Summer Sensory Play – For Toddlers and Babies

I’m often on the lookout for fun activities that both my children can enjoy. As they get older, it’s much easier to find developmentally and safe things they both like. They even “play together” now sometimes, which I love of course! Toddlers are naturally more independent than babies, but there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy some sensory play this summer with both of your children, which in my case are both under two years old!

I am a bit of a minimalist when it comes to my kids. I love buying things for them, but I almost always get rid of something when we get something new, usually in the form of toys ;). I promote good, old-fashioned fun, and you wont see a ton of complicated homemade Pinterest devices here on the blog. I’ve been there, done that, especially as an elementary teacher. But over the years I’ve realized that kids will probably have more fun with a bin of recycled materials that I already had than an ornate sensory bin that I made myself. Just speaking from my experiences.

Therefore, below you will find some of our favorite, simple, inexpensive ways to ignite your child’s senses, practice motor skills, and have a lot of fun while doing so. Good old outside summer fun. Enjoy!

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1. Water Play

What’s by far the easiest free way to provide your kids with hours of fun this summer? Water! Water! Water! Let them play with the hose, set up a sprinkler, a small kid pool, fill up some water balloons, or get to a lake or creek and let the sensory play begin! We’ve recently visited a local lake and James was occupied for hours while playing with toys at the shore.

If you can’t leave the house, a water table is a great accessory for any house in the summer. We use one similar to this one, found on Ella is standing now and loves playing with our water table. It’s a great time to practice holding different toys and cups while playing, standing in general, and experiencing the temperature and feel of water. Playing in water is fun for a toddler and a baby and you may even enjoy a few minutes of freedom with your feet in the baby pool too ;).

If you’re looking for something new and exciting, try building your own water park! There are lots of ideas for activities here.

Water keeps your kids hydrated and cool in those hot summer months, provides sensory experiences and fine motor skill practice for your little ones, and is loads of fun. The best part about it, it’s free :).

2. Sand Play 

Again, not rocket science! Kids have been playing in sandboxes since the beginning of time. Sand is easily manipulated, has a great texture, and isn’t too messy. You can also use rice for a fun sensory experience and is great for a rainy day to play with inside. You can use a plastic tub for a sensory bin and don’t need a fancy sandbox or table, but if you’re looking for a great combination table, I love this one!

Going to the beach is also great! Teaching your child using simple sand toys can aid in fine motor skill development and manipulation of objects as well. For example, teach your toddler to use a funnel to fill a dump truck or encourage your baby to use a rake in the sand. Show your child how to mold the sand into the shape they want, and always use discussion to build vocabulary. One of the best things about having a toddler and baby is that my toddler is starting to teach my baby the words for different objects. See, your kids are learning through play without even knowing it!

3. Food Play

One of my favorite parts of summer is enjoying different foods and drinks outside. You probably do this already, but make a conscious effort to talk about your senses when enjoying yummy treats this summer!

For example, ask your toddler – What does this lemon popsicle smell like? What does it taste like? Is it cold to touch? Is it rough or smooth? What does it look like? Use food to talk about shapes, colors, textures and of course taste!

As long as your baby is old enough to eat solids, both toddler and baby can enjoy this activity.

I love to explore my local farmer’s market and even just our grocery store to try out new fruits in season at certain times. Right now, James loves cherries. There’s no better time than summer to get outside, eat delicious fruits and popsicles and get messy! You can even make your own popsicles with these awesome molds.

And enjoy this recipe for delicious smoothie popsicles here and you can even feel good about giving your kids a treat ;).

Months ago I stumbled upon this post about using Cool Whip for sensory play. We’ve used shaving cream in the past, but when I’m including my baby in the activity I like to use edible materials, for the most part. This looks SO fun and I can’t wait to try it!

4. Mud Play

What kid doesn’t love to play in mud?! Well, some don’t like to be dirty, but that’s definitely not my kids. My toddler loves to play in the dirt and mud, and when summer comes along I don’t mind at all!

When you’re outside, fill a huge bucket with dirt and another with water. Allow your toddler to play with both and encourage him to mix the water with the dirt, creating mud. It’s like a tiny experiment! Add some rocks and grass and you’ve got a free sensory bin!

If you want to be more organized about it, you can create a sensory bin beforehand by making mud and putting it in your sand or water table or in a long plastic bin. Both toddler and baby will enjoy manipulating the mud, feeling it run through their fingers, and playing with objects in the mud. This activity requires close supervision of course, because of small particles ;).

Mud Extension Activities

*For edible mud, mix cornstarch, unsweetened cocoa, and water to create Oobleck. Here’s the recipe:

Add 1 cup of cornstarch to 1/2 cup of water. Add a few tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa to make the oobleck look like mud. Begin adding water a little at a time until it becomes less stiff. Oobleck is a great sensory item; if mixed in the right proportions, it’s solid when you scoop it up and squeeze it, but turns to liquid and “melts away” when you open your hands! For this reason, making it can be a little tough. If it becomes too runny, simply add a little more cornstarch. You can add gummy worms or some crushed oreos for some fun if you want too!

*For a role play experience, encourage your child to use farm animals or other small toys and pretend a character gets stuck in the mud. We often play out this experience because of James’ love of farms and the book Little Blue Truck.

*Construction vehicles also make great toys while mud playing!

5. Soap and Bubble Play 

After all of that messy sensory play, your kids will need a serious bath ;). We love to put bubbles in our bath, but if you really want to have fun in the bath follow this recipe for rainbow soap foam! 

Try bringing different toys in the bath to create various sensory experiences. Use all balls one night, or all boats and cars another. Create mountains with bubbles and have your toddler crush and smoosh them.

Use bath time as an opportunity for bonding with your kids, playing and creating memories, and discuss senses too! A bath can be a special time for a toddler and baby to share and a great experience for them to learn from one another. Another plus- it’s relaxing and they get clean! 😉

When trying to provide your child with meaningful sensory experiences no matter what time of year, think exploration. Children learn best with hands-on activities that enable them to use their senses and discover new things. Summer is a great time to get outside, take a nature walk, and explore all of the different elements nature has to offer.

If you’re a mom of two under two and want to provide activities that both your toddler and baby can enjoy, think simple and always have fun! I hope the above ideas helped 🙂 Have a  wonderful weekend!

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