Our Favorite Sensory Toys for Independent Play

When we both obtained our Master in Arts of Teaching at Belmont University, we took quite a fascinating course on child development.  We learned the various developmental stages of children, including the typical abilities and limitations per age. It became apparent that we should structure our classrooms in a way that challenge our students but don’t exceed their current physical and mental abilities.  For example, we know inherently that giving a 15 month-old a marker to draw with may seem ridiculous but oftentimes in education we find ourselves asking students to perform a task before they are even capable of completing that task.

It is important to stay in-the-know and listen to your gut when asking your child or student to complete a task. We can make assumptions as parents and teachers about our children’s development but luckily there is a ton of research and literature out there that can help us determine what activities and new experiences or challenges we can produce for them.  Every day, interesting new discoveries and connections are made in this field.

As we dove into younger ages with our classes, specifically age 5 and under, we realized that while our education taught us a lot, we had to do some brushing up on our child development knowledge.  After reading and researching many different resources, we have become adept at creating lessons that are developmentally appropriate and fun for our littlest learners. One of our favorite things to do is create opportunities for them to engage all of their senses- sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste (though taste should often be avoided in art, but sometimes they can’t help themselves!).  

Below are some of our kiddos favorite toys and as a bonus - you can make these too so easily with items you may have already at home or can grab at a dollar store!  We are sure to incorporate some key words and questions when we play with these items and our kids. We hope this helps you little independent kiddos play throughout the day while also developing motor skills and curiosity mostly mess free! :)


  • Balloons (be sure not to get the water balloons or they will break too easily!)
  • Rice, Beans, Flour (pretty much any dry item that you can fit down a funnel)
  • Funnel

This is such a fun and mess-free way to let you kiddos play with various textures!  Simply put the funnel in the balloon and slowly fill it up with various dry pieces. Once you’ve filled it as much as you can, let any extra air out and tie it up!   When introducing these, you can point out the textures (i.e. soft, hard, bumpy, smooth, etc) as well as having them guess what is inside :)


  • Food Coloring
  • Sparkles, glitter, pom-poms, beads, jewels, etc.
  • Washi tape
  • Hot glue
  • Water
  • Oil (optional)

The options for sensory bottles are endless!  You can create a theme with color or imagery in the bottle or just random.  We like to have at least one thing for each color of the rainbow :) Once you’ve added the dry items of your choice, add water and food coloring (bear in mind the coloring can affect certain dry items such as a white pom-pom :).  Once the lid is put back on tightly, add hot glue to the opening and while it’s still warm, add your tape to secure the lid shut. You can use washi tape to match or just regular masking or duct tape too. Shake them, roll them, stack them and see what you can find in the bottles!



  • Rice, Beans, Lentils, etc. (pretty much any dry item that varies in shape/size)
  • Duct tape
  • Clean cans, bottles, old plastic eggs or other shape container

Possibly the simplest option and super fun, make your own percussion instruments!  Just add your dry item to you container of choice and secure it with duct tape. If you use an egg with two spoons, you can even make your own maraca :)  You can shake them, tap them together, tap them on the ground, and more to get a variety of sounds!



  • Scissors
  • Duct or Masking Tape
  • Bottle (any shape really but the 12oz drinks work really well)
  • Pom poms
  • Container for pom poms

This is so great to help kids with motor skills and problem solving for how to get the pom-poms in and out of the bottle :)  Simply remove the label the lid (We add tape to cue that it is an opening). Cut a 2-3 inch hole in the front of the bottle and add tape to the sharp edge to prevent injury and to show the opening.  Fill another container with pom poms and let them get to dunking! You may need to guide them through putting the pom pom in and getting them out a time or two. After that, they will surely play with this for a good long time independently :)