If you are looking for the very best sensory toys to challenge sensory exploration, tactile play, or to offer sensory input to calm or alert a child, then you are in the right place. This gift guide of toys for sensory play cover many aspects of sensory processing in fun and engaging ways. Whether you need to add a few components to a sensory diet through play, or you are looking for a gift idea that develops specific skill areas, these occupational therapy toys, sensory toys, fidget toys, and movement toys cover all the bases.
When it comes to sensory toys, many of the ideas in our gross motor toy suggestions will hit on movement and heavy work input, so be sure to check that gift list out as well. Today is all about the sensory motor play.
First, let’s talk Sensory Tools and Toys!
The Best Sensory Toys
We had so much fun putting together our recent Gift Guide Toys to Improve Pencil Grasp, that we decided to put together this gift guide for Toys to Inspire Sensory Play. If you follow our blog posts, you know that we LOVE messy, sensory, textural play.
There are so many benefits to sensory play for young children. They can explore textures, colors, scents while manipulating with their hands, expanding language skills, developing self-confidence, and so much more. And while they are playing, they are exploring, exploring, investigating, and creating!
This gift guide provides ideas to incorporate sensory play into daily play. We wanted to provide a list of gift ideas so that sensory play can be done easily once you have all of the needed items. What better time to stock the activity bin/closet/box than during the holidays?
Maybe a relative is asking for gift ideas and there is something you would LOVE your kids to play with for sensory experiences. Direct them to this gift guide for ideas to encourage sensory play!
First let’s cover a bit about how these toys are sensory tools. When it comes to kids, play is their primary occupation. It’s their main job. Through play, kids learn about the world around them, they practice and develop skills, and they interact with others.
Play is also a prime way to incorporate movement and sensory experiences, allowing kids to regulate their nervous system, calm down, focus, attend to tasks, and remember important experiences.
Sensory tools are means of facilitating sensory input. Whether that input is calming, alerting, or something else, it’s through experiences or sensory tools that a child gains sensory input. Sensory tools can offer movement, tactile input, visual input, or input through the olfactory system, gustatory system, auditory system and interoceptive system.
Check out this resource on sensory processing for more information on all of the senses and how they integrate to enable functional participation in day to day tasks.
The specifically selected toys and tools below incorporate sensory input in one way or another.
Amazon affiliate links are included below.
Light Tables as a Sensory TOOL
Have you ever used a light table in therapy? It’s a fun sensory experience for kids to challenge fine motor skills, as well as cognitive skills, and even posture or balance, all with the sensory input of a light table and manipulatives.
Light Panel in Sensory Play:
This Portable Light Panel is great for visual sensory exploration. Tracing and tactile manipulation can enhance math, handwriting, spatial relationships, and more through sensory play.
You could add a few Light Table Pattern Blocks or even magnetic Imaginarium Letters & Numbers like we did in our DIY Sensory Light Box post. Explore the shapes and textures of leaves, petals, and so much more with a light table!
Messy Sensory Toys
Our kids LOVE to get messy! Not all kids do, however, and may need gradual experiences to build up their tolerance to sensory touch and manipulate different textures. Some of our favorite messy play materials are:
Kinetic Sand (such a cool texture…but be warned, Moon Dough is VERY messy!)
Educational Insights Playfoam (such a neat textural experience!)
Aqua Sand Polar Playground is another super messy but very cool play experience. The wet sand dries immediately, how fun!
Scented Sensory Toys
Scented Play is a fun way to engage and alert the senses through sensory toys.
Remember these Mr. Sketch Scented Markers from grade school? I can still remember that blueberry scent! What a great way to explore the sense of smell while playing and creating art. Have the kids draw with the markers and then spray the art work with a water bottle to see the colors run. This would be a great sensory and process art project for kids of all ages!
This Scented Balls Set sounds so neat! We’ve never played with these before, but they each come in a different scent and would make an awesome stocking stuffer!
Sensory Bin Toys
There are so many ways to use a sensory bin in sensory play. You can offer texture challenges that meet the needs of the child AND incorporate learning opportunities.
Color Changing Tablets for Sensory Play:
The sense of sight is such an immediate one! A sensory experience can be set up for the kids and as soon as they see a bright green bin of water with scoops or foam pieces, they are excited for play!
These Color My Bath Color Changing Bath Tablets are great for setting the stage for multi-sensory play. We’ve used them in our Swamp Water Bin Sensory Play activity. Watching the colors fizz and mix is such a fun experience!
Throw these tablets into the bath tub along with a few unexpected items (Paint Brushes, fun eye droppers like these Learning Resources Twisty Droppers , or a Funnel Set) and you’ve got a great sensory play environment!
Manipulatives In Sensory Play:
Sensory play is such a fun way to play and learn any topic. Exploring textures with sensory input can really instill learning. So what can you put in the sensory bin, or water bin, or in the shaving cream on a tray? The possibilities are endless!
Try a jungle theme and add Jungle Animal Counters. Maybe your child LOVES dinosaurs and would go crazy to play with Mini Dinosaurs
in a tub of birdseed. Any theme or subject can be added to sensory play.
Water Beads in Sensory Play:
There is nothing more fun than this sensory play item! Water Beads are typically used as a vase filler because once soaked in water, they expand and become a super sensory, fun, fine motor medium.
We’ve used them in sensory bins of all kinds. This set from Bundle Monster is great deal and comes in so many fun colors. (Note: always be sure to supervise children when playing with water beads!)
Water Tables In Sensory Play:
Water tables are great for sensory play. Despite it’s name, water tables are not JUST for water! There are so many possibilities for messy play with a water table. Goop, moon dough, birdseed, shaving cream…the possibilities for sensory and textural play are endless! A water table is not just for outdoor play during the summer months. We love bringing our sand and water table indoors during the cooler months and playing with bigger items like seashells, animal figures in play dough, mixing flour and a bit of water.
We love this Step2 Water Table for its large basin, the added water wheel (How fun to pour sand and watch it fall!). So many senses can be addressed with water table play. We explored the textures of fall with a Fall Themed Water Table. Since we’ve added our water table to our play, we’ve had so much sensory play fun!
Sensory Tools in a sensory bin
There are many materials that can be added to a bin or low tray and used as a sensory tool. Some of these can be very inexpensive, making them great tools for sensory exploration. Incorporate these materials into multisensory learning, too.
More Ideas for sensory play:
Sensory Fidget Toys
Fidget toys are a fun (and popular) way to address attention needs through small scale sensory input. Each of these fidget toys promote fine motor development by encouraging finger isolation, bilateral coordination, precision, and eye-hand coordination.
- Pop It Stress Ball
- Jumbo Water Bead Ball
- Fidget Set with pop its, keychain fidgets, and more.
- Pop It bracelets
Great stocking stuffers for sensory play:
Textured Sensory Fidget Toy– Great for bilateral coordination and fine moor skills.
Sensory Toys for Calming Input
The ideas below make great gift ideas because they add heavy work input, or calming movement input, through the proprioceptive system and vestibular sensory system. These sensory tools can be a great addition to the home.
Alerting Sensory Toys
These toy ideas van be alerting activities that “wake up” the sensory system. For others, through, they can calm the system, because the child gains a sensory work out when using them. Be sure to contact an occupational therapist for a sensory evaluation and suggestions for the needs of each individual.
- Foam Pogo Jumper
- Sit and Spin Toy
- Light Up Magic Ball Toy Wand for Kids
- Large Vortex Spinning Ring Swing with Footrest for Multiple Kids
- Fold & Go Trampoline
- Balance Board
- Stepping Stones and Beams
So, if you are looking for a few ideas to add some sensory fun to your gift giving this holiday…or have family and friends asking for gift ideas…maybe one of these sensory play toys will be just right for your little one! This list is by no means exclusive. There are limitless ways to encourage sensory exploration into play. We just wanted to provide a few ideas. Happy playing!
More Movement sensory toy ideas
The lists of toy suggestions in the following blog posts are geared toward specific developmental areas. But, when it comes to movement, there are many sensory components intrinsically incorporated into the play. Check out these specific toy ideas:
- Fine Motor Toys
- Gross Motor Toys
- Pencil Grasp Toys
- Toys for Reluctant Writers
- Toys for Spatial Awareness
- Toys for Visual Tracking
- Toys for Sensory Play
- Bilateral Coordination Toys
- Games for Executive Functioning Skills
- Toys and Tools to Improve Visual Perception
- Toys to Help with Scissors Skills
- Toys for Attention and Focus
Printable List of Toys for SENSORY NEEDS
Want a printable copy of our therapist-recommended toys to support sensory processing?
As therapy professionals, we LOVE to recommend therapy toys that build skills! This toy list is done for you so you don’t need to recreate the wheel.
Your therapy caseload will love these SENSORY toy recommendations. (There’s space on this handout for you to write in your own toy suggestions, to meet the client’s individual needs, too!)
Enter your email address into the form below. The OT Toolbox Member’s Club Members can access this handout inside the dashboard, under Educational Handouts. Just be sure to log into your account, first!
Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to email@example.com.