Your toddler: play and his senses

by Heather Welford. Support your toddler's learning by encouraging play that develops sensory awareness.

toddler and flower


Babies and toddlers use all their senses, all the time, as part of their instinctive quest to discover the world and their place in it.

You can enhance their learning by creating plenty of opportunities to explore and experiment with sight, sound, taste, touch and smell.

How CBeebies can help

Have a browse through the Fun Activities section for some activity ideas that will help promote your toddler's sensory awareness.

For example, take a look at the sweet and savoury recipes you could try with your child. Perhaps you could experiment with an ingredient your child hasn't tried out before. Have a taste-testing session together and see if your child can describe the flavours and textures.

Try out some art and craft activities too, - e.g. you could choose one of the Mister Maker makes - and have fun using and experimenting with different fabrics and materials.

Sensory play is also important for early scientific investigation. The CBeebies show Nina And The Neurons is all about our five senses and how they help us in everyday life. Click through to the Nina And The Neurons web pages, select 'Watch & Listen' and take a look at some of Nina's sensory experiments.

How to make a magic moment

A good way to make space for sensory play with your toddler is to have a special container or 'sensory box' which you can use as a place for items you've selected that stimulate the senses.

Here are some ideas:

  • small rattle
  • handbell
  • music box
  • screwtop container with lentils to shake
  • cotton wool (some can be scented with a squirt of perfume)
  • fabric scraps
  • different coloured blocks/bricks
  • kitchen foil or other shiny paper

Extra information

Encourage language development by extending your toddler's knowledge of the items in the sensory box.

Talk about the colours, the size, how surfaces feel (rough or smooth, soft or hard, sharp or blunt). Ask your toddler to find similarities - e.g. 'Where's another red thing?' or 'Where's another thing that smells nice?'.

Categorising items like this into 'sets' is a first step towards early maths and enables your toddler to expand his observation and experiences and to practise 'thinking' skills.

Sensory play is also important to investigation and early science - if something smells, does it always mean it tastes the same way? What happens to the way something feels, or reacts, if it is wet? Your toddler is gathering scientific data all the time via his senses.

Why not enjoy some more sensory play at bathtime? You could put a few drops of food colouring into the water, or you could use bubbles and 'sculpt' hairstyles and beards with the foam, or you could pour and splash with different containers.

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Top tips

  • Babies and toddlers use their mouths to explore items - it's normal behaviour and you cannot stop it. But you will need to prevent your toddler placing unsuitable items in their mouth.When reading a story, ask your toddler questions about the colours in the pictures: what he thinks something might feel like, what sound something might make, what it might smell like.Play with soft dough, sand or flour is a great whole-hand experience for your child. If your little one is reluctant to get their hands dirty, encourage them by joining in yourself.

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