The best sensory toys from an occupational therapist. Perfect for kids, autism, toddlers, and sensory issues because sensory toys help develop a child’s learning, communication, and emotional regulation!
Sensory toys have the power to make or break bedtime, dinner, or a visit to the dentist! While that may sound magical, there’s real science behind why sensory toys are an incredible toy for any child, and even more so for kids with sensory processing disorder, any sensory issues, ADHD, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Like when my son clawed at me every day at preschool drop off and a stress ball that he kept in his pocket helped calm him down so he could go to preschool without distress.
Or, when he would bounce on a big green yoga ball in our living room before dinner so he wasn’t hopping out of his chair every three seconds.
Or, when my oldest son, covered his bare arms, hands, and belly with finger paints at 13 months old and it helped develop his ability to eat and readily explore different textures in a fun way. As an occupational therapist, I knew this sensory play and the sensory toys were having a big impact on their brain!
Why Kids Benefit from Sensory Toys…
Sensory toys have the potential to be amazing because they do two things. First, they stimulate a child’s senses. That stimulation all goes on inside the brain and is closely related to tons of other skills that your child needs to grow into a fully functional adult. I’m talking about fine motor skills like writing, cutting, and zipping their coat.
Or, gross motor skills like jumping, climbing a ladder, or riding a bike. This stimulation of our senses can even effect how our children read!
When your child participates in sensory activities, they are learning. It’s critical to their development.
Second, sensory toys can help give a child the sensations they want. For instance, my son loves to climb up the banister of our stairs, it’s a bit dangerous and I’m not even sure the railing can hold him before it ends up snapping. I can see that he needs to get this physical input, but I can’t allow him to continue. However, a sensory toy can give him those same sensations he’s trying to give himself in a safe way!
Because, when our kids are busy trying to get the sensations they like, it distracts their brain from everything else it needs to be doing, like:
- listening to you,
- following directions,
That’s why when kids get the sensations they need through sensory activities and toys, it helps them do everything they need to do.
Learn 3 Expert Secrets (from me as an OT and mom) to calm and focus your child with specialized sensory activities! Get a free spot here and some awesome printables.
What Sensory Toy is Best for My Kid?
Sensory toys, in general, are universally helpful for all kids, but if your child has sensory needs, you’ll want to think about what a sensory toy does and if it’s a sensation your child seeks or would try to avoid. For instance, does your child like to…
- Swing at the park all the time?
- Cuddle in a corner?
- Make loud music?
- Watch bright lights?
- Jump off the top of the couch?
Whatever you answer yes to is a clue as to what your child will use and get benefit out of. Of course, some kids have sensory sensitivities, and slowly encouraging them to use sensory toys as tools that move, feel different, or make sounds can desensitize them and lead to a better sense of well being and feeling grounded, secure, and regulated.
You can find more in How to Choose the Right Sensory Toy.
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Best Sensory Toys for All Kids
If you just want to give your child the best sensory toys possible to help them develop, then any of these toys would be a great place to start. One warning, though, is to NEVER force your child to use any particular sensory toy.
Sensations your child experiences happen in their brain and the moon sand you think isn’t a big deal to touch could feel downright yucky to your child, even uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean you should give it to the kid next door, instead, take slow baby steps to help them get comfortable! As an occupational therapist and momma, these are some of my favorite sensory toys for overall development:
#1: Stepping Stones – I’m ordering these for my kids this year. It’s long been on my to do list. Perfect for developing balance and creativity.
#2. Kinetic Sand – Less messy than regular sand, this contained kit inspires imagination and gives tons of stimulation to the tactile sense!
#3. Balance board – Not only does this sensory toy improve balance, it also strengthens core muscles, which so many kids need.
#5. Balance Beam – Besides balance, every time your child figures out how to walk across this, they’re also working on some higher level brain activity stuff. They have to shift their weight and repeatedly cross the mid-line of their body. If that all sounds too technical, know that this is awesome for their development!
#6. Sensory Bins – I’m sort of obsessed with sensory bins, and don’t think that they’re just for young kids, because older kids can still get in on the fun. Besides getting a lot of tactile input, you can also hide puzzle pieces and hidden objects for them to find. Want to make it more challenging, have them close their eyes while searching for buried treasures!
The best part is you can make these really inexpensively and fill any empty container with tons of different materials to give your child an amazing sensory toy. Learn more about how to set up your sensory bin.
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*Get a seat in the free 3 Expert Secrets to Calm and Focus Your Kid with Sensory Activities. What you learn can change everything, you’ll get a free workbook and checklist too!*
Sensory Toys for Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder
These sensory toys are a little more of an investment, and give LOTS of sensory input, which is why they’re listed in this category. But, that doesn’t mean that any child wouldn’t enjoy or benefit from them, because they would! I have several of these toys and none of my children have or need a diagnosis. And, guess what, it’s some of their favorite things in our house!
But, for children with Autism, SPD, or other special needs, these sensory toys could be used on a daily basis.
#7. Platform Swing – This swing actually can help improve sensory processing as it stimulates the brain through specific types of movement. And, if your child’s ever been in occupational therapy, you’ve probably seen one. This budget friendly version can be hung up in your home or from a swing set outside.
#8. Ball Pit – Besides being lots of fun, ball pits give lots of that deep pressure input. Remember, for most kids, that equals calm!
#9. Snuggle Pod Canoe – If you have a child that seeks being squeezed and loves tight spaces, this may be just what you’re looking for. It could be used for relaxing, but also doing homework or other difficult activities.
#10. Rody the Bouncy Horse – I have a love affair with Rody! We’ve had ours for 6 years and he is a strong little horse. This guy is perfect for bouncing and expending a lot of energy!
#11. Weighted Blanket – Perfect for sleeping or calming down, a weighted blanket could be a helpful sensory toy if your child likes being under blankets. It’s a game changer for some kids. Get a whole guide on weighted blankets for kids.
#12. Rocking Scoop Chair – This is great alternative seating for your kid if they like to rock back and forth and spin. They also have a super small footprint, so they can be stored away easily.
#13. Climbing pegs – If you have a climber, you may want to consider adding some climbing pegs to your swing set or a wall in your house! Seriously people, do this. How cool would that be?
#14. Body Sock – These odd looking contraptions are actually quite simple. Have your child step inside and stretch their arms and legs. They’ll feel a tug back from the fabric and get lots of calming deep pressure. Check out our whole guide on body socks!
#15. Crash pad – This is a simple sensory toy, but you can get some serious use out of it. I’ve made one for each for my kids, which is basically a huge pillow with chunks of foam and pillow stuffing inside. They’re great to lay on, but sensory seekers love to jump into them. This provides a pretty safe landing for leaps from the top of the couch.
Sensory Toys for Toddlers and Babies
Many of the sensory toys above can be used for toddlers and babies, but not all. This list is perfect for exploring babies and toddlers:
#16. Infantino Textured Balls – My youngest son had these and loved them as a baby and toddler. Bonus, they’re super cheap!
#17. Busy Board – Pull, click, drag, feel, and listen! There’s so much for a baby or toddler to explore on a busy board and it keeps them busy for a few minutes. If you’re the DIY type, you can head here to make your own..
#18. Shaker Eggs – Babies and toddlers will love getting a reaction to their movement when they shake these eggs about. They’re small enough to fit in the tiniest hands!
#20. Vibrating teethers – Remember that vibration is one of the strongest types of sensory input? Well, use this teether when your child bites down. Fantastic oral sensory stimulation that can actually help them eat better!
#21. Baby Ball Pit – All the same benefits of the bigger ball pit, but one small enough for young one’s to easily climb in and out of.
#22. Textured Hula Hoop – This is a simple DIY project! Just wrap some different types of fabric around a hula hoop and let your baby explore away.
Picture utilized from C.R.A.F.T. (creating really awesome fun things) blog post
#23. Ride and Push Bug – Ride-ons are popular toys for toddlers, but there’s tons of sensory input to be had too through all the pushing and movement they experience.
#24. Roller Coaster Ride On Ramp – This is for the older toddler, as the recommended ages are 2 to 5. But, I had to include it because if your toddler seeks out movement, this gives them a ton of it fast.
#25. Pop Tubes – These simple tubes promote bilateral hand coordination (using both hands together) which is a building block for more advanced developmental skills down the line. They make noise to give auditory input and can be connected together and twisted in 1000 different directions!
Calming Sensory Toys for the Sensory Seeker
Calming sensory toys can be used in a couple of different ways. They can be helpful for kids that are high energy or hyperactive because they’re used as tools to help them calm down. Just like when Isaac bounced on the ball before dinner.
Here are some specific ideas if your kid fits into this category:
#26. Scooter Board – This is one of my absolute favorite sensory toys! It’s my go-to as an occupational therapist and something my kids constantly pull out and push around the house while on their bellies (also one of the most beneficial ways to use it!)
#27. Yoga Ball – An extremely versatile sensory toy that can be used in lots of different ways. Try bouncing your child on top while you hold them at the hips, rolling it on top of them with a firm pressure, or pushing it back and forth.
#28. Putty – Putty is thick and hard to pull, this gives a lot of proprioceptive input, which is most often calming, yay! This is portable and affordable. This link is for a therapy grade type that will hold up for quite a while.
#29. Mini Trampoline – A total staple sensory toy. In my house, this is an invaluable tool. It gives so much sensory input and doesn’t take up that much space. My son is so much calmer and focused after jumping on it.
Sensory Toys for Calming Down the Overstimulated Child
Sensory toys can also be used for kids that are overstimulated and need a break when the world has just been a little too much. These types of sensory toys are perfect before bedtime, after an overwhelming activity, or before a difficult task:
#30. Fidget Toys – I’ll be the first to admit that these little hand held fidget toys can be a nuisance more than a help for some kids. But, for the kids they do work for, well, it’s a life saver. Make sure you read my guide on Fidgets for Kids before choosing one!
#31. Lava Lamp – If your kid likes to look at lights, this is for them. Staring at the slow moving lava can instantly relax.
#32. Vibrating Hand and Mouth Jigglers – Vibration is strong sensory input. Your kid can use these to hold, rub on their arms or legs, and even bite on!
#33. Weighed Lap Pad – A weighted lap pad is basically a small heavy pillow that a child can lay across their lap. This also gives the deep pressure sensation that is relaxing to a lot of kids. Get more info with the weighted lap pad guide.
#34. Cocoon Swing – We have had one of these swings hanging in our basement for years and it’s one of our kids favorite places to go. It’s calming because it’s hard to swing too high in it, but it’s shape also closes out a lot of the outside world, giving your child some space of their own. Check out our top 10 sensory swings.
#35. Sensory Tent – Pop up a small tent and throw some blankets and pillows inside and you’ve got a simple sensory tent. When your child has a special place to retreat to, it can help them shut out all of the sensations that may be too overwhelming. And, you can put some of their other calming sensory toys inside. Head over to How to Create A Sensory Tent to learn more.
#36. Sequin Flip Pillow – Have you ever felt sequin flip fabric? It’s addicting and feels incredibly soft. But half the fixation is in the magic of watching it repeatedly change colors. Kids can also hug this while getting lots of tactile and visual stimulation.
#37. Light Up Spinner Wand – Calling all light lovers! This spinner is portable, so it can easily be thrown in your purse or the car – if it helps your child calm down in the middle of Target.
Get a Free Printable of Sensory Activities
Get 25 different do-able sensory activities you can use at home today to help encourage your child’s best development as well as calm and focus them. Some activities include some simple ways to maximize the sensory toys above! Click here to get the free sensory activities printable in your inbox.
More Sensory Toy Ideas
Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 18 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.