To begin with, your baby explores by moving his body through space. But as soon as he gets some control of his body, he'll be interested in exploring the objects around him. Any time your baby touches an object, he is engaging in tactile sensory play.
Of course you don't need any special toys or supplies for tactile play. Your baby will be delighted to touch anything he can get close to with both his hands and his mouth. As long as you give him a variety of safe objects to explore, he'll be learning about how the world works and how his body is part of it. Any plastic, fabric, or metal object that isn't sharp, breakable, electronic, or a choking hazard can be a tactile toy, and if you give him more than one tactile toy, it's an additional learning experience for him to see how they interact. This blog post has some fantastic ideas for putting together a "treasure basket," or collection of household objects for your Little to explore.
All that said, however, it can be both fun and beneficial to give your baby or toddler opportunities to explore a variety of less common tactile experiences. You've probably seen sand and water tables in the toy aisle of a store, but sand and water are just two of many possibilities for sensory play. Below are a few tips to make sensory play fun for both you and your Little, and after that, a huge list of possible materials for sensory exploration. Have Fun!
Tips to make sure you BOTH have fun
1. Only do it if you feel comfortable with it. A lot of the suggestions below are choking hazards, not edible, or just plain messy. True, many paints are nontoxic, but it's still best not to eat them. If you know your Little will grab a handful of anything presented and immediately swallow it, only give her things that are safe to ingest. If you know that sloppy messes on your floor are going to make you crazy, don't set up a messy experience in the kitchen. Know yourself and your child before you try any idea.
2. Find a container. You don't need an expensive sand or water table. A dish tub, 9x13 cake pan, wide and shallow bowl, under-bed storage box, plastic shoe box, toddler pool, or baby bathtub can be set directly on the floor for the play time.
3. Be prepared for dumping, mixing, and spreading. It will happen! If the weather accommodates, many of these ideas would be perfect outside. Simply sweep the mess into the grass or hose down the play area after you're done. If you're setting up inside, a drop cloth, tarp, or sheet under the play area is a good idea. For some of the messiest suggestions, you might want to set up in the bathtub. Play in the dry tub, and when you're done, clean up is as simple as turning on the tap.
4. Dress both yourself and your Little for the play experience. For some play, anything you want to wear would be fine. For messy play, stripping your Little naked or to just a diaper might be advisable. But remember, your child may want to share her exploration with you, and you will certainly need to wipe your child clean or carry her to the tub after she's finished playing. Be prepared by wearing clothes you don't mind getting dirty yourself.
5. Know how much you want to play. It's ok for you to get down in the mess with your baby, to model using the materials and then step back, to describe your baby's play without participating, or to simply supervise. If you're comfortable with the material and confident your child will use it appropriately, setting up sensory play can give you a bit of a break to, say, cook dinner or make a phone call.
More than 100 super sensory play ideas
3. Water with liquid soap or bars of soap
4. Rice - raw or cooked
5. Pasta - one kind or a mix; can also be colored
7. Leaves, acorns, twigs, pine cones
9. Soil - use organic for safety; add live worms if you're brave
11. Homemade silly putty
12. Jello - make it the night before and let it set in the fridge. You can dump a whole pan in or cut it up first.
14. Sugar - or colored sugar
15. Salt - table salt, rock salt, Epsom salt, or ice melting salt. Note that the last two are NOT edible.
16. Ice cubes, crushed ice, or a large block of ice. Ice and salt together adds another layer of play.
17. Shaving cream
18. Easter grass
19. Shredded documents - from a regular or cross-cut shredder
22. Pellets used for animal feed
23. Dog biscuits
24. Fish tank gravel
26. Dried corn - popcorn or seed corn
27. Packing peanuts - biodegradable ones are safer than Styrofoam
28. Cedar chips - check your local pet store
29. Sawdust - ask your local lumber company
30. Marbles and cardboard tubes
33. Cotton balls
34. Strips of bubble wrap - you can buy it in large rolls
35. Plastic "jewels"
36. Beads and string
37. Cooked spaghetti - add a little oil to keep it from sticking or a lot of oil to make it a slippery mess. Try another pasta shape for another layer of play.
38. Curling ribbon
39. Homemade play dough
40. Yarn and string
42. Pebbles, gravel, rocks
43. Hair gel
44. "Oobleck" - equal parts cornstarch and water
46. Cream of Wheat or another grain-based cereal - raw or cooked
47. Homemade slime
48. Magnets and small metal objects, like paper clips
49. Potato flakes or instant mashed potatoes - raw or cooked
51. Grass clippings
53. Small amounts of various spices - cinnamon, cumin, garlic powder, nutmeg, etc.
54. Natural clay
55. Real or fake flowers
56. Bubble solution
57. Water and a bottle of mineral oil or baby oil
58. Finger paint
59. Jingle bells
60. Wood scraps and sandpaper
61. Papier mache - mix equal parts flour and water to make paste, add strips of newspaper
62. Hand lotion
63. Sponges and soapy water
64. Dry beans. Heck, cooked beans would work, too.
66. Insides of a cleaned-out pumpkin. Or just chop the top off of said pumpkin. Kids typically prefer pumpkin guts and seeds in water, though.
67. Pudding - Tapioca has a unique texture
68. Used coffee grounds
69. Toilet paper - Just put in a whole roll for your Little to unravel, or add a little water if you like
71. Different kinds of tape or pattern scissors
72. Doll or pillow stuffing - really cheap at Wal-Mart
73. Separate bowls of vinegar and baking soda for mixing
74. Polymer crystals - they are used to provide water to plants; they absorb the water and turn into a gel
77. Nuts - use a variety, still in their shells
78. Crepe paper streamers
80. Poker chips
81. White glue
82. Stretchy/squishy toy worms/insects
83. Fake snow
84. Any Grain - raw or cooked. Look in the baking aisle as well as near the rice in your grocery store.
85. Whole gourds/mini pumpkins/decorative corn
86. Fabric scraps
88. Beanbag filler
89. Cat or dog food.
90. Cat litter
91. Clean Mud - Mix 1 roll white toilet paper, 1 bar grated Dove Soap, and warm water. Tear up the toilet paper into small pieces (great kid job). Put into big bowl with grated soap. Pour in water in small amounts while mixing paper and soap with hands. Add water until the mixture is the consistency of thick cool whip. The more you work with it, the softer it gets.
92. Cloud Dough - Combine 1 part oil with 8 parts flour. So, 1/4 cup oil with 2 cups flour, or 1/2 cup oil with 4 cups flour. Use baby oil or cooking oil.
93. Grits - raw or cooked
94. Cotton Balls
95. Flubber: Mix 2 cps white glue with 1 ½ C water and food coloring. Separately, Mix 4 tsp of Borax with 1 1/3 C of water. Mix two mixtures and knead until water is incorporated. WARNING _when dried will not come out of carpet, clothes or Hair. Blow it with straws and cut with plastic knives.
96. Mardi Gras Beads
97. Holes from a hole puncher
98. Popped popcorn
100. Powdered milk
101. Whipped cream
102. Cool Whip
103. Tissue paper and wrapping paper
105. Fake snow
106. Water beads
107. A diaper and lots of water to pour into it
108. Flax seed
109. Whipped cream, cool whip, or both.
110. Glitter. Use the cheap big stuff, not the ultra-fine. And be careful of your Little rubbing his eyes with glittery fingers.
111. Combine any two of the above. For example, play-dough and rice, 2 kinds of beans, glitter and slime, pom-poms and fabric and jingle bells, whatever strikes your fancy.
Toys, Tools, and Accessories
Any of the above sensory explorations would be fantastic on its own, but to extend the play value (especially if you're involving older siblings), you can add any one or more of these toys, tools, and accessories.
- Food coloring - Just one color to mix in, two colors to combine, or a bunch of colors to paint with
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Cooking and serving utensils: Spoons, tongs, mashers, whisks, etc.
- Lengths of plastic pipes and flexible tubing (hardware stores carry different diameters)
- Small lidded containers
- Toy people, boats and vehicles
- Toy construction equipment
- Plastic animals and insects
- Cookie cutters
- Plastic fruits and vegetables
- Squeeze Bottles (Honey bear, dressing, ketchup)
- Popsicle sticks
- Small buckets and shovels
- Magnifying glasses
- Bubble wands
- Spray bottles
- Eye droppers or pipettes
- Turkey baster
- Magnet wands
- Watering Can
- Aluminum Pie Pans
- Detergent Scoops
- Egg cartons
- Fake Gems
- Film Canisters
- Formula Scoops
- Ice cube tray
- Latex gloves for filling
- Muffin Pans
- Orange juice cans
- Ping pong balls
- Soda bottles