19 Sensory Activities For Toddlers to Make Their Imaginations Run Wild

Toddlers have a natural curiosity for how the world works and energy that never seems to run out. So for parents looking to focus their toddler's spirit and vigor, sensory activities are designed to stimulate your little one's senses and promote learning through play — a perfect outlet for all their energy. And with expert recommendations to back them up, you can feel confident in choosing sensory activities for your busy toddler.

"Very simply, sensory play is a type of exploratory play that actively engages a child's five senses," Sally Macaluso, educational blogger and special education preschool teacher, tells POPSUGAR.

According to Macaluso, sensory activities go beyond just being an activity to keep them entertained. This style of play helps to "enhance creativity, motor skills, body awareness, language development, and cognitive skills," Macaluso says. "They also help children to make sense of the world around them."

The good news is that there are plenty of sensory-focused activities that are perfect for toddlers. "Sensory play doesn't have to be expensive to be meaningful," Macaluso says. "Parents can create sensory-play experiences using materials they already have around the house."

From slime to sensory bins, here are some creative sensory activities for toddlers to keep them entertained for hours and learning along the way.

Play With Playdough

Whether you make your own playdough or use a store-bought version, this is perfect for toddlers who love to use their imagination and don't mind getting their hands a little dirty. This soft and silky recipe uses ingredients you likely already have at home.

Explore With Finger Painting

Yes! Finger paint is a fun activity that promotes fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. But it's also a great sensory activity that allows toddlers to feel the different textures of the paint, get their creativity out on paper, and explore those sensations through their fingers.

Have Fun With Bubbles or Water

Bubbles are fun for people of any age, and toddlers are understandably fascinated with them. Blow up a few, and watch your toddler light up as they try to pop each and every one. If you don't have bubbles, just letting them splash in water is good fun, too. Water play "provides endless sensory experiences and fun. Just toss in some bath toys, empty cups or bowls, spray bottles or medicine droppers, etc., and your child is good to go!" Macaluso shares.

Play With Shaving Cream and Food Coloring

This three-ingredient activity, called puffy paint, brings new textures to three simple items, allowing your toddler to get their hands dirty while creating art. All you need are glue, shaving cream, and different shades of food coloring.

Play With Rainbow Rice

Rainbow rice, which is just dry rice that's been colored with food coloring, offers lots of sensory fun and encourages imaginative play. Add in different-size scoops and jars, and kids can practice their fine motor skills at the same time.

Make a Sensory Board With Different Textures

Sensory boards are made of a variety of different materials, including carpets, cardboard, or wood, as well as smaller items like buttons, bells, and sandpaper for a smorgasburg of sensory play.

Play With Kinetic Sand

Macaluso says one of her personal favorite sensory activities for her kids is kinetic sand. Kinetic sand is the best of both playdough and sand where it's got a similar grainy texture, but it holds its shape when it's pressed or squeezed.

Create a Calming Rice Bin

Lavender is an amazing aromatherapy tool for kids! "Many children like the smell, and it is generally effective in calming a child who is anxious," The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia says. But if lavender isn't your kid's favorite, there are other aromatherapy scents you can use in this calming rice bin. This way they can have fun and feel zen.

Make a Sensory Bin With Dried Beans and Scoops

Scooping bins offer toddlers different textures to play with, and working on scooping and dumping can help with their dexterity and bring in that sound element, too. This type of activity can be a good starting point for toddlers who are more timid with different textures. "Sensory play is particularly beneficial for children with sensory processing disorder because it can help them to become more comfortable with various textures and materials," Macaluso explains.

Play With Slime

There's a reason slime has been an activity of choice for generations. There are several different ways you can switch up slime to make it perfect for your kid, including how malleable the slime is and adding texture with glitter or beads.

Make Melting Ice Full of Fun

Ice is a fun activity because it's so focused on touch, which changes over the course of the activity — starting with cold and solid and ending in wet and liquid. For this activity, you'll need to do some prep work by freezing water in disposable gloves with small items inside like buttons, beads, glitter, and ribbon. Then when it's good and frozen, pop and get rid of the glove, leaving your toddler with the frozen ice they can melt with their hands to release the fun sensory items inside. Given the small parts in this one, it's best for an older toddler who knows not to put things in their mouth.

Make a Sensory Bin With Sand and Sea Creatures

This sensory activity is best for toddlers 18 months old and up and is perfect for kids who love creating new scenes. This activity uses water gel, sand, and fun beach- or ocean-themed toys.

Play With Colored Ice Cubes

Ice cubes generally aren't that fun, but these aren't your regular ice cubes. Freeze some water with food coloring in ice-cube trays, and when the cubes are ready, kids can use them as paintbrushes, creating fun art as the ice melts.

Create Sensory Jars

Create a magical sensory experience with things you already have at home. Fill up clear plastic bottles with glitter, water, beads, and other fun trinkets. Or stick to a theme like this nature-inspired one and have kids collect sticks, flowers, and leaves from outside.

Play With Rain-Stick Jars

Sensory play also includes sounds, and being able to play music engages several senses. All you need for this sensory toy are a few clear plastic bottles, sticks, and other small noise-making items (like tiny rocks or beads!).

Plan a Jell-O Dig

Sometimes it is a good idea to play with your food, like in the case of this Jell-O dig. Hide small toys and trinkets in a bowl of Jell-O, and have your little ones fish them out. This sensory activity incorporates a lot of different textures for kids who don't mind getting a little messy.

Go on a Sensory Walk

This requires some creativity to set up, starting with finding a surface that's safe for kids to walk across. Then you need to lay out different materials safe for them to walk on, such as bubble wrap, carpet squares, and foam mats. Watch their eyes light up as they experience the different sensations.

Bubble-Wrap Printing

Kids love bubble wrap, and popping it is a fun sensory activity on its own. But you can add to the fun by using the wrap as the rolling paintbrush to give an interesting texture to your toddler's next masterpiece.

Sensory Sound Eggs

Toddlers love to make noise, which is why this sensory activity is so perfect. Kids can take the time to practice their fine motor skills by picking up the filler for the eggs (e.g. rocks or beads) and putting them into the eggs. Then once that's done, toddlers can enjoy the sound of their own music, shaking the eggs to their own beat.