Sensory Play for Toddlers

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I’ve been reading up on sensory activities for children and came across an article written by Ruth Barker for Nurture magazine.  I thought I’d share some of her thoughts on what to do and why. 


What is sensory play? 

Sensory play is any play-based activity that stimulates the senses. Children are taking in information through their senses all the time and most children are self-motivated to explore the sensory qualities of their environment. For example, babies are motivated to begin to move towards something visually pleasing that is just out of reach. Once they reach that object, they will then explore the tactile and taste qualities, perhaps also the sounds that it makes.


This article presents different activities to target each of the senses to ensure our children are getting a wide variety of sensory experiences. We all know the 5 senses- touch, taste, smell, see, hear. Did you know there are also two more- vestibular and proprioception.


Our vestibular sense is important for movement and balance. The vestibular system is located in the inner ear and detects movement in all planes. Giving your child opportunities to move or be moved in different planes (vertical, horizontal, rotation) helps to stimulate their vestibular system. Jumping, swinging, spinning are all good activities to do together.


Proprioception is the feedback from your muscles and joints in regards to your position in space and the position of different body parts. Developing the proprioception sense helps children develop greater awareness of their body and helps them to move in a coordinated way. To stimulate these receptors engaging in weight bearing activities are helpful. For example, crawling, rough & tumble, hanging from monkey bars, carrying or pushing heavy things.


What can you do?

Provide an environment where your child can explore independently. This builds a sense of autonomy and confidence. 

·      Make your environment kid-friendly

·      Place baskets of different activities, toys, natural materials, stories and tactile activities around the room so that your child can potter and browse independently.  You can include a food table they can graze from as well. 

·      Join a toy library so you can borrow some of the bigger gross motor toys.

·      Cull broken, old or junk toys so that the environment has several interesting and quality play options. Try to be mindful not to have too much available which can make the environment too chaotic. Instead, cycle through different toys by putting some away for a week and then swapping them over.

·      Spend some focused time every day playing with your child. Feedback or ask questions about what you see them doing and about the sensory qualities of what they are exploring “That makes a loud bang” “Does that feel sticky?”


Activity ideas

·      Maybe try one of these a week – play dough, goop, slime, kinetic sand, pebbles, dirt, mud, sand, water, finger paint, shaving cream, painting, clay, pasting, collage, making cookies, plant seedlings, weed the garden, hold a snail. 

·      Let your child help you with cooking. You can pass them some raw vegies, help them learn to chop things and they can practice using their hands by helping out while having quality time close to you.

·      Lay out some bricks or a plank of wood they can balance on, hang a swing, maybe a rope ladder or climbing frame.  Maybe leave out some planks of wood, rocks, rope, buckets, trowels, scoops, logs and other materials they can safely move around to build their own playground. 


Benefits of sensory play

Builds confidence in their environment and themselves.

Builds strength and coordination

Sensory skills are a foundation for learning

Builds attention and concentration

Develops visual tracking

Problem solving skills

Promotes independent play

Rehearses pre-mathematical skills (sorting objects, weight, measuring, shape, texture, quantity).



Jacinta and Libby


Libby Maitland is TLC’s wonderful prenatal yoga teacher and she’s also a paediatric occupational therapist.  If you want to chat about your child’s development, you can contact her at [email protected]. More information is on her website at www.tigerintheteapot.com. 


Libby and I also offer yoga and music sessions once a month for new mums with bubs.  If you know of any new mums who would love to reconnect with their bodies post birth and would enjoy learning some songs and activities they can enjoy with their baby then please share.  Our next group is on Tuesday 6th June.  Email Libby to book in.  



Ruth Barker – The Little Kid Specialist


Nurture:  Natural Parenting Magazine. (You can find or order these from your local library). 



Play dough


Rubbery Goop


Slimy goop