Our Go-To Easy Toddler Sensory Activities
Being a toddler can be really tough sometimes. They're feeling complicated emotions that often overwhelm them, which may cause them to "break rules" that they're still learning, and land them in timeout (or they lose a privilege, or they don't earn a reward, or someone expresses disappointment, or…). When Micah gets upset and isn't able to communicate his needs to me (like many other children on the spectrum), he tends to lash out by hitting or pinching. I find that if we are able to catch him before he starts to feel terribly frustrated, we can redirect him towards some activities that provide the sensory input he is craving, calm his emotions, and help with both fine and gross motor skills. I've put together a list of our five favorite sensory activities that are simple, inexpensive, and fun. I hope they work for you as well as they (usually) do for us!
1) Sensory Bags
This one is a current favorite of 1-year-old Luca, but 3-year-old Micah is only interested for a few minutes these days. All you'll need is a plastic bag, your liquid(s) of choice, any other small items you might like to add, and GLUE. Pictured above are our 2 Halloween bags. The orange “pumpkin” bag is filled with orange paint, glitter, and foam shapes. The green “monster blood” bag is water, food coloring, a little bit of green paint, oil, and yarn. Make sure you glue your bag shut after you’ve filled it, or you will have quite the mess on your hands!
2) Water Beads
These squishy, slimy, colorful balls are very versatile, but they are especially fun as a sensory activity. They arrive as teeny tiny beads (almost like rainbow-colored quinoa), but when you soak them in water for several hours, they grow to about the size of pennies. Once they reach their full size, Micah is happy to just stick his hands in, swish around and squish them. Sometimes we will put them in a plastic bin with a bit of water and his Paw Patrol friends for a rescue mission, using a slotted spoon, grabbers, or just our fingers. The instructions recommend they soak for 6-10 hours, so it is a fun experiment that'll take you through the day. We measure and pour the water, then the beads, and check every hour to see how they’ve changed. Micah really loves to inspect them as they grow (and remind me which colors correspond to each Paw Patrol dog and PJ Masks kid), and it’s a great opportunity to talk about the different colors, sizes, and textures.
3) Exercise Ball
A lot of us probably already have these sitting around somewhere in our homes, but you may not have thought of it as a way to help your child when he needs some sensory input. I hadn't, anyway, until Micah's therapist recommended it to us. We have Micah lay belly down on the ball, and (while I keep a hand on his back to keep him stable) then I help him roll back and forth. Another way that is helpful for him is to sit on the ball and bounce, while I hold his hands for stability. It's a great way to distract a toddler from their frustration, but good luck getting that ball back when they're done!
This was a favorite of mine when I was little, and it only takes a minute to make! Pour the cornstarch into a shallow container and mix in the water (I recommend adding the food coloring to the water first) to make a sort of paste. Thr fun part about this is how the consistency changes between solid and liquid, which makes it great as both a sensory activity AND a science experiment all in one. We cover this and store it for a few days worth of fun.
Full disclosure: this one makes a mess, but it cleans up really easily.
We’re all familiar with Play-Doh, but did you know what an awesome sensory activity it is? Let’s not forget those fine motor skills, either! I absolutely love the “starter kit” that we purchased for Micah, which includes 4 different colors, and several tools like scissors, shape cutters, a roller, and more. Sometimes Micah will just squeeze the play doh in his hands or rip it into tiny pieces, but other times he likes to roll the play doh flat, then use the shape cutters to make pretend cookies. We’ll then practice cutting by using the play scissors to cut the cookies in half. Since the scissors are not even remotely sharp, I have 0 concerns about him getting hurt with them, which is a huge relief for an anxious mama like me.
What are your go-to sensory activities for your child? Let us know!