How To Support Sensory Development Through Play With 16 Activities

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The best way to support a child’s development is through play. This is how children begin to learn and understand the world around them. So how can you support a child’s sensory development? Well through sensory play of course.

Children begin developing their senses in infancy and providing opportunities to engage in sensory activities can help support this development.

What Is Sensory Play?

Sensory play is often narrowed down to tactile play. Using touch to explore objects and materials such as water and sand. However, sensory play is any play that involves the senses. This includes not only tactile (touch) but also auditory (hearing), visual (sight), olfactory (smell), and taste. Anytime one of these senses is engaged during play it will support further developing and strengthening of that sense and any related skills.

The possibilities for sensory play are endless.

sandbox play

How Sensory Play Supports Development

Sensory play provides opportunities for children to engage their senses and build skills within this area of physical development. This begins during infancy with sensory exploration and learning about different types of materials, objects, sounds, smells and tastes. For example touching, rubbing, or squeezing different materials. Children then begin to learn to tell the difference between two materials or properties and can begin to show preference for one over another. For example preferring smooth materials over rough ones, soft over hard.

Eventually children will then start to coordinate their senses with their motor skills and continue to explore with this added skill. For example identifying a toy that makes noise and one that does not and reaching/crawling for the one they prefer. As they continue to refine their skills this will eventually lead to developing hand-eye coordination.

baby playing with ring stacker

Developing the senses in infancy helps to lay the foundation of so many skills. As children grow and develop, these skills continue to build upon one another as children master each skill or it leads to learning new and more complex skills.

This is why sensory play is such a fundamental part of child development.

While sensory development is one part of physical development, sensory play can support all areas of development. This includes gross and fine motor which are the remaining areas of physical development as well as social, emotional, language, and cognitive development. This is another reason why sensory play is a crucial part of early childhood.

Not sure how to get started? Here are 16 sensory play ideas.

7 Sensory Activities for Infants


Playing music or singing to your infant can support their auditory sensory development as well as language development.


Mobiles are often though of as a sleep item to hang over a crib, however they can be quite stimulating for children. Try hanging one in their play area. Many baby play mats already come with hanging toys so this works just as well.

baby mobile play

Skin-to-skin Time

You’ve probably heard of skin-to-skin time with newborns but it doesn’t need to stop there. This is a great sensory activity for older infants as well that can help strengthen bonding. You can even combine it with some soft music or singing to add some auditory stimulation.

Rattles or Instruments

Provide opportunities for your child to explore sound by using instruments. Rattles are a must have, not only will they support auditory exploration but contribute to fine motor skills as well. Also have a rattle for yourself and play a game, “shake”(shake the rattle), “and stop”(hold the rattle still). This will encourage your child to mimic your actions and contributing to social development.

baby music play

Fabric Squares

Offer fabric of different textures for your child to explore. This doesn’t just need to be with their hands, if your child is older let them go barefoot to stand or walk on the fabrics and see how it feels. They will be able to feel so much more on their feet without the added barrier. Talk to them while exploring to provide some language exposure, “this one feels soft/silky/rough/”


A must have for every child. Books not only contribute to language development but can also provide sensory development through visual stimulation. Touch-and-feel books or books with sounds can offer an additional tactile or auditory experience. Don’t forget to provide high contrast books with black and white images. This is especially important during the first couple months of infancy.


Babies love mirrors! Spending some time in front of a mirror and exploring the reflections can provide a visual sensory experience and also help contribute to an infant recognizing themselves in the mirror. Consider attaching a full length mirror horizontally to the wall near the floor in their play area. This also provides an opportunities to explore the room around them before they are moving around independently

baby mirror play

Smelling/Tasting Activity

Is your baby trying new foods? This is a great opportunity to explore taste as well as smells. Remember to provide language during these moments by labelling the item and offering descriptive words.

7 Sensory Activities for Toddlers

Music and Movement

As children become more mobile they can begin to express themselves through coordinating their senses with movement in increasingly complex ways. Explore instruments to create music, put on some music and dance, or combine the two and have a parade!

Sensory Bins

First have an empty bin and add a base material (water, sand, rice, beans, etc.), then add additional materials to explore (spoons or other cooking utensils, animal figurines, trucks, etc.). There are so many options when creating a sensory bin, follow your child’s interests to get started.

sand sensory play


Sensory books are an easy way to get your child interested in reading more. Touch-and-feel books, books with sounds, or interactive books allow your child to engage more with books to increase their language and sensory development.

Art Activities

Open-ended art provides opportunities for physical development and creative expression of thoughts and ideas. Finger painting especially offers a very tactile sensory experience though creative expression. Open ended art is the most effective way to allow your child to build these skills. Just provide the materials and let them explore.

art sensory play

Bath Time

Think of it as a giant sensory bin for water play. Since you have the space, larger materials can be used such as plastic blocks or larger animal figurines.


This is a great activity for strengthening visual and tactile sensory skills as well as building hand-eye coordination. This can also contribute to language skills and increasing vocabulary along with cognitive skills through matching.

toddler puzzles

Play Dough

A sensory activity that supports creativity, imagination and motor skills. You can purchase pre-made play dough or make your own. You can start by squishing and exploring play-dough on its own and then begin to add more materials to explore such as cooking utensils (rolling pin and cookie cutters are always fun), animal figurines or trucks to make some tracks.

Exploring Nature

Spending time outside in nature not only contributes to a child’s development but is also beneficial to their overall well-being. Take off their shoes and let them walk in the grass or sand. Collect items from nature to add to a sensory bin. Listen to the sounds the birds make.

gardening sensory play

You know your child best and what their capabilities are. Activities listed may not be developmentally appropriate for all children. While I have divided these activities into infant and toddler lists there may be some overlap.

Tips For Safe Sensory Play

  • For infants and younger children that are still exploring by putting items in their mouths be sure items are taste safe. Flour is a simple way to engage in sensory play but it can be toxic to eat raw. To make it safe just bake it at 350F for 5 minutes and let it cool before giving to your child for play
  • Make sure any item is not a choking hazard
  • Be sure to supervise children at all times, especially during water play
  • You know your child best and what their capabilities are. Activities listed may not be developmentally appropriate for all children.
  • Plan ahead – be prepared for clean up once they are done playing. For the really messy play I recommend cleaning your child first then directing them to another activity while you clean up the sensory activity.

One way or another, most play will support sensory development. As all areas of development are interconnected engaging in sensory play will also support other developmental skills. This allows children to learn new skills, strengthen them, and build upon these skills which leads to learning even more skills.

There are so many possibilities for learning through sensory play. I hope these ideas help get you started!

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