How sensory activities promote cognitive development in infants and toddlers

Allan Martyr

Allan Martyr

Published 6th Feb 2023

What are sensory activities and why are they important?

Activities that involve or stimulate the five senses i.e, taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight are known as sensory activities. Sensory activities are an important part of a child’s development, especially during the early years when their brains are rapidly developing. These activities help to stimulate the senses, including sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell, which can help to promote cognitive, emotional, and physical growth. Here are a few fun sensory activities for preschoolers, infants, and toddlers that would help them develop sensory skills.

Table of Contents

7 Sensory Activities For Infants, Toddlers & Preschoolers

1. Touch & Feel Box

A touch and feel box is one of the best sensory activities to engage a toddler’s sense of touch. The toddler learns to differentiate between different textures, shapes, etc by feeling or touching objects. This can also help enhance the toddlers’ vocabulary and linguistic skills. 


What do we need?

  1. Items with different textures like feathers, cotton balls, wooden blocks, etc
  2. A box big enough to fit all the items 

How to make and use a Touch & Feel box

  1. Gather a variety of items with different textures, such as feathers, sandpaper, cotton balls, and contrasting fabrics.
  2. Find a box or container to put the items in, with a lid to keep the items inside.
  3. Place the items in the box, making sure to mix them up so the toddler can’t see what’s inside.
  4. Show the toddler how to reach into the box and feel the items without looking. Encourage them to use descriptive words to describe the different textures they feel, such as “smooth” or “rough.”
  5. As the toddler becomes more familiar with the items, you can also encourage them to identify the items by their texture.
You can create a sensory wall panel and ask your kid to place his or her hand on the texture that resembles the texture of the object in the box. Warning – Make sure you select objects that aren’t sharp or too rough. Such items could injure the kid.

Answer me now

Here are a few questions that you can ask your child during or right after the activity. These questions will help reinforce what the kid has learned.

  1. Which object is hard?
  2. Which object is soft?
  3. Which object feels rough?

2. Play Dough

Play dough is another popular sensory activity that helps develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, texture exploration, etc in infants and toddlers.

What do we need?

  1. Flour
  2. Water
  3. Rug or newspaper
  4. Edible, non-toxic food color (optional)

How to make and use play dough

Here’s the thing with play dough, it can be used in more than one way to develop different sensory responses in infants and toddlers. Each activity is easy to conduct. All you need to do is knead some dough using flour and water. You can knead two or three balls of dough each with different quantities of water so that the textures of each ball are different. Once this is done, let the game begin.

  1. Squishing and Squashing: Give your infant a small ball of dough and let them squish it with their hands. Squishing and squashing can help develop fine motor skills.
  2. Rolling and Pinching: Show your infant how to roll the play dough into small balls or snakes and pinch it to make different shapes. Such activities promote the development of hand-eye coordination among infants and toddlers 
  3. Texture Exploration: Mix different materials such as sand, glitter, or small objects like beads into the play dough. This can help your infant explore different textures.
  4. Sensory Bin: Fill a container with play dough and small toys or objects for your infant to find and explore.
  5. Imprinting: Press small toys or objects into the play dough and let your infant explore the impressions.

The idea is to allow your young one to explore and feel different textures, shapes, etc. The play dough also supports muscular development as the kid rolls, presses, and squishes the dough. You can choose to use doughs of different colors. This not only makes the activity more attractive, but it can also teach the infant color differentiation.  

Warning: It’s important to always supervise infants during these activities and make sure that they don’t ingest the play dough. Playdough is not edible and can be harmful if ingested.

Answer me now

  1. Which of these two dough balls is green?
  2. Which ball feels softer than the other?

3. Nature Walks

Nature has always been our best teacher. Sensory activities such as a nature walk can help infants and toddlers understand the world better. It’s important to keep the walk short and to focus on the sights, sounds, and textures of nature, such as leaves, flowers, and birds. This automatically makes them aware of their surroundings.

What do we need?

All we need here is a big green park with lots of flora and some fauna.

Here are a few sensory activities that you can undertake in nature:

  1. Touching different textures: Let your infant touch different textures such as leaves, flowers, rocks, and bark. Show them how to run their fingers over the surfaces and describe the sensation to them.
  2. Smelling different scents: Point out different plants and flowers and let your infant smell them. Describe the scents and help them identify the different smells.
  3. Listening to different sounds: Point out different birds, insects, and animals, and describe the sounds they make. Help your infant identify the different sounds and encourage them to listen carefully.
  4. Watching different movements: Point out different birds, insects, and animals, and describe their movements. Help your infant identify the different movements and encourage them to watch carefully.
  5. Tasting different fruits and berries(if in season): If it’s safe, you can show your infant different fruits and berries, and allow them to taste them. Make sure that the fruits and berries are safe for the infant to eat and are not toxic.
  6. Collecting nature objects: Encourage your infant to collect small, safe, and natural objects like leaves, feathers, and stones. Let them explore the different shapes and textures of the objects they collect.

The objective is to flame your kid’s curiosity and let that run wild. Allow them to be amazed by the fruits of nature. You can create a journal/scrapbook to preserve the objects collected. This will help reinforce the information stored in your kid’s brain. 

Warning: It’s important to always supervise infants during these activities and make sure that they don’t ingest any toxic objects or plants. Keep the walk short, as infants can get tired easily, and also be mindful of the weather and their comfort.

Answer me now

  1. Which flower is yellow?
  2. Can you hear the birds chirping?

4. Finger painting

Time to get messy! Finger painting is a fun and easy sensory activity for infants. It boosts creativity as the children learn different color combinations, shapes, and patterns.

What do we need?

  1. Non-toxic paint (such as food coloring mixed with water or washable paint made specifically for infants)
  2. Large sheets of paper or a plastic tablecloth to protect surfaces
  3. Baby-safe paint brushes or cotton swabs

How to conduct finger painting?

To begin the activity, ensure that your infant is seated on a protected surface. You can use a newspaper or bedsheets. Demonstrate how to hold a paintbrush or cotton swab. If your baby is not old enough to handle paintbrushes, let them use their baby hands. 

Show them how to paint on the paper using their hand or fingers. Encourage them to explore the colors and the sensation of the brush or swab on the paper. Be prepared for messy hands and clothes, but don’t worry too much about the final product – the focus should be on the sensory experience for the infant.

Warning: It’s important to keep your infant safe while they paint, so make sure to supervise them at all times and keep any non-edible materials out of reach.

Answer me now

  1. Did the paint feel cold?
  2. What are the names of the three colors you used today?

5. Music and Movement

Music is by far one of the best sensory activities. Studies have shown that music has a calming effect on infants ad toddlers. Believe it or not but even infants get stressed. Singing a simple song or playing an instrument can reduce this stress and help them calm down.


What do you need?

    1. Basic musical instruments like wind chimes, egg shakers,  etc.
    2. Thread to hang the instruments  

How to use music and movement?

  1. Sing a simple yet rhythmic song or rhyme and clap your hands while singing. In most cases, the infant will try to imitate you and that’s the desired outcome. Singing to your infants is also a very intimate activity and helps develop trust between the two of you.  
  2. Hang a wind chime above the infant’s cradle in such a way that the infant’s hand can reach the chime. Tap the wind chime a few times and let it ring. Not only will the sound of the wind chime intrigue the baby but the moving parts of the wind chime will enhance the infant’s ability to focus 
  3. For toddlers, you can choose more complex movements like teaching them to stomp their feet to the rhythm of the music. 

Research suggests that music can fasten the overall development of infants and toddlers. It is but natural to move to the music. This movement promotes physical growth. Music can also play an important role in the linguistic understanding and development of infants and toddlers. 

Warnings – If you are playing recorded music, ensure that the music is soft and calming and not too loud. Ensure that the wind chimes are not made of sharp objects.

6. Edible sandbox

An edible sandbox is a popular sensory activity among infants and toddlers. This activity develops tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive senses in infants and toddlers. It can also boost creativity.

What do we need?

  1. Edible flour. You choose to grind oats or baby cereal if you want to be extra cautious 
  2. A large vessel to hold the flour or cereal
  3. Stuffed toys or rubber toys of different shapes, sizes, and colors

How to make and use an edible sandbox

  1. If you are using flour – Mix four parts flour with one part edile oil to give the flour a grainy texture that resembles sand. 
  2. Fill the sand in a large vessel or container and drop in the stuffed toys 
  3. Let the infants step in and explore the play area. Do not worry if they get dirty. Just allow them to have fun and explore their curiosity. 

This simple sensory activity strengthens the muscles and builds hand-eye coordination. Fine motor skills are also developed as a result of this activity. 

Warning Keep an eye on the infant always and make sure that nothing dangerous is ingested.

7. Storyboard

Storytelling is extremely powerful and can have a massive impact on the cognitive development of infants and toddlers. Stories throw open the gates of creativity and imagination. 

What do we need?

A story book or a story board with bright and colorful pictures.


How to use a storybook/board?

Place the infant in your lap and start reading out a story. Remember to read the story at a slow pace and point to corresponding pictures. Give your infant time to connect the pictures with the story. It would be best if you can enact the story using facial expressions and hand movements. 

Storytelling facilitates logical reasoning and problem-solving abilities in infants and toddlers. The child learns to be creative and ask questions. Storytelling is one of the best ways to gain the infant’s trust. Stories are extremely comforting and calming.

How Illumine helps you record, share, and cherish a child's various sensory activities

Research shows that sensory activities that involve different colors, patterns, shapes, textures, and fragrances, are crucial for cognitive development in infants and toddlers. These experiences help them learn and become more confident, and also lay the foundation for future cognitive development as they encounter more complex situations later in life. 

Childcare centers should incorporate these activities to establish an environment that promotes the overall development of infants and toddlers. 

Illumine aims to make life easier by offering an extensive array of services such as activity planning, tracking, and sharing with parents to extend learning beyond the classroom. It is a comprehensive solution that addresses all your needs. 

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