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15 Simple Sensory Play Ideas (for 15 Years of Tots Play!)

It's an exciting week here at Tots Play as we celebrate our 15th Anniversary and Totsy's 15th birthday!

Our first classes launched in March 2009, and since then we have welcomed thousands of families along to enjoy our unique, multi activity sessions, delivered each week by our amazing team of dedicated franchisees and class leaders across the UK and beyond.

One of the things our customers have continued to love about our classes over the years, are the simple sensory play ideas we include as part of each session. Sensory play doesn’t need to be complicated, in fact simpler is almost always better, which is why our sensory activities focus on the experiences they provide and the developmental benefits that brings, rather than being tied into a complicated theme that your baby won’t yet understand. This also means that it’s easy for you to recreate lots of these play opportunities at home too, so the benefits extend much further than just the week’s class.

There are many different ways to incorporate sensory play into your child's day, so find activities that your child enjoys and that fit your lifestyle. At Tots Play we always aim to give you ideas on how to bring simple, inexpensive, sensory play activities into your day to day play times at home!

So, as part of the celebrations for our 15th anniversary we have put together 15 ideas for different types of sensory play that you can easily have a go at, at home with your little one, to inspire your play times.

  1. Shiny Play

Shiny and reflective materials are great for helping to develop baby’s sense of sight, with light and colour bouncing off the surface of the items and moving as the object does. Get raiding those kitchen cupboards as well as other cupboards and drawers around the house, and see what shiny things you can find for your little one to explore. Sit with them and talk about what they can see, hear and touch while playing with the items you've found. Lots of opportunity to explore shapes, textures and sounds as well as stimulating their sense of sight! Pans and colanders make perfect drum kits 🥁when teamed with a spoon. Mirrors or anything with a reflective surface are great for allowing your Tot to examine their reflection. Shiny paper or foil is fun to scrunch - and I bet you'll find lots of other shiny ideas for play time fun once you start to look!

2. Beach in a Box

Kids love sand but it’s can be a nightmare when your toddler start shuffling the stuff in their little mouth. The beach in a box is a great substitute that is fun, safe and can be played with inside or out. All you need is a large plastic box (low sided, underbed storage boxes work well) and some food items from your cupboard. Simply pop your chosen "sand" in your box, add some plastics cups, utensils or even a small bucket and spade and let your little one scoop, pour and dig to their heart's content!


You could use;

  • Porridge oats

  • Rice

  • Semolina

  • Crumbled up biscuits

  • Anything else that looks sand like and fun!

Simply pop your chosen "sand" in your box, add some plastics cups, utensils or even a small bucket and spade and let your little one scoop, pour and dig to their heart's content!

3. Natural Treasure Basket

Another great activity to try at home is making a treasure basket for your little one to explore. There are lots of options for this, but making a collection of natural items, giving a contrast to many of the usual toys your Tot might have is ideal. You can include items from around the house or that you find out on a walk - anything made from natural materials is perfect. Babies can hold, smell, and examine the objects as they learn about different weights, sizes, textures, colours and more. Not only is it fun for your baby to explore, but also for older children you can have fun finding things together!

Some simple ideas to include are pine cones, sponges, wooden spoons or brushes, leaves and sticks 😁 But don't let us stop you there, see what other things you can find!

Do make sure to clean any items you pick up while out and about, and make sure there is nothing lose that could break off. Treasure baskets should always be used under supervision, but allow your Tot to take the lead in exploring what interests them most and examining it however they would like, and you might be amazed at their concentration and focus when they find something that intrigues them.

4. Adventure in a cardboard box

If you have any spare boxes at home here's another activity your Tot will love, especially at the toddler stage. Cut some holes out of your box, just like the picture here, and give your Tot some ball pool style balls or other small items to post through the holes. This is especially great if you have different colours as it will help with their colour recognition skills as well as motor skills. 🔴🟢🟡🔵

5. Pasta Counting

Practice their counting skills as you have fun together with this simple counting game. All you need to play are some cake cases and small pieces of pasta or cereal hoops.

Write a different number in bottom of white paper cake cases, from 1 up to 5, or a number appropriate for your child, and help them to count the same amount of pasta or cereal pieces into the cake case. Great for both their numeracy and fine motor skills as they pick up each of the pieces.

6. Glitter bottles

Glitter bottles are mesmerising for children to watch and you can even use them to help distract and calm down your toddler during a tantrum or soothe an unsettled baby. It's easy to make your own to enjoy at home.

What You Need:

  • Water bottle, chose a size that will be easy for your child to hold, turn and shake when full of liquid. Ideally pick one with smooth sides.

  • Pot of glitter

  • A bottle of clear glue

  • Water (warm but not too hot)

  • Food colouring (optional)

  • Additional extras including sequins and beads (also optional)

  • Strong glue or duck-tape ideally coloured.

How to make:

  • Fill the bottle about three quarters of the way to the top with water

  • Add the whole tube of glue

  • Add the glitter and any additional extras

  • Add the drop of food colouring (be careful not to add too much as it will stop you seeing the glitter)

  • Top up with more water if needed

  • Secure the lid tightly

  • Shake

How To Play:

Simply allow your toddler (or help your younger baby) to shake the bottle, then turn it upright again and watch the glitter settle.

7. Rainbow rice

This is always a popular activity in class, and rice is a great play resource to practice scooping, tipping, pouring or just feeling the texture. Adding colour makes it even more fun and engaging for your little one, and you can use a single colour or make a few and mix them together to create a rainbow of rice as you can see in the picture.

To colour your rice, all you'll need is some vinegar, food colouring, and a zip lock bag ✅

Pour your desired amount of rice into the zip lock bag, then add a few drops of your chosen food colouring and a few drops of vinegar to help set the colour. Seal the bag and give it a good mix.

Pour into food containers or baking trays and allow to dry and there you have your coloured rice all ready to play with!

8. Nature soup This is fun activity that you can do either inside or out, but you might want to put a towel underneath your container if you are playing indoors. To make a lovely nature soup all you need is a bowl or shallow container, some water, some citrus fruits and some spoons or ladels. You could also add some herbs and a few things from the garden such as leaves or petals if you have those.

To make the soup part fill your container with water, wash and slice the citrus fruits and pop them in the water along with your herbs or anything else you're using. Very quick and simple!

The fruit and the herbs all infuse in the water and create a fantastic sensory experience of smells, colours, and touch. Babies can splash the water, use spoons, scoops, ladles, grab whatever you've got and just let them explore!

9. Bubbles

Bubbles are a simple and inexpensive activity to enjoy with your baby, or toddler, but, don’t let this fool you into thinking it's an activity that is low in value. Bubbles are one of the most effective, fun and educational games you can play together! Not only are bubbles so much fun for little ones to look at, chase and pop, they also have many benefits that aid their development too.

Bubbles are wonderful for visual tracking, provide the perfect practice for your little one to reach and grasp, boosting hand-eye coordination and gross motor skills, and are great for developing spacial awareness too. The wonder and concentration on the faces of even the youngest Tots when the bubbles come out is always one of our favourite things to see at class, so why not enjoy them at home too!

10. Exploring Contrasts

Using contrasts will aid your child's awareness and help them to learn the skill of differentiation. This is such an easy one to do at home as you can find any contrasting objects you have in your house. This could be colours, such as black and white, similar items in different sizes, such as big and small balls, you could test different objects to see if they sink or float, find things that have a rough texture and those with smooth to feel the difference - and I'm sure you'll have lots more ideas of your own too.

Sit with your Tot as they explore the items you've found for them and talk about those different properties, adding lots of language skills to your play as well as the concept of contrasts over all. Lots of fun and learning whatever age your Tot.

11. Feathers

We always talk about not needing lots of expensive or fancy equipment to bring a sensory element to your play. A feather, stroked over baby's body or to play peekaboo with, is an easy, cheap and fun way to play while providing a lovely sensory experience for your Tot! Talk about the body parts the feather is touching for a boost to those language skills too. A lovely activity that all the family can join in with.

12. Food Play

It may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to play time, but food is an amazing resource to use in sensory play with your baby or toddler. You don’t necessarily have to get food prepared in any way, as you can see from the picture below. Giving your little one fruit and vegetables - whole and uncooked - simply to play with like toys, is a fantastic and enriching activity, and introduces all sorts of colours, shapes, textures and smells.

13. Tube and Scarf (or material)

Who knew you could have so much fun with a coloured scarf and a toilet roll tube?!

Scrunch up the scarf and hide it in the tube, then help your Tot to find it. They'll enjoy pulling the scarf out of the tube, trying to push it back in, and then finding it again and again. You can also use the tube as a telescope, for shouting or whispering message through, and the scarf for a game of peekaboo. So much fun from some simple items. You can even get creative and decorate your tube too!

14. Rainbow Shakers

These are another simple item that are hugely popular in class, so why not have a go at making some at home for your little one to explore! All you need are some empty bottles and anything bright coloured, such as buttons, coloured rice (see above for how to make this at home), any craft items you might have in the house like sequins or beads - anything that is colourful and will make a noise when shaken - the list can go on and on. Simply add your items to your bottle or bottles and seal the top well, either with a glue gun or some electrical tape to ensure your Tot can't open them, and then simply sit with your little one and let them shake, roll and explore them in their own way. Get creative - your Tot will love the colours, sounds and sensory delights these bring.

15. Shape Searching

Your Tot might still be too young to be able to categorise shapes by their names but that shouldn’t put you off exploring them! Introducing concepts and language in a fun, playful way while they are still tiny will set the foundations for the learning journey they will go on throughout their childhood.

As they grow exploring different shapes helps your little one to:

  • Develop their vocabulary making it easier for them to eventually express themselves and say exactly what they want.

  • Learn letters and numbers, because those are made of shapes.

  • Observe and note the differences and similarities of things around them.

  • Understand maths and geometric concepts like shape, size, space, and position.

  • Learn to sort and categorise, which are essential skills for problem-solving.

With younger babies, simply gather some different shaped items, you can see some examples below, and just let them explore them.

If you Tot is a little older, go on a shape search with them around the house. Find an item that's a certain shape - a square perhaps and then see what else you can find that's the same shape. You might take a little basket around to collect all the squares you find, then choose another shape a different day (Bonus activity! - You can play this game with colours too)

With all these sensory play ideas, letting your Tot explore in their own way, while you are there to supervise, support and talk to them about what they are doing will help them (and you) get the most from their play times, so I hope you've got lots of inspiration for some lovely play times at home.

We'd love to see how you get on, so do share your experiences and pictures with us on our social media channels (Find then here: Facebook Instagram).

You'll find even more inspiration for play times at home in our classes too, so why not come along and play with us soon, and join in with our 15th anniversary celebrations!

To find a class near you head to and we'll see you there! xx

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