Let’s start by saying parents we know this parenting gig is hard! But, there are tips and tricks to parenting that can alleviate just a tiny bit (or a lot) of anxiety and boredom for yourself and your kids. Sensory activities for toddlers not only keep the littles occupied, allowing you to get a thing or two done, but they also offer learning opportunities that set them up for real-life skills.
Just a Little Prep Work
Setting up sensory play can look intimidating, perhaps even messy. But it doesn’t have to be, so rest easy! The magic of incorporating sensory activities for toddlers into your daily or weekly routine is all in the prep work. If prepared in advance, the rest is simple.
It is best to set up a specific area in the house where sensory activities for toddlers can be played with, whether it’s a playroom or a corner of the living room. Also, it helps to put down some good old-fashioned clear and consistent boundaries. For example, teach your toddler that “this space” is the only place where he/she may play with his/her toys. This obviously works best for older toddlers, typically 2 years and up.
With rules and boundaries in place, you can set yourself and your little learner up for success. Again, a little pre-planning is all it takes to make this enjoyable and easy, instead of stressful and time-consuming.
Read More: Best Toys For Toddlers
Some of the best sensory activities for toddlers are created using bins. These don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. They can literally be any type of bin, even the ones from the dollar store. The reason bins are practical is because it keeps all of the “things” enclosed. This is especially helpful if the activity involves water, sand, rice, or any other small particles that can make a mess.
There are some versatile bin tables that are a great option to utilize when setting up sensory activities for toddlers. These tables can often lay flat as one option, and be flipped around with the bins facing up, as a second option. Although not necessary, sensory bin tables assist in keeping the activities in one place, which instills boundary lessons for little ones.
Additionally, it’s a great idea to lay down a mat or rug where the sensory activity will take place. This is helpful for two reasons. One, it designates a specific area where the toddler will play; helps him or her understand that it’s within that boundary that he or she is to play and “make a mess.” Two, it keeps the carpet or flooring in your home from collecting any spills and ultimately protecting your floors. The most ideal are mats made of silicone or foam as they are easier to clean.
Moving on, let’s explore some fun sensory activities for toddlers!
Sensory Activities for Toddlers
Primary Colors Squishy Bag Art
Call it a science experiment! This is a wonderful sensory experience for toddlers to understand their primary colors and how they mix and form other colors. Blue, yellow, and red are the three colors that are the minimum number of colors that can be mixed together to make the greatest number of other primary colors. For example, blue and yellow make green, blue and red make purple, and red and yellow make orange.
- 3 zip-lock bags, kid-friendly squeeze-tube paint (blue, yellow, red), tape, and a flat surface to work on.
- In each zip-lock bag, squeeze 2 colored paints in the corners, make sure the paints are not touching. One bag will have blue and yellow, another will have red and blue, and the third bag will have red and yellow.
- Zip-lock the bags and add additional tape to keep it from opening. Secure the bags to a flat surface by adding more tape to keep the bag from moving around.
- Guide your toddler to gently press and push the paints with fingers to blend and mix the paints together to form secondary colors.
Talk with your toddler about what is happening throughout the blending process using descriptive language. Ask questions like “which 2 colors made orange?” “Name things that are orange.”
Mixed Beans and Rice Sensory Bin
Using dry beans and rice this activity is a fun way to feel different textures, shapes, and sizes. Not to mention, if they’re familiar with beans and rice, toddlers are more inclined to eat them.
- A tub/bin, scoops, jars, funnel, a mixture of dry and uncooked beans, legumes, lentils, rice (nothing specific but you could use: kidney beans, black-eyed beans, lima bean, chickpea, mung beans, etc).
- Dump all of the beans and rice into a decent-sized bin or tub. It would be helpful to lay a mat under the bin so that anything that falls stays within that area and is easy to clean up.
- Provide your toddler with various equipment such as scoops, jars, and funnel. Let them learn how to scoop and pour the beans and rice into different jars. Let them touch and feel the different textures, sizes, shapes of the rice and beans.
This activity helps the little one learn hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills through scooping, pouring, and dumping.
Letter Hunt in a Bin
Make sure to add this one to your ‘sensory activities for toddlers’ list! Letter Hunt is a fun way for toddlers to “feel” for the letters that are hidden amongst dry pasta as well as learning their alphabet.
- A tub/bin, dry pasta (any kind), wooden block letters.
- Dump dry pasta into a tub/bin. Add the wooden letters and mix them around so it is combined well into the pasta.
- Instruct your toddler to close his or her eyes and “fish” around for the letters with their hands.
As your little one pulls out each letter, ask questions such as “what letter is this?” “What sound does this letter make?” “What word starts with this letter?”
This activity will have your toddler learning the alphabet in a heartbeat.
Mold and Play Kinetic Sand
Bring the beach home to your little one with this fun activity! This activity allows your toddler to make the mess that he or she desires, within a controlled bin. It’s a great way to spark their magination!
What you will need: a tub/bin, kinetic sand (Amazon has great reviews!), and anything else that you would typically bring to the beach (scoops, shovel, small castle or shell molds)
- Dump the kinetic sand into the tub/bin.
- Supply your toddler with all of the tools.
- Let your toddler go to town on molding and building as he/she pleases, just like he/she would at the beach!
- Kinetic sand is great as it doesn’t spill everywhere like regular sand does.
- Additionally, you can hide fun objects or block wooden letters in the sand for them to find.
Sparkling Clean Dishes
It is never too early to teach them their chores! Washing dishes is definitely a life skill worth introducing at a young age as your children will always use this skill. Little ones love it because they get to make a big WET mess; parents love it for obvious reasons. Try it outdoors on a hot summer day.
What you will need: 3 tubs/bins, kid-friendly soap (baby bath soap/shampoo works great), lots of toy plates/cups/utensils or any plastic dishes (refrain from using wooden materials as water can rot the wood), a small hand towel/rag, small sponge.
- Set up outdoors, if possible, as water can make a big mess.
- Set up the 3 bins/tubs side by side.
- Fill 1 tub with lukewarm water and add a few drops of kid-friendly soap. Mix the water around so it becomes bubbly.
- Fill the 2nd tub with lukewarm water only.
- The last tub stays empty.
- Supply your toddler with all of the “dirty” dishes and ask him/her to soak them in the tub with soap and water.
- Instruct your child to pull out a dish one by one and use the sponge to “scrub” the dirty dish.
- The now “clean” dish is to be rinsed into the 2nd tub with lukewarm water and then dried with a towel/rag.
- Now, this dish is dry and clean and can be placed into the last tub.
- Continue this with all of the “dirty” dishes until all dishes are “clean.”
- This is one of the sensory activities for toddlers that will keep them busy for a good chunk of time!
Sensory and messy play is important for toddlers as it helps them with early learning and development. It allows them to practice and perfect their gross and fine motor skills, concentration, and coordination. Sensory activities for toddlers also teach little ones to work collaboratively and cooperatively. They encourage toddlers to use their five senses to explore their environment, develop their imagination, use creative thinking to problem solve, and build independence.
Toddlers love to play, so honestly, just start somewhere; they’ll love you for it!
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