The Best Sensory Activities for 2 Year Olds
Sensory bins for 2 year olds and other fun ideas!
Two years old is such a fun age for your children! They are learning so many new skills and growing far too quickly. Sensory activities for two year olds can support their cognitive, social, and emotional changes all through play! During this stage of development, many toddlers will begin to walk heel-to-toe a little more than they toddle. Their language development will advance from animated jiberish to two to three- word phrases. Your little one may begin to sort objects by shape and color in sensory bins for two year olds and prefer either their right or left hands when doing so.
Learning to count numbers and recognize letters may interest your kiddo. You can also practice giving your child two or three-step directions, which they may or may not listen to because this is also the age that they begin to understand themselves as separate from you. While facilitating sensory activities for two year olds, you may notice that they say “no” more — a natural assertion of their independence and an important communication cue that helps you to understand what they do and don’t like.
The developmental leaps your child may be experiencing during this age can be intense on the little brains and bodies of your toddlers, so be patient with them as they explore and express a larger range of emotion. Many parents and caregivers experience this age as “the terrible twos” due to the development of a child’s natural autonomy. “The terrific twos” is a preferred phrase that represents the broad spectrum of emotional and personal growth little ones are experiencing during this time. Two years old is also the age when children begin to mimic other people around them, so modeling kind and respectful behavior will teach them how to care for themselves and others better. Positive parenting methods include great ways to help your children learn through encouragement and play.
Your toddler's developmental milestones at two years are important to track and support. If your child doesn’t seem to be hitting these milestones, you can seek help. The “Learn the Signs, Act Early” campaign by the CDC offers the resources you may need. Otherwise, prepared sensory play for two year olds can help you and your loved ones to enjoy this developmental stage with less fuss!
Why sensory activities for 2 year olds are important
Sensory play invites your two year old to explore and make sense of the world through their five senses: touch, taste, sight, hearing, and smell. It inspires curiosity, problem solving, and creativity all through the process of play! And it does so much more than that. Sensory activities for two year olds also advance the skills of toddlers by promoting their vestibular sense, or their ability to balance, as well as proprioception, their spatial awareness. Play ideas like sensory bins for two year olds invite your child into their internal world through their bodies, strengthening brain development and motor skills, while they are exploring their external environments simultaneously!
Sensory activity ideas for 2 year olds
There are so many sensory activities for two year olds. Here are a number of ideas to get you started.
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Read books with tactile elements!
You can initiate sensory play for two year olds simply by reading a book! A number of board and children’s books include tactile elements that your little one can touch and listen to while they read. Whether it’s a fuzzy bunny, an accordion scene, or a pull down picture, your child can interact with the material as they listen to you read. Other books also include audio elements so that your child can learn the sound that lions make, the squish of feet in the mud, or a lovely little song. One of my favorite sensory books is Never Touch a Dragon by Rosie Greening. I love that it has silicone touch-and-feel parts rather than fabric so it’s easier to clean when my kid mouths it! Another fun, interactive book is Press Here. It’s not tactile per say, but it is interactive. Your little can touch the book and move it around and shake it up and blow on it!
Practice pretend play!
Engaging your child’s imagination is central to their development. So, no matter what sensory activities you choose, remember to invite them to animate the objects around them and create a story. This invites your child to develop creativity, learn cause and effect, as well as practice their agency as the author of their very own stories!
Go on a seek and find walk!
Whether you’re in the house, at a grocery store, or in the woods, a “seek and find walk” can be a great opportunity to teach your children to be observant of their surroundings. Pointing out interesting things to notice or playing games like “I spy” while you’re out and about together can stimulate curiosity, as well as make day-to-day errands into a visual sensory play experience! Try picking a color and having your child walk around to find everything in that color.
This can be a great way to get grocery shopping done! You can give your little ones a special job that guides them in the same direction you need to be. For example, "Natalie, can you help me find the green apples?" "Do you remember where the eggs are?" This can be a grocery shopping life saver for kiddos who refuse to sit in the cart!
Write, play, and sing songs!
Music is a wonderful way to promote auditory sensory play for two year olds. You can use actual or toy instruments. Or, make music using simple around-the-house items like hitting a wooden spoon on a pot or pan or shaking chickpeas stored in a mason jar.
Explore nature play!
Nature is full of wonderful things to see, touch, listen to, and taste, so take your kiddo on a sensory walk! Point out the wonderful plants, insects, and animals you discover together along the way. If you find safe berries or other edible and positive-smelling flowers on your walk, invite your child to practice olfactory, or smell, and taste sensory play for two year olds.
Practice water play!
For those little ones who love liquid, water play serves as a favorite sensory activity. Whether in the bath or outside with a hose, in the swimming pool or jumping in puddles, water offers a tactile sensory experience that dries fast and is so much fun! Another creative way to use water is with box painting: Grab a few brown cardboard boxes, a number of paint brushes, and a tub of water and let your little transform the plain surface into a work of water art!
Get messy with food play!
Food play serves as a simple sensory activity for two year olds that stimulates olfactory and taste stimulation. Your kids can smell and try foods, while learning the words for colors and experiencing the variety of textures. From soft, mashed, orange and purple sweet potatoes to hard, crunchy green or red apples, food play can teach children language development through play! If you have a number of expired food items, let your little one combine them into a magic potion or bug food. Or, invite your kiddo into safe, non-heat food preparation by measuring, mixing, scooping, and dumping as you bake yummy treats.
Have you ever considered contact paper as a source for play? Adhere the contact paper sticky side up on the floor, under a table, or on a wall and let your kiddo attach items like pom poms, sticks, leaves, and other materials they love to the sticky surface! Sensory activities like this one can help your child practice “crossing the midline.” This important stage of development shows that your child can cross from right to left or left to right, using both sides of their body simultaneously.
Make and squeeze oobleck!
Oobleck is a simple fluid made from cornstarch and water. It’s a liquid at rest, and becomes a solid when pressure is applied. It can be so fun for children to squeeze while they observe how it changes. You can make your own with these oobleck recipes or make it simple with a convenient oobleck kit that contains the perfect amount of non-toxic liquid watercolors.
Paint on paper, cardboard, or a sheet!
Non-toxic, taste-safe paint can also be used to create great sensory play for year olds activities. Children can paint with their fingers on paper or cardboard boxes. Or, you can water down your paints, mix them with water, and pour them into mini-trigger spray bottles that are easy for kids to use. Hang a sheet outside, then let your little one spray the paint and paint the sheet into a creative masterpiece! Here are a number of other fun videos of paint activities for kids.
Get chilly with ice play!
There are so many great sensory activities for two year olds using ice. Try making an Ice Spaghetti Monster by pouring colorful water, spaghetti, googly eyes, and other fun materials into a bowl, then freezing it! You can also water down non-toxic, taste-safe paint, pour the liquid into ice cube trays, freeze them, then have your little ones paint with ice cubes!
Another super fun idea is freezing water balloons. If you add some liquid watercolors, they look absolutely magical. Once frozen, remove and discard the balloon part because it’s a major choking hazard!
Squishy dough play
Squishy dough is an awesome sensory play idea for two year olds. It’s malleable so can be sculpted into a variety of shapes and sizes, while building fine motor muscle strength. This will help your kiddos to do things like grasp pencils to write! Be careful not to let your child eat it though due to its high salt content.
Play a sensory surprise game!
Place a number of objects with various shapes, sizes, textures, smells, and tastes in a bag. If your kiddo is comfortable doing so, blindfold your child or invite them to close their eyes, then reach into the bag and pull out an object. Have them try and guess what it is! You can build their vocabulary as they learn the names, colors, and textures of the items they’re holding.
Sorting toys like small cars and blocks by item, size, color, and shape in muffin tins, old egg cartons, or bowls can teach your child to learn how objects are alike and different. Sensory activities like these are the foundational elements to early literacy and math skills.
Sensory bins for 2 years olds
Sensory bins for two year olds are another wonderful way to engage your child’s development through play! You can create a sensory bin by purchasing a clear plastic container then filling it with taste-safe, non-choking hazards. When choosing sensory materials for the base of your bin, try colored, uncooked rice or cooked pasta, water or oatmeal. Cornmeal is another safe option. Then add washable toys like blocks, trucks, kitchen utensils, funnels, spatulas, whisks, etc. You can read a full list of 32 household items you can add into sensory bins for more ideas.
Sensory bags can also be great sensory activities for two year olds. To make a sensory bag, add different paint colors to a sealable plastic bag. Then have your child press the paint and watch as it moves around and combines!
Sensory bottles are one more wonderful way to facilitate sensory play for two year olds. Just fill a bottle with a number of items and invite your child to shake it! Or take a look at our sensory bottle packs themed for Easter, spring, and winter! This is the perfect sensory activity to take with you on the go to keep your kiddos entertained in car rides or during other travel experiences like airplanes or trains.
Tips for successful sensory activities for 2 year olds
Check out my Messy Play Tips & Tricks page for a number of gathered strategies to ensure that your facilitation of sensory activities for two year olds is a success! Here are a few of my favorite ideas specific to this age.
- Give your children lots of attention and praise as they follow instructions, use their imaginations, and learn new sounds, words, colors, textures.
- Ensure your kiddo’s belly is full by beginning the sensory activities after they’ve eaten! This will ensure they consume less of the play materials.
- Know your child’s best time of day for sensory play. They will enjoy the new sensory stimulation most if they’re well rested and ready to learn.
- Facilitate only when you have the energy! Self-care for caregivers is so important for effective sensory play. So be sure to invite your littles into these activities when you have the time and energy.
- Try beginning sensory activities before you get them dressed in the morning or during a mid-afternoon change of clothes! Sensory play can be messy, so a clothes-free play period can be just what you need to make clean up easier. You can also purchase the Mess Maker Apron for clothing protection!
- Another great time to facilitate sensory play is right before bath time so you can quickly wash off the mess. Or, just have them play with the messy materials right in the bathtub!
- Teaching your little one the limits and boundaries of sensory play can be a great way to keep the mess contained. You can do so using items like the Messy Play Kits Washable Dropcloth.
Safety during sensory activities for 2 year olds
As always, safety needs to remain a central priority during sensory activities, especially for two year olds. Here are a few of my favorite safety tips:
- Always observe your child near or around water.
- Watch what your child is putting in their mouths. Check toys often for loose or broken parts and ensure your little one is chewing any food items thoroughly.
- Remember that choking hazards are different depending on your child’s developmental age and abilities, not their actual age.
Where to buy sensory activity kits for 2 year olds
Messy Play Kits offers a number of fun sensory activity kits for two year olds. The Oobleck Kit can be a great way to get your kids’ hands dirty, while they learn to grasp and release this gooey substance. The Handprint Keepsake Kit will store memories of your little’s tiny fingers and toes.
Last but not least, our sensory bottle packs can be sealed shut with glue to ensure safety for kids under two. No matter which sensory activities you choose for you and your two year old, I hope you have a blast and, as always, enjoy the mess!