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The Best Sensory Toys for Babies and Toddlers

From engaging fidget toys to soothing squishables, find the perfect sensory toy for your little one.
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profile picture of Martina Garvey
Associate Editor
Updated
September 8, 2022
sensory toys for babies, toddlers, and kids 2022
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Looking for some screen-free playtime options? Immerse your mini in the wonderful world of sensory toys. Of course, all toys engage the senses in one way or another—but sensory toys for babies and tots take things to the next level. How? They engage the five senses, support early development, and offer great bonding opportunities for parents and caregivers. Better yet, sensory toys don’t have to be fancy (or expensive). Simple items, like a sensory bin filled with textured balls, sand or dry pasta, will do the trick.

Ready to get the lowdown on all things squishy, crinkly and squeezable? Keep scrolling to learn more about the unique benefits of sensory toys—and discover our favorite tactile toys for babies, toddlers and preschoolers.

What are Sensory Toys?

Sensory toys are designed to engage one or more of the senses. While a sensory toy may stimulate sight, sound, touch, smell or taste, the term typically refers to a plaything that engages tactile senses, directly or indirectly. For example, a textured ball directly engages baby’s sense of touch, whereas a musical toy that vibrates with its a deep bass tone can indirectly engage senses beyond the auditory, explains Maurice Elias, PhD, the director of Rutgers University Social-Emotional Learning Lab.

Introducing an engaging element to playtime is beneficial to early development and helps children exercise all of their senses as learning modalities. One example is the beloved “touch-and-feel” book Pat the Bunny. Rather than simply reading a two-dimensional book, kids can feel the bunny fur and enjoy the texture that goes along with the words. “Another example is the difference between going to a zoo where you watch and listen to animals, and visiting a petting zoo,” says Elias.

Are Sensory Toys Safe for Kids?

As with any toy, safety is always the top priority. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, toys should be age-appropriate, sturdy and larger than your child’s mouth to prevent potential choking. All playthings should be made from non-toxic materials, but this is especially important for sensory toys that your little one may chomp or gum on.

Toys that stimulate the senses are great for all ages and abilities, but can be particularly useful for kids with autism. Still, Elias advises parents to read online reviews and research sensory toys before taking the purchase plunge; a number of unregulated and untested products may seem to address sensitivity issues, but haven’t actually been proven to be helpful or beneficial. To that end, Elias recommends talking to your pediatrician or a psychologist who specializes in assistive technologies.

Best Sensory Toys for Babies

Although young infants may not seem to do much, it’s never too early to fall in love with playtime. In fact, engaging your little one in play can help them hit key milestones and support the bonding process. As very young infants can’t move around much, the best sensory toys for newborns stimulate their developing auditory and visual senses. Look for musical toys that play gentle, soothing melodies and go for high-contrast, black-and-white visual objects like a crib mobile. As baby grows you can invest in tactile toys like soft, textured blocks, rattles and crinkle books. By the time they hit the 12-month mark, baby is ready for engaging activities like stackable toys, puzzles and simple games.

Baby Fidget Toy

Baby Einstein Curiosity Clutch Twist and Pop Rattle Teether Infant Toy
Baby Einstein Curiosity Clutch Twist and Pop Rattle Teether Infant Toy
Image: Walmart

Fidget toys keep little fingers occupied. This sensory toy ring by Baby Einstein is suitable for young infants and offers a whole host of open-ended play opportunities. Baby can grasp, pop and twist the colorful shapes for a fun, tactile experience—all while enjoying the rattle sounds and captivating high-contrast patterns, which promote auditory and visual development. Age: 3 months+

What We Love
  • BPA-free
  • Wipe-clean material
  • Offers six fun activities
  • Encourages fine-motor skills
Things To Consider
  • It can be hard for young infants to grip

Textured Balls

Miniland Sensory Balls
Miniland Sensory Balls
Image: Maisonette

The best sensory toys are tactile, colorful and fun, of course! The balls in this set feature all sorts of shapes, sizes, textures and colors to enhance sensory stimulation—both tactile and visual. They’re also made from soft, squishy rubber, meaning teething tots can safely gnaw away at them. Age: 0 months+

What We Love
  • Made from natural rubber
  • Assorted sizes and textures
Things To Consider
  • Slightly more expensive option

Bubble Toy

Fat Brain Toys Dimpl
Fat Brain Toys Dimpl Interactive Toy for 1 Year Old
Image: Fat Brain Toys

When it comes to sensory toys for babies, simplicity is key. That’s why we’re obsessed with the Dimpl by Fat Brain Toys. Nestled inside a sturdy plastic frame are five vibrant silicone bubbles in varying sizes and colors. Little digits can poke, push and pop the bubbles for a satisfying, sensory thrill. Better yet, this toy is suitable for babies, tots and big kids alike. Age: 10 months +

What We Love
  • BPA-free
  • Bubbles are made from food-grade silicone
  • Poking the bubbles and hearing them pop helps kids understand cause-and-effect
Things To Consider
  • Not suitable for very young infants

Rattle and Teether Toy

Manhattan Toy Winkel Rattle and Sensory Teether Toy Unboxed
Manhattan Toy Winkel Rattle and Sensory Teether Toy Unboxed
Image: Maisonette

Next up is a tried-and-true baby sensory toy: The Winkel Rattle and Teether. The maze of soft, colorful tubes instantly captures and holds baby’s attention. It has a lightweight construction that makes it super-easy for little hands to grab, hold and rattle, as they exercise those fine motor skills. Plus, the center cube features a quiet rattle, so this toy has an auditory element too. It’s also a dream for teething or gumming babies, as the soft, pliable loops are made from BPA-free plastic. Age: 0 months+

What We Love
  • BPA-free
  • Quality construction
  • Lightweight and easy to hold
Things To Consider
  • Limited ways to play

Textured Clutch Toy

Sassy Bumpy Ball Developmental Baby Toy Inspires Motor Skills
Sassy Bumpy Ball Developmental Baby Toy Inspires Motor Skills
Image: Walmart

Stimulate the senses and encourage the development of key skills through play with this squishy ball by Sassy. It boasts large easy-to-grasp bumps, two different rattles and a mix of textured fabrics for a full tactile experience. Age: 6 months+

What We Love
  • Different textures and fabrics
  • Easy-to-grasp bumps
  • BPA-, phthalate- and latex-free
Things To Consider
  • Fabric may be hard to clean
  • Knobbled texture makes it difficult to roll the ball

Montessori Toys

Monti Kids Montessori Newborn Kit
Monti Kids Montessori Newborn Kit
Image: Monti Kids
Buying Options
Monti Kids | $75

Thought your newborn was too young for playtime? Think again! Monti Kids offers newborn sensory toys that support your little one’s developing vision and grasping strength. Based on the principles of the Montessori method, every item in the box is designed by an educator and made with sustainably sourced wood, non-toxic ink and food-grade silicone. This set includes a board book, child-safe mirror, high-contrast flashcards, rattle, teether and a cotton crochet ball, plus a stylish rope basket for easy storage. Age: 0 months+

What We Love
  • High-quality toys
  • Natural materials
  • Each item offers a different sensory experience
  • Includes a printed play guide and access to an online hub for parent support
Things To Consider
  • Expensive option

Plush Book

Manhattan Toy Little Rocket Finds Home Soft Activity Book
Manhattan Toy Little Rocket Finds Home Soft Activity Book
Image: Maisonette

Foster early literacy skills with this soft book by Manhattan Toy. Read baby the charming tale of a rocket searching for home, as you thumb through the textured pages. Different fabrics, embroidered art, crinkle textures, plus a squeaker and rattle all add to the sensory adventure. Age: 0 months +

What We Love
  • Tags and textured fabric
  • Whimsical space-themed characters
  • Built-in rattle, squeaker and plastic teething corner
Things To Consider
  • Surface-wash only

Best Sensory Toys for Toddlers

Your little one is growing up fast, which means finding toys that keep them engaged can be a tough task. Our advice? Go for toys that play to their interests. If your tot likes to build a toppling tower of couch cushions, blocks are a great choice. And if your kiddo loves to get messy, play dough can help satisfy that creative—or destructive—urge. Sensory toys are always a good choice, as they help toddlers explore different sensations, refine new skills and release pent-up energy. Here, find our picks of the best sensory toys for toddlers, from shape sorters to fidget spinners and more.

Spin and Stack Toy

Fat Brain Toys SpinAgain
Fat Brain Toys SpinAgain
Image: Fat Brain Toys

How about a stacking toy with a twist? The SpinAgain is a visually stimulating toy that encourages hand-eye coordination and teaches toddlers cause and effect. Simply drop the discs onto the threaded corkscrew pole, and watch as they spin fast and settle onto the reversible base. Trust us, you’re little one will be enthralled. Age: 12 months+

What We Love
  • BPA-free
  • Encourages hand-eye coordination and early engineering skills
Things To Consider
  • Pole is not attached to the base

Pop Tubes

Nutty Toys Pop Tubes Sensory Toys
Nutty Toys Pop Tubes Sensory Toys
Image: Amazon

The best sensory toys for toddlers are durable, fun and engaging. Introducing Pop Tubes by Nutty Toys: Kids can twist, stretch and bend these tubes if they’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed or simply bored. Better yet, the tubes connect together like Lego blocks, giving your little one the freedom to make their own creations. Age: 3 years+

What We Love
  • BPA-free
  • No sharp corners
  • Multiple ways to play
  • Durable and flexible material
  • Tubes release a loud, satisfying “pop” sound
Things To Consider
  • Not suitable for young toddlers

Shape Sorter

B. toys Musical Animal Shape Sorter
B. toys Musical Animal Shape Sorter
Image: Target
Buying Options
Target | $32.99

This sensory toy is all singing, all dancing—literally. Kids have to match the gears to the corresponding animals, then turn the knob to see the animals swirl and sing. The music only plays when you spin the gears, meaning your little one is in full control of the playlist. Age: 18 months+

What We Love
  • Visual and aural elements
  • Develops fine-motor skills
  • Plays five unique songs
Things To Consider
  • Some children may be overwhelmed by this toy

Water Pipes

Boon Pipes Building Bath Toy Multicolor
Boon Pipes Building Bath Toy Multicolor
Image: Fat Brain Toys

Ever wonder why kids can’t resist jumping in puddles or bathtime splashes? Water play fascinates children, as it stimulates the senses and offers tons of learning opportunities. From making waves to blowing bubbles, little ones can make their own fun—but bath toys definitely add to the experience. Our top pick? Boon Pipes. These nifty pipes can be connected and suctioned to the wall or used in the bath for loads of scooping and pouring fun. Age: 12 months +

What We Love
  • BPA-free
  • Teaches kids cause and effect
  • Utilizes water for a fun, sensory experience
  • Can be connected and arranged in multiple ways
Things To Consider
  • May be difficult to clean pipes with a bend
  • Some customers report that the suction isn’t strong enough

Developmental Toys

Lovevery Play Kits
Lovevery Play Kits Baby Gifts
Image: Lovevery
Buying Options
Lovevery | $120

Want to take the guesswork out of playtime? Sign up for a subscription to Lovevery’s Play Kits. Each box comes with a variety of age-appropriate items alongside a play guide for parents. Newly minted toddlers will enjoy sorting games and stuffed animals, while slightly older kids (ages 2 and up) get to explore sensory toys like a play sink and art kits. Although it’s a subscription service, there’s no commitment—pause or cancel at any time. Age: 0 to 3 years

What We Love
  • Age-appropriate toys
  • Child-safe and sustainable
Things To Consider
  • High price point
  • Subscription service

Best Sensory Toys for Preschoolers

By the time they reach preschool age, most kids can handle a little more sensory stimulation, without becoming overwhelmed, meaning you can add toys that combine many different elements to your collection. That said, simple sensory toys are perfect for any age (even adults!); they can help little kids concentrate and stay calm in new situations. Below, find five of our favorite sensory toys for preschoolers.

Beach-Themed Sensory Bin

Creativity for Kids Ocean and Sand Sensory Bin
Creativity for Kids Ocean and Sand Sensory Bin
Image: Target

Take a trip to the seashore with this sensory bin. Sure, you could DIY a sensory bin—but this set is safety-tested and kid-friendly, making it a great option for independent play. It’s filled with sensory sand, water beads, ocean animal figurines and toys designed to promote fine motor skills and cognitive development. Age: 3 years+

What We Love
  • Fosters imaginative play
  • Sand, water beads and toys provide different sensory experiences
Things To Consider
  • This toy contains small parts that could pose a choking hazard

DIY Playdough Kit

The Dough Project Make Your Own Playdough Kit

Play dough is one of our favorite sensory toys for kids—and with good reason. Squeezing and pummeling dough has a calming effect. Better yet, pinching, cutting and molding figures can help strengthen muscles and develop fine motor skills. And now you can take playtime to the next level with this DIY kit by The Dough Project. It comes with easy, step-by-step instructions and dry mix to whip up three batches of fresh play dough at home. Age: 3 years+

What We Love
  • Food-grade ingredients
  • DIY element adds another layer of sensory experience
Things To Consider
  • Adult supervision is required

Glitter Tubes and Fidget Toys

Hand2Mind Sensory Fidget Tubes
Hand2Mind Sensory Fidget Tubes
Image: Fat Brain Toys

Searching for soothing sensory toys for kids? Look no further than these fidget tubes by Hand2Mind. Filled with glitter, sand and other materials, these nifty tubes help little kids deal with big emotions. At moments of high-stress or anxiety, encourage your child to focus on the movement within the tubes until they feel calm and relaxed. Age: 3 years+

What We Love
  • Encourages mindfulness
  • May help ease anxiety and stress
  • Suitable for independent play
Things To Consider
  • Some customers report that the fidget tube with a button isn’t functional

Colorful Floor Tiles

Surfloor
Fat Brain Toys Surfloor
Image: Fat Brain Toys

How cool are these colorful floor tiles? Each tile is filled with a combination of colored and clear liquid to create an astonishing display of bubbles, streams and pools that react to your kid’s footsteps. Age: 2 months+

What We Love
  • Anti-slip backing
  • Offers tactile- and visual-sensory stimulation
Things To Consider
  • High price point

Kinetic Sand

Kinetic Sand Sandisfactory Set
Kinetic Sand Sandisfactory Set
Image: Amazon

Does your kid love building sand castles? Bring the good times home (and avoid the mess) with kinetic sand. It’s as soft and malleable as the real thing, but unlike regular sand it comes in a range of bright colors and sticks to itself for easy clean-up. Genius! Age: 3 years+

What We Love
  • Easy clean-up
  • Allows for open-ended play
  • Set includes kinetic sand, molds, cutting tools and a sandbox
Things To Consider
  • Once the colors are mixed, they can’t be separated

About the expert:

Maurice Elias, PhD, is the director of Rutgers University Social-Emotional Learning Lab in New Jersey, and the co-director of the Academy for Social-Emotional Learning in Schools. He is also co-author of Nurturing Students’ Character: Everyday Teaching Activities for Social-Emotional Learning.

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