can take a simple kitchen task and turn it into intentional learning that finishes with a treat.
5. Sand table
Bring your child’s fascination with the beach indoors with a sand table. Simply fill a baking dish with colored sand from a craft store. Learn how to incorporate early literacy skills into this activity at Imagination Soup. Younger toddlers will have fun playing with and burying toys, while older kids can practice drawing shapes and letters.
6. Wave bottle
Little ones tend to love water. TeacherVision encourages this fascination with instructions and discussion questions to help toddlers truly observe what they experience. Using easy-to-find items from around the house, the wave bottle is a sensory activity that will help your toddler better understand how water moves in waves and the importance of that in our world.
7. Rock band
Making music is a great activity for engaging the senses! Kids Creative Chaos has the lowdown on how to make music fun and educational for your kids. Make your own instruments or turn your pots and pans into a makeshift drum set. Many people only think about textures when it comes to sensory play, but rhythm and melodies also play a role in sensory learning.
8. Fall leaf activities
Even for adults, the beauty of the fall season is captivating. Fantastic Fun and Learning offers a whole slew of activities directly related to the changes in the world that we see in autumn. Whether it’s projects based in art, exploration or science, there is a whole slew of ideas to help toddlers better understand the magic of the fall season.
9. Slimy eyes sensory bag
Skip the mess without losing out on fun and learning! Just add hair gel and googly eyes to a zip-top bag and your little monster will enjoy squishy sensations without the cleanup. Kids will love feeling the “slime” through the plastic bag, and you can add food coloring for a quick lesson in color mixing. Check out Hands On As We Grow for full instructions.
10. Wet paper exploration
Fill a small tub or bowl with water and provide old magazines or junk mail for your toddler to dunk. Your kids will be fascinated by the paper’s new texture! It might sound simple, but kids have a natural curiosity about everyday objects. Activities like this give them free rein to explore the world around them. Read more at Tinkerlab®.
11. Soapy slime fun
Looking for a fun outdoor activity that is sure to be a unique experience? Janice Davis, an early childhood teacher from Australia describes a unique way to let your toddler experience mess-making by creating a colorful, slimy and soapy substance. Despite this being a messy project, if you take it outside, you only need a hose for cleanup!
12. Shaving cream
Squirt some shaving cream on a piece of tinfoil and watch your kids have the time of their lives! Mix it up by adding sprinkles or substituting edible whipped cream for the shaving cream. Kids will practice hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, plus the crinkly tinfoil will also stimulate their sense of hearing. Check out even more variations at Kids Creative Chaos.
13. Loom band sensory bottle
You’ll need an empty, clear plastic bottle for this sensory activity from In The Playroom. Fill the bottle with water and add a handful of different colored rubber loom bands. Your child will be mesmerized watching the bands move through the water, and you can easily change out the bands for other materials next time.
14. Ice world
Empty containers, a little bit of food coloring and a freezer are all you need to help your kids bring their play to another climate. Learning4Kids details how you can use these materials to help introduce your toddlers to an arctic climate. This activity is especially rewarding if you organize it on a hot summer day. The contrast of the cold activity can be a refreshing change of pace!
15. Homemade finger paint
Is there anything more fun for a toddler than playing in colorful finger paint? There’s no need to worry about toxins, thanks to this homemade paint recipe from Tinkerlab. Kids will learn about color mixing, and they’ll have a blast getting messy and making art. Add even more fun by putting the paint in squeeze bottles!
16. ABC sensory table
This activity from Teaching 2 and 3 Year Olds is a great way to introduce colors, numbers and letters. All you have to do is place colored foam letters in a tub or large baking dish, along with different scoops or containers for your kids to explore. They’ll sharpen their early literacy and counting skills while practicing their sensory play.
17. Soapy sensory jars
Save an empty plastic container—like a peanut butter jar—to turn it into a sensory jar that will delight your toddler. Fill the jar halfway with water and add food coloring and soap. You can even throw in glitter if you’re feeling fancy! Your toddler will love watching the food coloring and soap bubble up together as they shake and roll the jar. Learn more at Hands On As We Grow.
18. Homemade sandcastles
So your toddler loves the beach—but it’s the middle of winter or raining outside. No problem! Taste of Home® offers instructions for how you and your young one can create sandcastles in your home together. This is a perfect project for those who need a little reminder that warmer and sunnier days of adventure are just around the corner.
19. Treasure chest
Recycle your old baby wipes containers and food jars to make your own sensory treasure chest! Use gold spray paint to transform the container into a magical treasure chest and the food jar lids into gold coins. Simply fill it with sand and hide your treasure for your little one to discover. Visit I Can Teach My Child to learn more!
20. Homemade drums
Kids Activities blog teaches you how to make homemade drums using tin cans, balloons and rubber bands. Have your toddler help you construct a full drum set and place various items—such as rice, marbles or beans—on top to demonstrate how sound is made. They’ll have a blast comparing the sounds and watching the objects bounce as they bang their drums.
21. Smelling bottles
Help your child discover the magic of smell by creating these smelling bottles found at Things to Share & Remember. Use empty spice bottles or recycle other used bottles. Put one cotton ball in every bottle and a few drops of various essential oils to create a different scent in each. From vanilla or cherry to cucumber and peppermint, your toddler will find their favorite scents.
22. I-spy bottles
This sensory activity takes those old I Spy books to a whole new level! Simply fill an empty plastic bottle with rice and throw in a few surprises for your little one to discover. Some fun ideas recommended from the Because I Said So blog are dice, pennies, buttons or marbles. Let your child move and shake the bottle until they find each item on the list!
23. Alphabet squish
Teach your toddlers letters with a little squishy fun with this idea from I Can Teach My Child. All you’ll need is shaving cream, liquid glue and alphabet stickers to create fun, puffy “letter clouds.” Once complete, call out a letter and challenge your child to squish the correct cloud.
24. Outdoor listening activity
So many of the best activities for toddlers are as simple as letting them experience what adults do every day. Fantastic Fun and Learning details an easy but profound activity: Go for a walk and listen to nature. Allow your toddler in on the peaceful fun by predicting what sounds they will hear on the back of a paper plate—and every time they hear one of their predictions, they get to fold that portion over. Will they hear everything they thought they would? Did they hear something that surprised them? A great activity for exercise, guesswork and practicing those listening skills.
25. Goopy fun
Kids will love exploring this homemade, gooey concoction! Kitchen utensils will allow toddlers to manipulate the goop in even more creative ways. They’ll practice their hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills as they use utensils to scoop, spread and push the colorful goop. Get the recipe at Teaching 2 and 3 Year Olds.
It’s time for some sensational sensory fun!
Dealing with messes is part of life with a toddler. Make those messes educational with these sensory activities for toddlers. Use these ideas to create significant learning experiences for your kids. You may even want to join in the fun!
If you love creating learning activities for young children, that might be a sign you should build a career in early childhood education. Our article “9 Signs You Should Be Teaching Preschool” lays out some of the telltale signs you’d be an effective early childhood educator.
Hands On As We Grow is a registered trademark of Oak Avenue Media LLC.
Scholastic is a registered trademark of Scholastic, Inc.
TinkerLab is a registered trademark of Rochelle Doorley.
Taste of Home is a registered trademark of RDA Enthusiast Brands LLC.