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Best sensory toys for babies to help their development

The world can be a confusing place for a baby with lots of bright colours, various loud noises and so many different textures to touch. Sensory toys are designed to aid your baby's learning about the world and to stimulate them through play. Here are the best ones to buy for your little one.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Feb 14, 2022

Baby playing with sensory toys

Sensory toys can engage your baby’s senses of smell, sight, sound and touch and can help them to explore and begin to understand them. The research behind sensory toys suggests that they build nerve connections, enabling children to complete trickier learning and problem-solving tasks as their brain develops, while also having fun learning about the world they live in. Not only do sensory toys support your baby’s grasp on senses, but they also help them to develop important motor and social skills too, all through the power of play.

Sensory toys do not need to be expensive or even especially designed for sensory play, they can be items you may find you already have at home in your kitchen cupboards or even your wardrobe. Perhaps you have a sequinned Christmas dress that your baby could stroke or some empty bottles you could fill up with rice or pasta? The ideas are far from limited and everyday items can be ever so fun for young children. 

To help you find the best sensory toy for your baby, we’ve extensively scoured our forums to get suggestions and ideas from our trusted Mumsnet army, because we know that nothing beats a recommendation from a real parent. We also analysed authentic customer reviews for each product, to ensure we were bringing you an honest and useful roundup you can trust. 

Here are the best sensory toys for babies this year.

1. Best overall sensory toy for babies: JBonest Star Night Light

Baby light projector

Price: £15.20 | Buy now from Amazon

“We've got a lovely one with stars that keeps my newborn occupied for a bit every morning when she wakes and it's still dark! My older boys (five and three) love it as well.”  (Idea recommended by Mumsnet user Borracha)

This night light projector has eight colour options with a 360-degree rotation allowing you to transform your baby’s nursery into either a beautiful starry sky, an underwater paradise or a cute horse scene. Let your baby relax and find comfort at night time, especially if you have a child that is afraid of the dark. 

There’s also a timer which is ideal if you use it at bedtime as you won’t need to creep back in after they have fallen asleep to turn it off.

We also loved the different power options (USB, battery and mains power), making it easy to use whether you’re at home or trying to keep your baby entertained while away. Some reviewers did find it worked better when plugged in, so bear in mind you will have to buy a plug adaptor separately if you want to power it this way.

Best for: Newborn+

Pros

  • Has eight options and functions
  • 360-degree rotation
  • Timer
  • Multiple ways to power it
  • Different projection films included

Cons

  • Can run out of charge mid-use
  • Plug adaptor sold separately

2. Best budget sensory toy for babies: Reliance Medical Foil Survival Blanket

Foil blanket

Price: £1.99 | Buy now from Amazon

“Foil blankets, they are very cheap on eBay and my baby loves his.” (Recommended by Mumsnet user 1990shopefulftm)

A foil blanket is usually found in a first aid kit or around a marathon runner's shoulders, and their primary purpose is to effectively retain body heat in emergencies. You can get them very cheap and, as they are designed to be durable in critical situations, they are very long-lasting for your baby’s play sessions.

The shiny textured appeal and crunchy sounding sensation will make a wonderful game for your baby to make funny noises with, whilst also developing their sight and motor skills as they learn how to hold onto the blanket and move it by themselves. 

Best for: Three- to nine-month-olds

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Easily folded away
  • Engages sound and sight

Cons

  • Noisy
  • Watch out for any rips after a lot of use

3. Best sensory teether toy for babies: Nûby Icy Bite Keys Soothing Teether

Nuby teether

Price: £4.70 | Buy now from Amazon

“The Nûby Icy Bite Keys and Sophie la giraffe are the best teethers we had.” (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user Tier500)

The Nûby Icy Bite Keys Soothing Teether has three keys with different textured surfaces with each key containing a PurIce gel to help soothe and stimulate your baby's gums through the teething process. Not only does this teether work well for your babies’ gums, but it also is designed specifically to encourage your babies oral and hand motor skills. 

Your baby will learn how to grasp and hold the teether by themselves with their hands whilst also playing using their lips, tongue and jaw.  

To keep the Nûby Icy Bite Keys cool for optimum soothing for teething, they must be placed in the fridge to enable the PurIce cooling liquid to work which stays cooler than other water-filled teethers, something to bear in mind before playtime. 

We love this trusted teether, rated by the parents on our forum, and at under a fiver, it’s a great bargain buy.

Best for: Babies with on-set teething, three months+

Pros

  • Stays cooler than other teethers
  • Easy to clean
  • Soothes gums but also engages their senses

Cons

  • Only effective if put in the fridge
  • Can't be sterilised

4. Best portable sensory toy: Global Gizmos Crystal Star Ball Disco Light

Disco light

Price: £7 | Buy now from Amazon

“Disco balls etc for lights - there’s lots of different types on Amazon, mine love the cheapest ones and they are battery powered, so very portable for play.” (Recommended by Mumsnet user crazychemist)

This disco ball light is designed to project different coloured lights across an entire room, whilst creating interesting patterns and shapes for your baby to look at. 

Light sensory can help with social and emotional skills, as the lights can relax, excite or even make your baby laugh. It helps them to focus and improves their level of alertness, concentration and general awareness. 

Users say as it is small and portable, you can move it to any room in the house easily without the chaos of wires and trying to find an accessible plug socket. 

We love this for creating a play party with music or a relaxing wind-down session before bedtime.

Best for: Three months+

Pros 

  • Can also be used for birthday parties and events
  • Portable and easy to move
  • Effective in a big room

Cons

  • Batteries may need frequent changing

5. Best soft sensory toy: Chiffon Satin Scarf

Rainbow chiffon scarf

Price: £7.49 | Buy now from Amazon

“Floaty scarves are good for peekaboo.” (Play idea recommended by Mumsnet user Toottootdrivers)

You may already find you have the perfect scarf in your wardrobe for this, but just in case you don’t, here’s a very cheap and very colourful alternative that is ideal for sensory play with your baby.

The idea of a floaty colourful scarf will seem very appealing to your baby and a fun game of peekaboo could keep your baby entertained for ages. 

You could also try dangling the scarf above them and moving it in calm motions to help them feel relaxed whilst stroking it across their skin and hands for them to grab on to. This will further help develop your baby’s motor skills and the feeling of the soft fabric will feel very comforting on their skin. 

Although satin is a soft fabric and perfect for playing with your baby, you can only hand wash this fabric which is a downside as babies' hands can quite often be messy. You should always supervise your baby when playing with a scarf too, due to how it can be tied easily. 

Best for: Newborns+

Pros

  • Cheap 
  • Easy to find
  • Durable material

Cons

  • Satin has to be hand washed

6. Best multifunctional sensory toy for babies: Bright Starts 5-in-1 Your Way Ball Play Activity Gym & Ball Pit

Bright Starts ball pit

Price: £59.99 | Buy now from John Lewis

“Our DS adores ours! It's just a little pop-up thing with some plastic balls, he loves the colours, the movement of the balls and the sensation of ‘splashing’ in them.” (Idea tried and tested by Mumsnet user BiggerThanCheeses)

A ball pit in your home may be a more cost-effective way for your baby to have all the fun whenever they want, without the expense of visiting a soft play centre every week. 

They are a great way to encourage your baby to move around by crawling, rolling and wriggling and helps to develop their strength, coordination and sense of balance.

The brightly coloured ball pit comes with 40 balls as well as other sensory features to engage touch, sight and sound, including a crinkle toy, mirror, rattle and light-up musical elephant toy. It may be pricey, but reviewers think it's worth the extra expense for all the wonderful ways it can entertain your baby.

Just remember that after-play cleaning with a ball pit can be a bit of a nuisance though, and some Mumsnet users do warn that you may always find yourself tidying the balls up, even if you have stopped using it!

Best for: Newborn+

Pros

  • Great addition for nurseries and playrooms
  • Comes with the balls included
  • Can be folded to a mat for tummy time play
  • Includes lots of sensory toys

Cons

  • Balls can get everywhere in the house
  • Expensive

7. Best sensory play gym for babies: Fisher-Price Deluxe Kick and Play Piano Gym

Fisher Price play gym

Price: £37.98 | Buy now from Amazon

“At that age my DS loved the Fisher Price Kick and Play Piano Gym.” (Vetted by Mumsnet user Waitingforwinter)

The Play Piano Gym is perfect for newborns. Its colourful play mat, interactive music, and moveable toy bar has six activities including lights, textures, sounds and pictures to stimulate your baby's senses. It's also perfect for engaging and developing motor skills and strength as it encourages your baby to reach, grasp and bat the overhead toys.

The gym comes with an elephant teether, a lion rattle, monkey clackers and a crinkle panda, cute characters to enhance the fun for little ones.

While it’s not the most budget-friendly sensory toy, the play gym is easily moved and can be placed in any room. Ideal whilst you are doing quick jobs around the house while your baby plays.

Best for: Newborns+

Pros

  • Interactive features and activities 
  • Comes with added sensory elements
  • Portable
  • The kick and play piano allows babies to create music through their movements

Cons

  • Could be overwhelming for some babies
  • Pricey

8. Best sensory toy for toddlers: Peppa Pig Bubble Machine

Peppa Pig bubble machine

Price: £12 | Buy now from Argos

“Can get them fairly cheap and my DD loved sitting and trying to grab them [bubbles].” (Vetted by Mumsnet user VodkaAndDietCokePlease)

This bubble machine is ideal for fun in the garden. The wands rotate on their own to create perfectly shaped bubbles, without the faff of having to constantly blow them out yourself.

The excitement of the bubbles can help with your toddler's overall physical development and encourage them to explore all their senses as well as their imagination to create fun little games with the bubbles. Little ones will also love the familiar character, making playtime that much more enjoyable. 

However, the bubble machine does not come with the batteries required, so you will need to factor this into the cost.

Best for: Three years+

Pros

  • The machine does the work for you
  • Fun design
  • Bubbles will keep little ones entertained

Cons

  • Batteries not included

9. Best sensory toy for young babies: Fisher-Price Soothe 'n' Snuggle Otter

Fisher Price otter toy

Price: £32.49 | Buy now from Amazon

The Soothe ‘n’ Snuggle Otter has an impressive 11 sensory features designed to stimulate and develop your baby's sight, hearing and touch senses.

The standout feature is the relaxing affect it has on babies, engaging their senses without overstimulating them before bedtime. We also love that you can play them a choice of calming music and relaxing sounds of white noise and even set it to a rhythmic breathing motion, designed specially to replicate the feeling of being on mum.

The otter can play music for up to 30 minutes and be custom adjusted to your baby's needs with volume control. Parents will also love that the fabric is extra soft and is washing machine friendly, but you need to remove the electrical parts first.

Best for: Newborns+ 

Pros

  • Washing machine friendly (once the electrical parts are removed)
  • Batteries are included
  • 11 sensory features
  • Soft and cuddly

Cons

  • Only plays sounds for 30 minutes
  • Batteries need to be changed frequently 
  • One reviewer commented it was bigger than they expected

10. Best baby sensory mirror: Safety Car Mirror

Baby car mirror

Price: £12.99 | Buy now from Amazon

“A safety mirror, babies love looking at themselves!” (Idea from Mumsnet user GruffaloStick)

The safety mirror is usually used in the car for a back-facing seat but can also make a great sensory toy for in the house too. 

A mirror can be great fun for your baby. Not only will they love looking at their reflection and learning how to move their face to make different expressions, but it also helps them develop their self-awareness which plays an important part in their social-emotional development. 

For some older children, it can also be a great way to teach language skills by pointing out parts of their face and saying what they are called. 

Best for: Three months+

Pros

  • Can be used as a toy and in the car
  • Helps your baby to recognise their reflection

Cons

  • Easily scratched

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

Bubble fish light

Price: £45 | Buy now from Argos

"I did my DS's room very sensory, he has a bubble tube from Argos was not expensive." (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user MissTired)

Bubble lamps, also known as bubble tubes, are very popular sensory toys for babies and for children with special needs including autism. The Argos Bubble Fish Floor Lamp is ideal for creating a relaxing and calming atmosphere for children in any room.

The lamp has three colour changes and comes with six plastic fish that are designed to bob gently through the motion of the bubbles, whilst creating a calming and visual sensation. 

It is easy to set up, you simply remove the lid and fill with tap water. The cord length is a generous 1.8m’s, meaning you are able to plug the lamp in anywhere around the house too.

If you're shopping for an older child, Mumsnet users also recommended lava lamps as being good sensory toys for autism too. 

Best for: All ages and children with SEN

Pros

  • Can be plugged in to socket and won't run out of power quickly 
  • Bulb required is included
  • Comes fully assembled 

Cons

  • Can be knocked over
  • May not be compatible with energy saving bulbs

12: Best sensory mobile: Tiny Love Magical Tales Take Along Mobile

Tiny Love mobile

Price: £24.99 | Buy now from Amazon

"We've bought this." (Recommended by Mumsnet user muststopeatingfroyo)

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

Pros

  • Plays five different tunes
  • Cute characters
  • Can be used in prams to soothe them on the go

Cons

  • Reviewers found it was not secure in some cribs

Are sensory toys good for babies?

Sensory toys are designed to help and encourage the development of babies. This includes their social skills, communication skills, motor skills, physical development, decision making as well as their confidence. Introducing sensory toys to your baby is a great way to help them to begin the learning they need in future everyday life.

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. Whether you have a homemade or shop-bought toy, you should always supervise your baby while they play.

Do babies need sensory toys?

Babies can benefit from a range of sensory interactions, so taking time to ensure they're engaging with their senses during play is important in their early development. From textures, colours, sounds, smells and sights, your baby from three months up is more aware of their surroundings and learning more each day, but a lot of sensory toys can be used from birth too.

How to choose a baby sensory toy

  • Safety –Before choosing any toy, it’s so important to ensure the toy conforms with the Europe-wide toy safety standard EN71. You should also judge whether the toy is suitable for your baby’s age range. If a toy comes with small parts, consider the fact that babies often put things in their mouths as part of exploring and they should never be left unattended with a toy.
  • Durability – Some toys can come with a hefty price tag so ensure you are picking durable, good quality toys that are not likely to break after a few uses. Babies have a habit of knocking or throwing things, so can your toy handle a knock now and then?
  • Cost –Babies develop and grow at such a fast pace and you soon may find yourself with a stack of toys that were only used a few times, so don't always go for the pricey name brands. For example, a play gym may only be used a few times until your baby discovers crawling and doesn’t want to stay in the same spot of the room.
  • Your baby – Pick the toys that you think your baby will get the most fun and use from. If your baby doesn’t like loud noisy games or toys avoid picking a sensory toy based on sounds, or choose one that allows for easy volume control.   

What is the best sensory toy for babies?

The best sensory toy for babies is the JBonest Projector. Not only does it have numerous visual functions including colour shows and projector films to choose from, but there’s also the option to turn it into a night light for little ones.  It also can be used for all ages and provide years of starry night skies. 

What is the best sensory toy for autism?

The best sensory toy for autism is down to the child’s preference, where one toy works brilliantly with some, it may not work so well with others.

One of the best sensory toys for autistic children is the Argos Bubble Fish Floor Lamp. The relaxing sensation of watching the fish bob and move in the bubbly water is very calming and soothing and does not overstimulate children like some light-up toys can do.

How we chose our recommendations

Our first stop was the Mumsnet Talk boards to get honest recommendations from Mumsnet users themselves. Several hours were put into searching high and low through numerous threads regarding all sensory toys and products that were popular with their babies.

Then we analysed the advantages and merits of each product, checking each one was fit for purpose, and consulting authentic customer reviews to make sure we had a range of sensory toys to suit every budget and need.

We then compiled this shortlist of the top sensory toys for babies, as recommended by real parents.

Why you should trust us

We work hard to provide unbiased, independent advice you can trust. We do sometimes earn revenue through affiliate (click-to-buy) links in our articles. This helps us fund more helpful articles like this one.