Kids’ brains are sponges! Any parent of a young child knows this as fact.
They take in and absorb so much around them, which is all part of their development, and is a wonderful thing! But, are your kids absorbing everything they need in the world around them to make them successful at problem solving? Great manipulators of logic, time, and space?
Enter sensory toys for toddlers!
We know what you’re asking, “Aren’t they basically just toys with “bumpy surfaces” on them?” Wrong! (Well, technically yes, but they’re also so much MORE than that!).
The best sensory toys for toddlers are specifically manufactured to provide sensory stimulation to your child in at least 2-3 ways, targeting the nerves in kids’ fingers that relay messages back to the areas of their brains involved in their sensory and motor systems.
Research indicates that sensory toys for toddlers can help develop their problem solving and logical reasoning, all while encouraging imagination and play.
What should you look for when considering sensory toys for your toddler?
For starters, what skills does your toddler already have, and what skills are you aiming to strengthen?
Kids with special needs often have fine motor issues, so it’s best to get lots of gross motor toys (large hand movements) to continue strengthening those skills, and some fine motor toys that can help develop the skills in which they have a deficit, but not so much so that they become frustrated and fine motor becomes aversive.
It’s important for any child to feel like he or she is being challenged, but not overwhelmed with failure. And it makes sense, as we adults like this paradigm for ourselves in our own lives. No one wants to feel useless, but if we’re too frustrated, we’re also prone to give up with a lack of some positive reinforcement.
If your kid’s a generalist who doesn’t necessarily have special needs, then indulge as you see fit!
What’s great about many sensory toys is how adaptable they are to kids’ interests.
Do you want to stimulate their tactile sensation or their auditory processing? Are you looking for educational substitutes for screens when your family is out in the community?
Look no further than our reviews of some of the best sensory toys for toddlers out there – they’re truly SENSE-ational!
Before we get into the details, here's an overview of your best options.
Features we love
Buy it now
- Interesting textures and colors
- Made of a non-toxic
Educational Insights Playfoam Combo 8-Pack
- Encourages creativity
Edushape Easy-grip Soft Foam Sensory Puzzle Blocks
- Stimulates visual sensory development
Hohner Kids 8" Mini Rainmaker
- Helps with visual and auditory sensory development
Without further ado, here's the lowdown on some great sensory toys for your kid.
An interlocking surface (similar to the concept of Velcro) makes these colorful, contrasting blocks perfect for little hands to stack and build.
They’re easy to pull apart and push together, and the surface allows for sideways building.
Block play and stacking utilize problem-solving skills as toddlers build towers, bridges, buildings, and whatever else they can dream up!
The interlocking surface provides even more building possibilities, and makes these perfect for younger toddlers.
The high-contrast colors are visually stimulating, while the interlocking surface provides tactile stimulation and gravity-defying possibilities for stacking.
Did you ever play with a molecule building set in high school chemistry? Think this same kind of interlocking and building fun!
Six pegs centered together project from each round piece of this “Mighty Molecule” set.
Over 90 pieces come in a reusable, travel-friendly bag, and provide infinite possibilities for creating interlocking figures like flowers, cars, and animals.
Interlocking circular pieces can create figures that typical block/cube toys cannot. The bright colors are visually stimulating and can add to a figures’ dimensions.
Toddlers’ fine motor skills are encouraged and developed as they push and pull these pieces apart on each other. There is also nuanced notion of problem solving involved as toddlers try to piece together figures with interlocking ‘molecules’ that may require rotation or alternation when fitting them together.
This playfoam promises hours of “squishy, squashy, shaping fun!” Thousands of tiny beads literally squished together add to the tactile fun of different-colored foam that can be shaped, sculpted, pulled apart, added together, and then squished back down to start all over again!
This combo pack includes 8 vibrantly-colored balls of playfoam that promise no mess, and the foam never dries out, so the fun can continue!
Kids with sensory issues, low muscle tone, fine motor conditions, and other muscular deficits have no problem squeezing, squashing, and rolling the foam around. No difficult-to-connect pieces at all!
Multi-dimensional sensory input comes from the fine motor actions of manipulating the foam, visually attending to the various colors, and the tactile sensation of feeling the foam’s beaded surface in his or her hands.
These brightly colored foam puzzle blocks are molded into right angle variations of “C,” “T,” and “L,” providing hours of fun building and shaping, all the while encouraging geometric conceptual thinking and problem solving.
The surface of these blocks has small, pyramid-shaped “nubs” that also provide your toddler with tactile sensory input. They’re a great alternative to traditional cubed block building toys!
Because they’re all created with various versions of right angles, these puzzle blocks are so much fun as kids create various patterns and even more complex structures and designs that traditional blocks can’t allow.
Visual and tactile sensory input is combined with spatial reasoning skills and problem solving as toddlers work to put together these 90-degree-angled puzzle blocks into various patterns. Manipulating these blocks helps with gross and fine motor skills, which is always a plus!
Inside a clear, plastic tube are tons of brightly colored beads, descending through various discs and creating that tell-tale, “rainmaker” sound! An 8” rainmaker toy provides lots of sensory stimulation for toddlers, and with no pieces to keep track of, no surface to maintain, and an easy-to-travel size, your toddler can have hours of sensory fun on the go.
It’s a sensory stick on the go! Visual stimulation through brightly-colored beads inside the tube are combined with auditory stimulation as the beads fall through the discs and create the calming, soothing sound of rain.
In all this talk about sensory input and development, we can’t forget auditory stimulation! The classic ‘rainmaker’ sound, aside from helping with auditory processing, also acts as a calming stimulus for kids who can be highly agitated.
Think of the last time you entered a coffee shop. What visual cues told you that the barista was ready to take your order? Think of that time you had a particularly prickly project to complete at work. How did you arrange your priorities to make sure everything was finished when it needed to be finished?
Sensory stimulation and problem solving are such tenets of child development.
We may not immediately correlate blocks and puzzles with our daily lives lived in coffee shops and in our offices, but these skills we learned as children and the sensory stimulation that provided us with that input helped shape our frontal cortex and the many various pathways that help us navigate the world around us.
Many times, kids with autism, ADHD, and other developmental disorders have issues when it comes to sensory integration and processing, making this kind of extrapolation of problem solving even more difficult.
There’s no answer to many of these conditions, but in the world of child development, sensory stimulation, especially as a building block to problem solving, is no small matter.
With so many kids these days being gifted iPhones before they enter kindergarten, it’s wonderful to consider sensory toys as alternative learning and teaching tools. (If you're looking for other types of toddler toys, you might consider rocking toys and trampolines, which both have other benefits).
In addition, many of the reviews of the toys we discuss above point to the benefit of having these toys as entertainment or distraction as kids develop patience during religious services, restaurant and community outings, or long car rides and road trips.
So the next time you’re considering getting a phone for your kids that’s probably more updated than the one your boss has, do their brains a favor, and get them toys they can really get their hands on!
Featured image: walknboston
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