Best Sensory Toys

Updated September 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best sensory toys

Last Updated September 2019

It's harder for some children to engage with toys than others. Some toys don't provide the type of stimulation certain kids desire, and others provide too much visual and auditory stimulation, which can be overwhelming. Sensory toys are specially designed to engage and stimulate one of the five senses.

Interested? Your next step is to figure out which sensory toys would be best for your child. To do so, you need to know about sensory toy types, features, and purposes.

Luckily, you're in the right place. Alongside our top picks, we've created a full guide to sensory toys that will teach you all you need to know.

Sensory toys can help lessen anxiety in children with sensory processing issues.

The purpose of sensory toys

The majority of toys are designed with the act of play in mind, but sensory toys are designed to stimulate a particular sense. It might seem odd that a toy would be designed to stimulate just one sense, but these toys were originally designed for use by people with sensory processing disorder (which may sit alongside autism, ADHD, and other conditions).

People with sensory processing disorder often seek specific sensory stimulation and sensory toys help to fulfil their needs in appropriate ways. For example, a person might play with a fidget toy to keep an urge satisfied. That said, there's no reason why neurotypical children can't play with sensory toys if said toys appeal to them.

Tactile heaven

Firm yet squeezable and covered in satisfying spikes, Impresa Products Spiky Sensory Balls are perfect for kids who require tactile stimulation. They can be using for tactile rolling, sensory brushing, or simply bouncing, squeezing, and playing.

Types of sensory toys

You can find sensory toys in a number of forms; it would take an extremely long time to list every single subtype. However, we can break types of sensory toys down into the senses that they stimulate and give you a few popular examples of each.

Visual toys

These are toys that provide visual stimulation for children. Examples include light projectors, bubble tubes, and zigzag timers.

Auditory toys

While plenty of kids with sensory processing disorder prefer to avoid unwanted sounds, there are some who seek out specific sounds or may find particular sounds calming. Auditory sensory toys include rainsticks, musical instruments, and anything that crinkles when touched.

Tactile toys

Touch-related sensory toys provide a particular physical sensation or give kids something to do with their hands. Common choices include slime or putty, kinetic sand, fidget toys, stress toys, textured balls, and swings.

Toys related to smell and taste

Although not widely available (since smell isn't a common sense that needs stimulating in people with sensory processing disorders), you can find some toys, such as squishies, that are infused with a particular scent. As for taste, there aren't really any sensory toys you can taste. However, there are items designed for kids who like to bite or chew. These include chew necklaces, vibrachews, and other oral motor toys.

DID YOU KNOW?

Some sensory toys, such as fidget toys, are designed to help focus a child's attention when they may otherwise act out.

DID YOU KNOW?

Kids who are easily overwhelmed by too much visual input might prefer sensory toys in muted colors.

DID YOU KNOW?

Tactile sensory toys can help kids develop both fine and gross motor skills.

Considerations for selecting sensory toys

Age range

It's important to choose sensory toys that are appropriate for your child’s age. Always adhere to minimum recommended ages, as these are put in place for safety reasons. For example, some sensory toys may have small parts that pose a choking risk for young children.

The upper end of the recommended age range is less important with sensory toys. Textured bouncy balls might be listed as suitable for ages three to six, for instance, but your 10-year-old might still enjoy the feeling of squeezing them of rolling the knobbly parts down their arm.

Educational merit

Sensory toys aren't really designed to be educational, but some of them can be, anyway. You might find a light projector that projects constellations or planets. Bubble or zigzag timers can teach kids something about the properties of fluids with different densities. We wouldn't necessarily recommend thinking about educational merit over sensory input for kids with sensory processing issues, but they can still learn along the way, if relevant.

Responsiveness

Depending on the nature of your child's sensory issues, they may need immediate sensory response from their toys. A sensory toy should ideally give the desired response right away. So, for example, a noise-making toy should create a sound as soon as your child hits it or presses a button. If a sensory toy isn't responsive enough, the child might go elsewhere to achieve the desired sensory response, which in some cases could be unsafe.

Safety

Although it should go without saying, sensory toys must be safe for their intended use. If a toy designed to be chewed isn't strong enough, a child could bite a part off, which could pose a choking risk. If a sensory toy is made from toxic materials, it’s not safe for use by children at all. Check that any sensory toys you buy are safe and fit for purpose.

Great to grip

Sensory Jungle Kids Water Beads start tiny and hard but grow into larger jelly-like marbles overnight. The feeling of these beads is soothing for some people with sensory processing disorders, plus they're great for encouraging fine motor skills, since kids will want to pick them up and play with them.

Sensory toy prices

Excellent news for parents on a budget: you don't need to spend much to get a quality sensory toy. In fact, sensory toys are often quite simple and have a low price tag. Basic sensory toys may cost as little as $5 to $10, and sometimes less. Mid-range sensory toys tend to be priced between $10 and $20. High-end sensory toys with more complex parts (such as light projectors) can cost between $20 and $40.

Tips

  • Choose a sensory toy that provides the type of stimulation your child needs. If your child craves tactile stimulation, for example, a light-up visual sensory toy won't hit the spot. And, in this case, your child could misuse the toy to achieve the desired sensory response.

  • Pick durable sensory toys. Sensory toys should be able to withstand the kind of wear and tear that kids put their toys through. Anything that breaks easily could be dangerous.

  • Consult your child when buying sensory toys. Unless you're buying a toy as a surprise gift, you're more likely to find a toy your child will enjoy if you consult them before purchasing.

  • Make sure your chosen sensory toys adhere to relevant safety standards. Ideally, a sensory toy should adhere to the ASTM International standards for toy safety.

Other products we considered

There are plenty of other options out there worth your consideration. We love NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Play Sand for its interesting tactile sensation. It's easy to mold and feels constantly wet, but the grains only stick to each other and not to the user, which is great for kids who don't like the feeling of getting messy. The FUNisimo Baby Bath Floating LED Light-up Sensory Toy is perfect for kids who thrive on visual stimulation and is an ideal distraction for littles ones who don't like bath time. If you're in the market for a fidget toy, Impresa Products Monkey Noodles are an excellent choice. They stretch from ten inches up to eight feet, giving an interesting tactile sensation. Freddy's Fidget Toys are another great option. They essentially consist of a marble inside a semi-squishy mesh tube, which you can pull, roll, twist, and squish.

If you're unsure what kinds of sensory toys would help your child with their sensory processing disorder, consult a doctor or other healthcare professional.

FAQ

Q. Are fidget toys the same as sensory toys?

A. Fidget toys are a type of sensory toy that give kids tactile stimulation instead of fidgeting in other ways. However, not all sensory toys are fidget toys.

Q. Aren't all toys sensory toys?

A. You could argue that all toys are sensory toys, since they stimulate multiple senses in various ways. However, sensory toys are different in that they're usually designed to stimulate one sense, while being fairly unstimulating in other ways. For instance, a musical sensory toy usually doesn't have lots of other lights, sounds, and bright colors. This is because toys that are too "busy" can confuse and overwhelm some children with additional needs, such as autism or sensory processing disorder.

Q. How durable are sensory toys?

A. This depends on the toy you opt for. Some are extremely durable, so they're great for young kids or children who have a tendency to throw or play roughly with their toys. Others are more fragile, so you might want to supervise play, especially if said toys are filled with liquid or smaller parts that could be swallowed.

The team that worked on this review
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Katie
    Katie
    Editorial Director
  • Lauren
    Lauren
    Writer
  • Melissa
    Melissa
    Senior Editor
  • Samantha
    Samantha
    Writer

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