[2021 Play Guide] Sensory Play Ideas For Toddlers (1-3)

Sensory Play Ideas for Toddlers (1-3)

boy playing with sensory materials in playroom

Why Sensory Play for Toddlers

Children naturally use their senses to learn and make sense of their world. Aside from being an enjoyable way to engage and learn together with your child, sensory play brings with it a wide range of benefits which are essential to your child’s development.

RELATED: You may also be interested in EYLF outcomes of sensory play.

Sensory Play Themes for Toddlers (1 – 3)

Sensory play is limited only by our imagination, with common sense precautions around safety and age appropriateness. To help you create in-home sensory play experiences for your child, we’ve broadly grouped sensory play ideas for Toddlers (age 1 – 3 years) into themes that are commonly used for this age group. Use them as prompts to spark ideas and create your own experiences! Each child responds differently to different sensory activities. Watch your child closely and help them to follow their curiosity.

Carry-Play portable Montessori activity table
Carry-Play® is designed to complement early years play-based learning

Sensory Tubs and Sensory Bins

Sensory tubs and sensory bins are containers used to contain a sensory activity. A large plastic tub is often all you need. For those who own the Carry-Play, our two large storage compartments have been developed with these activities in mind.

Fill the tub with items for toddlers to explore (toddlers should always be supervised as small items may present choking hazards). Our favourite sensory bin fillers include: oats, aquarium rocks, kinetic sand, coloured rice, coloured pasta, and beans.

Next, you may choose to include some fun tools such as scoops, ladles, cups and funnels.

Themed tubs are a great way to generate ideas and help toddlers to learn ‘what goes together’.

For example, a rainbow themed sensory bin may look a little like this:

  1. A plastic tub (container)
  2. filled with rainbow coloured rice (filler)
  3. topped with coloured spoons, stacking cups and plastic easter eggs (tools and toys).

If you wanted to extend the sensory tub experience, you may wish to pair the activity with a book and song for extended learning using the same theme.

Sensory Sorting Activities

Sorting activities are great for developing maths and fine motor skills. When a child sorts through objects, they are analysing data, finding relationships and applying rules to groups. They are also thinking logically and critically about a given set of objects. There is a lot more going in your child’s mind whilst engaging in sensory sorting activities than it seems. Here are some sorting activities you may wish to set up:

  • Colour sorting – encourage your child to sort multicoloured cereal by colour into muffin trays (incorporating food play!) You can add some tongs, scoop or even chopsticks for extra difficulty and fine motor skills development.
  • Puzzle sort – dump and mix a few different puzzles and have your children sort out which piece belongs to which puzzle.
  • Bean sort – sort out a bowl filled with different types of beans. This is a great (and very quiet!) sorting activity. Again, this activity needs to be supervised, given small parts.
  • Sticker sort – grab some multi coloured dot stickers and get your child to stick it onto sheets of same-coloured paper.

Sensory Food Play

Many of us have grown up being told not to play with our food! Food play however, can be a great sensory experience for toddlers. The added bonus is that it introduces them to new tastes and textures. Here are some of our favourite ways to play with food:

  • Yoghurt finger painting – put a dollop of yoghurt on a tray or plate and let your toddler swirl it!
  • Veggie scrubbing sensory table play – explain that when vegetables are picked, they have to be cleaned before being cooked and eaten. Set up a plastic tub and fill it with whole vegetables (can be a toy or real), water and vegetable scrubbers. Let them go wild – toddlers love to do chores simulating real world experience.
  • Coloured spaghetti – cook a batch of spaghetti, then divide it between bowls and add different food colouring to each one. Mix well and let your toddler play with the rainbow.

Sand, Water and Mud Play Sensory Experiences

Sand play, water play and (clean) mud play are easy to set up, and the best part is that toddlers do not need much direction to engage with these experiences.

If you wish to vary the experience, you may choose to add props or incorporate a narrative to stimulate play.

  • For example, introduce your child to a muddy car wash! Let your child drive their toy cars through the mud, then race them to the car wash. Create a mud pit with clean mud, then fill another container with water and liquid soap create the carwash. For added interest, you can use a ramp to connect the mud pit with the car wash so that your children can drive their cars to the carwash.
  • Add toy bulldozers, shovels, and trucks and let your toddler come up with their own story.
  • Pipes, funnels and cups are great props to add to water play.

Sensory Calm Bottles

Homemade calm down sensory bottles can provide a great way for children to engage in portable, no mess sensory play! A lot of Science goes into the making of a calm bottle as subtle changes to the materials and amounts used, will change how the bottle looks and how long it takes for it to settle. You may need to make a few before you get it working the way you want!

(Note the making of the bottle is suitable for adults only, although your toddler may wish to play with the bottle under supervision once it is ready to go).

Here is a basic sensory calm bottle ‘recipe’ you may wish to try:

  • Get a clear plastic bottle, and remove any labels.
  • Fill the bottle with 3/4 cup of warm water.
  • Add any decorations (gems, glitter, beads, sequins etc)
  • Fill the rest of the water bottle with clear liquid hand soap – fill it all the way to the top.
  • Put the lid on and move the bottle around to check if everything looks right.
  • Secure the lid with a low temperature glue gun.
  • Once the glue is dried, it’s ready to go!

We hope these prompts have opened up some sensory play ideas for you to try with your toddler (age 1 – 3 years).

Have fun, use your imagination and engage with your child in safe, supervised play!

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