Playing is not just about having fun! It's also about learning and developing essential life skills. And one of the ways that babies and toddlers do this is by activating different senses. Every time kids play, they experience new sensations through sound, touch, taste, sight and smell.
Sensory toys are a great way to stimulate your baby's senses. By providing different textures, colours, and sounds, you can help your baby learn about their environment and aid their development.
What is a sensory toy?
A sensory toy is a toy that's designed to engage at least one of your baby's senses.
Kids learn by playing. Their brain is developing in all sorts of beneficial ways as they're playing. Different toys can help develop hand eye coordination, fine motor skills, help with focus and visual skills, and more.
What are the benefits of sensory toys?
Sensory play is often a popular option among kids on the spectrum because it can help to calm down a child while providing sensory experiences.
They can also help children who are bored or have difficulty focusing in school.
For babies and toddlers, sensory toys can help build nerve connections in the brain. As they touch different types of materials, hear sounds and see new colours and patterns, all that sensory information is helping develop important skills. Motor skills, language development, problem solving - all of these can be learned through play.
How Can I Choose the Right Sensory Toy for My Baby?
It's tempting to go for toys with lights, bright colours, loads of textures and all the bells and whistles but this can be overstimulating. This creates problems at bedtime, when your baby needs to get into a calming routine to get themselves off to sleep.
Think about which sensory system you're targeting:
- Sound - it could be a rattle to shake, or a musical toy to bang, or crinkly material that makes an interesting noise
- Visual - look for contrasting patterns and bright colours
- Touch - find toys with different textures and materials
- Taste - babies love to use their mouths to explore. Just be sure that the toys are non toxic and that you can clean them easily
- Smell - different materials will smell different, and for older toddlers you can introduce toys like scented playdough. Choose non toxic fragrances rather than synthetics.
Sensory toys for learning and development
Try not to force your baby into using a particular toy. Watch your baby or toddler to see what they're interested in. Allow your baby to explore at their own pace. Once they've mastered a skill, they may put the toy aside and come back to it in a few weeks or months when they're working on developing another, more difficult skill.
Are sensory toys only for autism?
Sensory toys are not just for children on the autism spectrum or for those with sensory processing disorders. While a pediatric occupational therapist may recommend specific toys for kids with these or other special needs, children of all abilities can benefit from playing with sensory toys.
It's also important to note that sensory toys for autism can help a child concentrate and calm down, but they don't replace traditional and evidence-based therapies for autism.
The best sensory products for babies and toddlers
Fidget toys became very popular a couple of years ago, but these are not the only type of sensory toys.
Balls can be great fun for babies to roll back and forth. The Wee Gallery Taggy Balls have lots of lovely tactile features like tags, sounds and different textures. The Rubbabu balls are perfect for sensory play, too, with their soft fur and interesting shapes.
Blocks and shapes like the Le Toy Van Petilou Sensory Shapes board has different textures, movement, sound and visual stimulation. Toddlers place the different objects into the shaped holes and learn about colours, too. Blocks are also great for imaginative play, too, as kids can create towers and castles and all sorts.
Bio Dough is another great product with loads of sensory input. It's a natural playdough in a range of colours and scents. scented play dough is an occupational therapist favourite for helping to develop muscles and joints. It's also wonderfully tactile, and great for fine motor skills. Not just for kids, even parents find bio dough a lovely way to calm and relax.
For older toddlers with lots of energy to burn, Kinderfeets balance board is a great option. It can be used in so many different ways from the very physical to the more sedentary.
Other ideas for sensory play includes water and sand play, or even an activity centre or busy board which toddlers to choose which activity they're interested in.Playing with sensory toys can help babies and toddlers learn about their environment and develop essential life skills. Hello Charlie has a huge range, and we ship Australia wide.