Best sensory toys for babies

19 May 2021

baby playing with sensory toy

Babies have a tough job making sense of the world, with its bright lights and colours, loud noises, and lots of different things to touch. Sensory toys can be a great way to help them learn.

When people talk about sensory toys they mean ones that are designed to engage at least one of your baby’s senses – sight, sound, smell, touch and, in some cases, taste.

Most toys, particularly for young babies, have a sensory element as that’s what aids their development. They don’t have to be brightly coloured. Newborn babies can only see in high contrast for the first few weeks so black and white toys are an ideal option.
Sensory toys can be great for babies and older children with SEN (special educational needs) like autism because they can help develop their sensory processing systems.

You can also consider household items. Wooden spoons, plastic bottles filled with pasta or jelly in a plastic bag all make great sensory toys. Of course, it goes without saying that you must supervise your baby very closely while they’re playing.

Here are the best sensory toys for babies as recommended by parents.

1. Best overall sensory toy: Proud Mama Sensory Box

Price: £20.75 | Buy now from Amazon

“Amazon sells a box called the Proud Mama sensory box. It's brilliant and has all the bits you need as a starter pack.”

1. Best overall sensory toy: Proud Mama Sensory Box

Amazon’s Proud Mama sensory box is a proper sensory starter kit. It contains tickly feathers, bright coloured ribbons on a hoop, two rattles, one light wand and even some bubbles.

There’s also a big foil blanket and two sensory scarves – ideal for playing peekaboo or hiding behind your back and then waving in front of your baby. They’ll think you’re a magician.

The whole set comes packaged in tissue paper, which doesn’t just make it a great gift, it also acts as another sensory toy – most babies love scrunched paper.

If you’re not sure what you’re doing (who is?), there’s a page of instructions and game ideas. Depending on your little one’s age, you could just leave them by the box to explore for themselves.

Given you get 10 items (not including the tissue paper or box) for just over £20, it’s also great value for money.

Best for: Newborns to two-year-olds (and beyond)

Buy now from Amazon

2. Best budget sensory toy: Foil Blanket

Price: £1.99 | Buy now from Amazon

“Foil blankets (the one ambulances use to keep people warm) are great. I have one for my four-month-old but it’s my older kid’s favourite toy.”

2. Best budget sensory toy: Foil Blanket

Foil blankets are more commonly found in first aid kits or around marathon runners’ shoulders. Designed to keep people warm in emergencies, they also make a fantastic – and very cheap – baby sensory toy.

There’s no need to pay inflated prices for one that’s labelled ‘for babies’ either as all foil blankets do the same job.

So what’s the appeal? The shiny surface and scrunchy sounds are the ultimate sensory toy for helping develop your baby’s sight when light bounces off the material, as well as touch and hearing. They quickly learn that, if they move their arms or legs or head, then noise will follow.

Best for: Three- to nine-month-olds

Buy now from Amazon

3. Best sensory mobile: Tiny Love Magical Tales Take Along Mobile

Price: £22.99 | Buy now from Amazon

“The winner in the early weeks (and months) was a black and white mobile. DD would have happily stared at that for hours.”

3. Best sensory mobile: Tiny Love Magical Tales Take Along Mobile

A cot mobile is often considered an essential by new parents and, while they can be soothing, they are also considered sensory toys. The Tiny Love’s Magical Mobile combines sound and movement. It features 30 minutes of soothing music from five different melodies and the adorable animals rotate to keep babies engaged.

One reason why this mobile is so good for newborns is that it’s black and white. You might think colours are better for sensory play but, for newborn babies, that’s not the case.

At first, until neural pathways are developed, they can only see in high contrast. So these black and white animals on the mobile aren’t just cute, they are helping your baby’s vision too.

Best for: Newborns

Buy now from Amazon

4. Best sensory cuddly toy: Lamaze Freddie the Firefly

Price: £9.90 | Buy now from Amazon

“Lamaze toys may be aimed at babies, but they’re are actually great for older children too. I bought this for my autistic adult DD to destress.”

4. Best sensory cuddly toy: Lamaze Freddie the Firefly

Lamaze toys get lots of mentions on Mumsnet and it’s easy to see why. They’ve cornered the market in sensory cuddly toys, made from a mix of different materials.

When you walk down the street, expect to spot many babies with a Freddie the Firefly hanging from their pushchair or car seat.

Freddie has knotted legs, which are perfect for chewing, a peekaboo mirror that bounces light and crinkle wings, clack-clack rings and a squeaker for that all-important sound experience.

If fireflies aren’t your (or your baby’s) thing, then there’s Flannery, Jacques, and Fiona as well as six other animals to choose from, plus a pirate too.

Best for: Three- to 12-month-olds

Buy now from Amazon

5. Best portable sensory toy: Infantino Animal Parade Links

Price: £6.20 | Buy now from Amazon

“We have links which are by far and away the favourites.”

5. Best portable sensory toy: Infantino Animal Parade Links

Chewable link toys may just look like bits of plastic but they are endlessly versatile. They’re a teething toy, multi-coloured and act as a rattle, and these Infantino ones are also shaped like animals. There are 24 silhouettes that can be linked together and – when your baby is strong enough – pulled apart too. The ultimate animal parade.

As you’d expect, they’re BPA-free and safe for newborns onwards. They’re ideal to be clipped onto the pram and car seat so that if when your child starts to throw, there’s no risk of losing them. At under £7, they won’t break the bank either.

Best for: Newborns

Buy now from Amazon

6. Best sensory book: Jungly Tails Plush Book

Price: £21.99 | Buy now from Amazon

“Jellycat books are great. There’s loads of variety.”

6. Best sensory book: Jungly Tails Plush Book

The Jellycat brand is usually more associated with super soft toys, but they also make this ideal first book for your baby. No hard edges as it’s made from material, which crinkles when you/they touch it.

It has big bold pictures of animals, with their tails peeking out of the book, making it the ultimate touchy-feely experience. Plus there is a Velcro loop so you can attach it to the buggy when you’re out and about.

Don’t expect much from the sound chip, though. Users say the elephant noise isn’t very realistic and you can only spot-clean the book as it’s not machine-washable.

Best for: Six- to nine-month-olds

Buy now from Amazon

7. Best sound sensory toy: Funtime Rainbow Rainmaker

Price: £6.19 | Buy now from Amazon

“When my DC were babies, they used to play with a rainmaker. It’s noisy and visual.”

7. Best sound sensory toy: Funtime Rainbow Rainmaker

Forget rattles – a rainmaker is a fantastic sensory alternative. You might not want more rain, but babies tend to love the soothing sound of the cascading coloured beads.

This rainmaker is 23cm long and tapered so, as your little one grows, they’ll be able to grasp and shake it themselves.

As an added bonus, this one has lots of bright colours for even more sensory stimulation. All together now, “I can sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow…”

Best for: Six-month-olds

Buy now from Amazon

8. Best sensory toy for children with autism: Argos Home Bubble Fish Floor Lamp

Price: £35 | Buy now from Argos

“My DS loves lying on a beanbag watching his bubble lamp.”

8. Best sensory toy for children with autism: Argos Home Bubble Fish Floor Lamp

Bubble lamps, also known as bubble tubes, are very popular sensory toys for babies and for children with special needs including autism.

Argos’ Bubble Tube gently changes between three colours and there are six – thankfully fake – fish that bob up and down. At 120cm tall and 10.5cm wide, it’s compact enough for most spaces.

Just fill it with normal tap water, plug it in and it’s ready as both LED bulbs are included.

Best for: All ages and children with SEN

Buy now from Argos

9. Best sensory toy for all ages: Automatic Bubble Maker

Price: £16.99 | Buy now from Amazon

“Bubbles – a sure-fire way to calm my little one down.”

9. Best sensory toy for all ages: Automatic Bubble Maker

Bubbles are a very popular sensory toy for children of all ages. Younger babies like the way they move through the air and the way the light bounces off them, while older children enjoy popping them.

If your child has ever tipped an entire pot of bubble mixture over the second they’ve been given it, then a bubble machine is the answer. It’s also great if you have young babies as you can hold them with both your arms as the machine works its magic.

This bubble maker, in the shape of an Octopus, brings in other sensory elements as it has lights and sounds too. The music isn’t in danger of ever reaching the top 10 but it is suitably jaunty. It’s not optional though. When the machine is on, so is the melody.

To engage another sense – taste – for older children, you can get lickable bubble mix in four flavours.

Best for: Nine months plus

Buy now from Amazon

10. Best wearable sensory toy: Lamaze Gardenbug Foot Finder Rattle

Price: £14.99 | Buy now from Amazon

“You can get these little socks and wrist straps that have bells or rattles in them. Babies go crazy kicking their arms and legs around with them on.”

10. Best wearable sensory toy: Lamaze Gardenbug Foot Finder Rattle

Lamaze’s Foot Finder rattles can also attach to your baby’s wrist. This wearable toy does exactly what it says on the tin – it helps your little one work out that they can make a noise when they move their foot or wrist.

The garden bug design is very sweet and, because it’s made from soft bright material, it adds another sensory element.

They’ll fit your little one until they are around six months old – but by then they’ll probably have worked out how to take them off and you won’t be able to keep any socks on them at all!

Best for: Newborn to four-month-olds

Buy now from Amazon

Are sensory toys good for babies?

Simply put, sensory toys are designed to engage your baby’s senses – taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight. Most toys do this in some ways.Toys that light up, have bright or contrasting colours, sounds that are activated when the toy is moved and ones with different textures are good for babies.

These kinds of sensory toys help them learn about the world. They help build nerve connections in the brain and help develop fine motor skills – like newborns learning to put their hands in their mouths and older babies learning to feed themselves.

Special sensory toys are great as they have been safety tested and are specially designed to help babies, but you don’t need to spend a fortune. Items around the house like wooden spoons, soft close pegs, scarves and even boxes also make great sensory toys.

If you’re feeling creative, you can make your own sensory toys by putting pasta in a bottle as a shaker or jelly in a plastic bag and letting your baby feel it through the bag. Whether you have a homemade or shop-bought toy, you should always supervise your baby while they play.

What age should you start baby sensory?

Even newborns can benefit from sensory stimulation in those brief moments when they are fed, changed and not asleep. Contrasting colours, especially black and white, can help their eyes to focus and many like to be placed on different textured material.

Cot mobiles can either soothe them or stimulate them, depending on your baby.

From around three months babies are more aware of their surroundings and begin to enjoy more sensory play. Some parents enjoy taking their babies to baby sensory classes.

Older babies tend to love sensory play – that’s why they love putting everything (except, maybe, food) into their mouths.

How to choose a baby sensory toy

  • Safety – all toys have to conform to safety standards. The Europe-wide toy safety standard EN71. Toys designed for young babies should be safe to be put in their mouths, for example. You should still stay with your baby while they play.
  • Your baby – all babies are different and while some love different textures or sounds others won’t. Trying a variety of sensory toys at baby sensory classes or at playgroups mean you can try before you buy.
  • Material – sensory toys are made from all kinds of materials. Some babies will love tickly feathers or squishy toys, while others won’t.
  • Ask 'which sense?' – to find sensory toys ask yourself which sense/senses they are targeting. Is it sight through lights and colours or touch with different textures? Sensory toys involving smell can be harder to find. You don’t need one toy that does everything and, as important as toys are, your baby will also get sensory stimulation from walks in the fresh air, having a bath and just watching you from a bouncer do chores.
  • Cost – young babies develop very fast so some toys, like feet finders won’t last as long as others, such as bubble machines.

What is the best sensory toy for babies?

The best sensory toy for babies is the Proud Mama Sensory Box. It’s not just one toy, it’s 10, so there’s something your baby will love whether it’s light, sound or texture. It’s great value for money and even the box offers sensory stimulation.

What is the best sensory toy for autism?

The best sensory toy for autism depends very much on your child. Some children would prefer weighted blankets or a heated cuddly toy wheat pack as they find them calming. Others like toys that are more stimulating.

One of the best sensory toys for autistic children is the Argos Bubble Fish bubble tube. It’s a toy that is mentioned frequently on the Mumsnet SEN forums. As one user says: “My DS, six, diagnosed a year earlier, loves lying on their giant beanbag watching the bubble tube.”

How we chose our recommendations

Our recommendations for the best sensory toys for babies came from Mumsnet users themselves. We searched the Mumsnet forums for posts about which sensory toys with lights, different textures, sounds, smells and tastes, our users and their babies loved. We also looked at other reviews to see which sensory toys performed well across the board.

Why you should trust us

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