Have you ever noticed your toddler enthralled by something as simple as a stick or seashell?
The other day, I was at the supermarket and noticed a toddler fascinated by a display of red-leaf lettuce. He was gently touching the leaves with a look of awe on his face. To be fair, the lettuce did look very eye-catching and vibrant. I bought one.
During a child’s toddler years, their senses are heightened to the point where a minor thing like a drop of water rolling down the window or the texture of a towel can fascinate them. Their brains are rapidly developing and making new connections, so as they’re touching, smelling, feeling, listening, and tasting, they are learning something new.
Sensory play helps toddlers make sense of the world while improving their cognitive function, fine motor skills, balance, and even their social skills. Plus, sensory activities are a lot of fun!
If you’re looking for creative ways to entertain your little one that will stimulate their senses, check out these activities!
Waterplay for Toddlers
When I used to teach at a Reggio Emilia preschool, we had water play every week, and the kids looked forward to it. Water is very calming for kids and also stimulates their imagination and curiosity.
If it’s warm enough outside, you only need 1 or 2 large plastic containers filled with water. Drop in different materials for your child to explore. If you have a kiddie pool, even better!
Every time your child has water play, you can change it up by presenting different materials each time.
You can do an activity with recycled plastic bottles that are of different sizes and shapes. Your child will love filling up the bottles and pouring them out. You can add different colored food coloring and water to different buckets. Toss in some shovels and large spoons for your child to scoop and mix the colors.
My students loved pretending to cook with the water. I used to give them their toy pots, pans, cups, dishes, and utensils so that they could make soup and drinks. Bubbles are also always a hit!
Playing with Sand
I live by the beach and have witnessed toddlers, and even some adults, playing with the sand for hours. There’s just something really fun and relaxing about playing with sand that can keep a kid entertained for a long time.
If you live by the beach, great! Just take some buckets and shovels, and your toddler will have a great time mixing sand and water.
You can also bring the beach to your home by setting up a sandbox outside or a little one indoors by putting sand in a large container and adding seashells, sea animal toys, shovels, a bucket of water, and some empty buckets for your child to mix and explore. You can also add dinosaurs, blocks, or cars. The possibilities are endless!
Another fun activity that is less messy if your child is playing indoors is making sand dough. Toddlers love play dough, so adding the extra sand texture will be really enjoyable for them.
Playing with Ice
The great thing about ice activities is that it’s cheap, and toddlers are fascinated by them. Try putting some dinosaurs or animal toys in plastic food containers and filling the containers with water. You can add food coloring as well. Just pop it in the freezer, and you have a ready-to-go toddler activity.
Your toddler can try breaking the ice by dropping it on the ground while outside to help free the animals. They can also drop the big ice blocks into water to watch the ice melt or try to break the ice with toy hammers. Scooping salt on the ice blocks also slowly melts the ice and gives it cool-looking textures, especially when you add food coloring.
Ice painting using colored ice cubes on popsicle sticks is another easy and fun activity. For a winter sensory bin theme, try putting in lots of ice and adding cups with large plastic tweezers so your little one can try to pick up the ice.
A big hit in my class was putting lots of crushed ice in a large container with different-sized cups, spoons, and smaller, colorful containers. The kids loved scooping it and making pretend drinks.
Playing with Pasta
Toddlers love to pretend to cook. It’s both because they love food and they see people cooking at home and want to copy. Pasta is a really fun sensory activity that your toddler can eat too!
Get different types of pasta like spaghetti, fusilli, and rigatoni. You can cook it for one activity and do another activity where the pasta isn’t cooked. With cooked pasta, you can place a bunch of child-safe dishes or toy dishes and utensils on a table or on the floor and put the different pasta in serving bowls for your child to cook and serve. Your toddler can eat the pasta and dip it into the sauce if you want a messy activity.
For dried pasta, you can also do the same pretend cooking activity, but you can also do other activities like having your toddler stick the pasta onto playdough, dropping pasta in different bottles and containers, and doing a pasta threading activity by having your toddler put rigatoni on straws or bamboo chopsticks that are held up with play dough or a cardboard box with holes cut out.
Toddler Food Exploration
This is the perfect activity for picky eaters, but it works just as well for toddlers who love to eat! Toddlers have very sensitive taste buds which is why they might really dislike certain flavors and textures.
On the flip side though, your toddler will have a lot of fun doing a food exploration activity where they can explore food freely and try anything they want while avoiding things they don’t.
Remember, never force your child to eat. There could be many valid reasons that your child doesn’t want to eat something, including a strong aversion to the taste and texture and food allergies. If you find that your toddler doesn’t like a lot of food, a food exploration activity can help them discover food that they do like.
Since toddlers are still little, it’s easier for them to explore on the floor rather than at the table. You can spread out a picnic blanket or tablecloth on the ground and lay out the food in small containers with spoons and a plate so your child can serve themselves. Let them make a mess and do silly things like squish the bananas with their fingers; this is how your toddler connects to the food to see what it is and how it works. Once they understand what the food is, they will be more likely to eat it.
A fruit exploration activity is great because fruit is colorful and sweet and most toddlers love it. Put a variety of fruit, like bananas, apples, pears, watermelon, berries, grapes, mangoes, kiwis, and anything else that is seasonal, into different small bowls. If you have a child-safe knife, your child can practice cutting up the softer fruit like bananas and watermelons. You can also cut the fruit into different shapes and sizes to make them more interesting.
Some kids really hate vegetables, but that’s mainly because they haven’t tried the right veggies and haven’t tried them cooked in a way that they like. You can offer your toddler a buffet of both cooked and raw veggies and serve them with different healthy dips like peanut butter, hummus, or guacamole. Allow your child to explore, cut, mix, and make a mess. This is how they learn to love vegetables!
Have you tried any of these sensory activities with your toddler yet?
Which activity is their favorite? Let us know in the comments below!