Did you know that sensory toys can help with your little one‘s anxiety? Even if you and your family think you’ve got this new normal figured out, minor stressors (damn you, bottomless inbox) can unravel the day faster than your kid can say, “Can I have another snack?” Kids are like emotional lint rollers, they pick up on your attitude before you even realize it. Now for the good news: when your little one (and you) are dealing with that stress, sensory toys for kids and constructive sets can be a huge help.
When you play with sensory toys and talk about how they look, feel, or sound you’re demonstrating that you care about the same things—and that feels reassuring. “During such an unpredictable and stressful time, child-directed play can provide children with the attention they need, and they may be less likely to seek it during other times, such as when you’re trying to work,” says Daniel Bagner, Ph.D., a board-certified licensed clinical child psychologist and psychology professor at Florida International University’s Center for Children and Families. Sounds pretty good, right?
Baby sensory toys can help your little one develop color, number, and even social skills that they would have otherwise learned later. Sensory toys for autism also make a huge difference in your kiddo’s life. Even a brief one-on-one playdate can have lasting effects—especially when it comes to your kid’s bedtime routine. Think of it this way, engaging with your kids through play is like filling up their emotional gas tank with happy fuel. So when they are faced with a mid-day dilemma, they are better equipped to tackle when not running on empty. Constructive and sensory toys are great for this because the engagement level is so high. “While children tend to play independently with these types of toys, it’s interactive play that is critical for optimal social-emotional development, including the ability to self-soothe,” adds Bagner. “When parents praise their children for staying calm during play, it increases the likelihood that the children will be calm in other situations.”
You don’t have to be Willy Wonka to succeed. Sensory toys, like a fluffy stuffed animal or a squishy ball, helps in creating safe and comfortable play. Give them the tools and do what you can to help make that playdate happen.
Best Sensory Toys for Bedtime
The gurus behind Slumberkins, an emotional learning company, know that kids often rely on a physical object to find comfort, especially when a parent is busy (Welcome to Quarantine Kingdom!). Here is how it works: give your child the kitten-soft plush Yeti snuggler as you read about the energetic Yeti who is having trouble settling down, but then learns a mindfulness mantra and finds focus. Not only will you bond with your child, but your child is now associating the silky Yeti snuggler with a feeling of calm and comfort. Congratulations, you’ve just established a routine oozing in positive reinforcement. Now that your little one has a new BFF, use it to your advantage. Say, when there is pajama mayhem at bedtime. Ask your kid, “What would Yeti do?”
Best Sensory Toys for Book Lovers
This textured book just doesn’t get old. Each bright illustration is accompanied with a silicone sensory insert that keeps your child guessing the different textures. From bumpy spots to ridged lines, little fingers are enthralled with the feels as much as they are with the whimsical story of silly Porcupines. Kaylee B. writes, “My 9-month-old boy loves this book. It’s the first one he’s really been interested in. Plus it’s easy for my 3-year-old to ‘read’ to him. Once she heard it a few times she can look at the pictures and remember the words.” Bonus: this tactile (and very budget-friendly) series comes in stories about a porcupine and shark, amongst others, so you can get your night-time reading routine up and ready, mamas.
Lean into toddlerhood with this sensory board book that encourages playful interaction. With prompts like, “feel the snail’s smooth shell,” “touch your fingers to the raindrops,” and “tap the drums,” your little one will never grow bored. There’s even a shiny mirror for them to look into! See, Touch, Feel is chock-full of colorful pictures that will make any baby giddy with excitement and eager to learn.
Best Sensory Toys for Infants
Babies love blocks and these are even better because these award-winning cubes make sounds. Unlike annoying electronic toys with tunes that tend to get stuck in your head for hours, these rainbow-colored blocks aren’t too loud as they squeak, clack, rattle and tinker to your baby’s content. Chances are that your 1-year-old will be delighted with the delicate acoustics, and may even want to chew on these. Worry not, the sensory blocks are made from beech wood and non-toxic water-based stain. Each little cube will fit perfectly in little hands, so they can explore on their own as you settle in for some R&R on the couch. Everything HABA makes is a hand-me-down toy, so you can never go wrong investing here.
Best Sensory Toys for Toddlers
Think of this magnetic drawing board as portable art therapy—or at the very least an alternative to marker stains all over your house. “My 14-month-old son had been taking to ‘drawing’ on our couch with his half-eaten biscuit and my husband and I were looking for other means of feeding his creative impulses…without getting him crayons or ink markers just yet,” says Dale B. “My son doodles with the pen and likes taking out the magnetic shapes and putting them back into their respectively shaped holders. He’s also dragged it around and walked over it and it still works.” The double-layer design also make drawing on the four-color screen much smoother (no breaks in lines to frustrate your kids) and the magnetic stamps fit securely in their slots. What’s more, this set comes with a mini-board to bring in the car or have them draw fruits and veggies as they sit in the cart during your grocery store run. Win-Win!
Get your little one ready for dressing themselves with this Linzy Plush Education Bear. The adorable overalls have zippers, buttons, buckles, shoe laces, and velcro so they are ready to go when it’s time to try on themselves. “I love this toy, my granddaughter who is 5 still has trouble with tying and she cherishes this bear,” said one reviewer. “It has taught her how to snap easier than what she had on clothing and it gives her a sense of accomplishments.”
This Melissa & Doug See & Spell toy is great for developing spelling skills, sight reading vocabulary, and motor skills. It comes with 50 colorful pieces that is sure to grab your little one’s attention. “My daughter is 2 1/2 and she already recognizes the letters and places them where they go. She reads me what each wooden card says because the picture next to it really helps,” said one Mama. ” I can see her self-esteem just rise whenever she completes a puzzle on her own.”
Best Sensory Toys for Preschoolers
Sorry, Toy Story fans, but this colorful 100-piece set is better than any Mr. Potato Head. The vibrant pieces fit to make 50 fun creations—from parrots to puppies—by clicking smoothly together. Not only do these textured pieces make for a great sensory toy experience, but they also help kids use their imagination and hone fine motor and problem-solving skills. One parent to a 3-year-old raved that the rubber pieces are large enough for little kids to handle and connect. “I sit with my daughter and have her pick out a character to build and ask her what color pieces she thinks we need,” he says. “I then show her how to put some together and ask her to mimic what I’ve done. It’s a great learning and play tool and my daughter loves it.”
These counting bears help with color recognition, number skills, and it can be played as a social game too! Your kiddos can count the amount of different color bears and put them in the corresponding cup or get more creative with it. The set comes with 90 bears. 6 sorting cups, 2 large tweezers, and 11 cards. One teacher raves about the game saying, “I absolutely love this product, the endless learning possibilities it not only teaches primary colors, but secondary colors, but it comes with cards to teach simple mathematics skills etc… as a preschool owner I’m always looking for FUN, colorful, educational activities to engage my students and this is definitely a must have.”
Best Sensory Toys for Outdoor-Loving Kids
With social distancing in full swing, chances are your kid hasn’t been to a playground in a while. While you might not miss all the sand, your child probably does. Well, with Kinetic Sand, you can all shout “hallelujah!” We tested it out and it’s super soothing, dare we say better than a zen garden? Unlike real sand, Kinetic sand is magically magnetized to run through hands and fit into molds without going all over the place. And, unlike Play-Doh, it won’t ever dry out or get stuck in your carpet. This Beach Set comes with 3lbs of sand and six molds to create sand castles you can only dream of. One reviewer said, “Honestly, I was very hesitant on purchasing this item because as a mom, the thought of sand in the house made me want to cringe lol. This is so much fun for kids as well as adults. It’s virtually mess free.” Over 2000 reviewers agree.
Best Sensory Toys for Staying Busy
You know how kids love treasure boxes at the hair stylist, dentist, you name it. Sometimes it’s the only way to get them to do anything. This 25-piece set really is a treasure. It includes a mesmerizing motion timer, squeeze beans, stretchy strings, a snap-and-click snake and a magic cube. You can make it the Best Day Ever by unveiling all the toys at once, or dole out pieces one by one when you have to bribe encourage your kids to do something while you dial into another meeting. Reviewer Phyllis agrees. She says, “As a mom, grandma, and pediatric physical therapist, I recommend this product to others because it provides a variety of fidget toys for children to try. Often, children will need to try various items before one fits the child’s particular need. Additionally, novelty can help sustain their interest when children need it most. My grandchildren, ages 3 and 5, loved the items, which were purchased for them to use when they get frustrated or feel anxious. Self-regulation at the preschool age!”
So while this Desire Deluxe Magnetic Tiles Blocks Building Set may not seem like your typical sensory toy, it comes highly recommended by our expert, Daniel Bagner, for its interactive play potential. The 57 piece set is full of possibilities to create everything from buildings to cars. One reviewer raved, “i got this for my autistic son because he loves the ones they use at school. I’m not gonna lie when I saw the box I thought I got something cheaply made … but boy I was wrong, they are sturdy… no sharp edges and the magnets actually hold. My son loved them.” The limitless possibilities make it easy for parents to join—to be frank, playing with magnetic tiles is kind of addicting. When the real world is uncertain, this construction set is a perfect escape into creating your perfect haven.
Stay calm and play on with other mom-approved toys your kids will enjoy all year long.