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Best sensory toys for babies to help their development

Sensory toys can play a crucial role in your child’s development and help them to learn new skills whilst making sense of the world around them. However, there is a lot of advice, and it can be tricky to make sense of it all. That’s why we have created this list of the top sensory toys recommended by real parents.

By Victoria David | Last updated Dec 23, 2022

Baby playing with sensory toys

The best sensory toys for babies can engage one or more of your baby’s five primary senses; smell, sight, sound, taste and touch. Through sensory play, they can begin to explore and understand the world around them, including developing language, fine and gross motor skills, cognitive growth (thinking skills) and social skills. They are also the ideal toy choice to accompany your child's time in the best playpen – just make sure they're age-appropriate and are under supervision.

They don't just have to be toys for the playpen either – products for infants like the best bath toys and best baby walkers often have some excellent sensory features too. 

However, an overwhelming amount of conflicting and sometimes downright expensive advice can leave you feeling more confused than ever. That’s why we’ve decided to cut through the noise using our triple-check verification process to present an honest, up-to-date list of top sensory toys recommended by Mumsnetters, trusted by industry experts and rated by customers. 

We know that this year, the cost of living crisis is hitting households hard, so we want to drive home that sensory toys don’t have to be expensive too. They can be as simple as a pile of costume jewellery, a wooden spoon and a classical music playlist. However, whether you are interested in buying, gifting or just finding some good advice, our list is here to provide a wealth of ideas to suit various budgets.

Here are the best sensory toys for babies in 2023. 

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

Baby light projector

Price on writing: £18.99 | Buy now from Amazon

Key specs 

Dimensions: H13.5cm x 12.9cm x 11.4cm | Assembly Required: No | Power supply: Battery/USB | Material: Plastic 

What we love

  • Eight colour modes 
  • Dual function 
  • Rotates 
  • No batteries necessary 
  • Portable size 
  • Removable and interchangeable pictures 

What to know

  • Some felt when rotating, the buzzing gets quite loud 
  • No timer 

What Mumsnet users say 

“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.”  (Recommended by Mumsnet user Borracha)

"I have one from Amazon it projects stars and moon shapes, you can choose it to project in different colours and rotate." (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user Emma145)

"I've got the Amazon one too... it is a bit noisy but not louder than white noise so it helps my son to chill." (Vetted by Mumsnet user WooYa)

Our verdict

Star Night Light Projectors are a hot topic on the Mumsnet forums, partly because they vary wildly in terms of quality and cost. One thing is for sure, though; they're a popular sensory toy recommendation for babies for their versatility and portability. We're recommending the JBonest Star Night Light projector as it has eight colour options, 360-degree rotation and interchangeable scenes allowing you to transform your baby’s nursery into either a beautiful starry sky, an underwater paradise or a cute horse scene. Perfect for sensory play by day and comfort by night.  

Although there's no timer, it is affordable, unlike some similar models. We also loved the different power options (USB, battery and mains power), making it easy to use whether 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.

For more baby essentials approved by real parents on the Mumsnet forums, don't miss our in-depth guide to the best baby thermometer.

2. Best budget sensory toy for babies: Stereoplast Emergency Foil Camping Blanket

Stereoplast Foil Blanket - sensory toy.

Price on writing: £1.92 | Buy now from Amazon

Key specs 

Size: 210cm x 130cm x 0.1cm | Item Weight: 9.07g | Manufacturer: Stereoplast 

What we love

  • Budget-friendly 
  • Easy to use 
  • It can be cut into smaller pieces
  • Multi-use play
  • Waterproof 
  • Transportable

What to know

  • Sensory play must be carefully supervised as babies can rip up and put it in their mouths 

What Mumsnet users say

“Camping blanket. I have one for my four-month-old but it’s my older kid's favourite toy.” (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user EvilCleverDog)

"Foil emergency blankets are great for little ones to lay on. Usually find them on Amazon for a couple of pounds." (Type of toy suggested by Mumsnet user LunchWithAGruffalo)

Our verdict 

A Stereoplast foil emergency blanket is a highly-recommended no-frills or fuss option by Mumsnet users for sensory play that is quick and easy to set up and cheap to buy.

Babies can lay on it, watch the light reflect, scrunch it up and listen to the noises it makes. This develops their hand-eye control, fine motor and listening skills. One foil camping blanket can be cut up, too, so you can achieve multiple uses from just one of these foil blankets. Take it anywhere, anytime, for hours of sensory play. This particular product has plenty of 5* reviews from parents too.

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

Bright Starts ball pit

Price on writing: £48.60 | Buy now from John Lewis

Key specs 

Dimensions: H113cm x W52cm x D76cm | Washing instructions: Machine washable at 30 degrees celsius | Drying instructions: Flat dry | Batteries included: No | Batteries required: 3 x AAA

What we love

  • Multi-use so it grows with your child
  • Includes 40 balls with a carrying case 
  • The detachable elephant toy lights up and places 20+ minutes of music 
  • Includes seven take-along toys 
  • Machine washable mat and easy-to-clean wipeable toys 

What to know

  • Reviewers noted that when the mat was washed in their washing machine a couple of times, it became flimsy, and the foam shrank 

What Mumsnet users say

“Would he enjoy a ball pool? 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. It helps us like nothing else when he's having a tantrum.” (Type of product recommended by Mumsnet user BiggerThanCheeses)

Our verdict 

This 5-in-1 activity gym from Bright Start promises hours of fun and we think it's one of the best baby toys for versatility. It features a ball pit, a canopy (with a hole in the top), a floor mat and seven detachable toys. You can boogie on down with 20+ minutes of music from the detachable elephant or listen to the sounds of the crinkle toy or rattle. You can let your baby admire its reflection in the mirror and learn language skills via the pack of flashcards. It even includes tactile toys such as the bead chaser and hanging leaf toy. It’s the perfect option for hours of co-play. 

If you want to clean the activity gym, it is easy to wipe down, and you can machine wash it according to the instructions (just be careful, as some have reported issues with this). It is easy to tidy up, too, as it has its own storage case for the balls. However, the best feature is that it grows with your baby from infant to toddler, guaranteeing years of fun. Though it is a little pricey, it's excellent value, and is also one of our featured best tummy time toys.

4. Best sensory teether toy for babies: Matchstick Monkey

A picture of Matchstick Monkey in Blue.

Price on writing: £9.99 | Buy now from John Lewis

Key specs 

Size: H120cm x W120cm | Washing instructions: Dishwasher safe | Suitability: 3 months + 

What we love

  • 2-in-1 teething toy and gel applicator 
  • Easy grip and flexible 
  • Dishwasher-safe and freezer friendly 
  • BPA-free, FDA and CE certified food grade silicone 
  • Multiple colours

What to know

  • More expensive than other options 

What Mumsnet users say

“Matchstick Monkeys and Sophie le Giraffe are the best in my experience, small and easy to hold too!” (Vetted by Mumsnet user CustardGoodJamGoodMeatGood)

“We've had every type of teething toy going and the Matchstick Moneys are the best! Easy for little hands to handle and for little mouths.” (Recommended by Mumsnet user Amichelle84)

Our verdict 

Matchstick Monkey comes highly recommended by Mumsnet users, verified buyers and industry experts. This product has won no less than five awards; its most recent award is from the 2022 Mother and Baby Awards, where it earned the bronze price for the best teething product (after previously winning gold four times). 

Safe, easy to clean and durable, Matchstick Monkeys take care of your children’s teeth and provide soothing relief at the same time through their toothbrush bumps. Simply apply gel to these so children can self-massage it into their gums while chewing. Though cheaper options are available on the market, this product offers parents peace of mind and children comfort whilst teething.

Plus, if your baby is teething, you may want to start thinking about the best baby toothbrush – you should start brushing as soon as their first milk tooth breaks through.

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

Disco light

Price on writing: £8.75 | Buy now from Amazon

Key specs 

Product dimensions: W35mm x H39mm x D35mm | Weight: 70g | Material: Plastic | Bulb: LED | Power supply: Battery powered |Batteries required: 3 AA (no batteries included) |  Switch style: Touch 

What we love

  • Budget-friendly 
  • Projects across the whole room 
  • Portable 
  • Battery-operated (cordless) 
  • Bright lights and clear patterns 

What to know

  • Requires a tiny screwdriver to remove the battery cover 
  • Best kept out of reach of small hands, as it can break if dropped 
  • Only one speed for spinning lights

What Mumsnet users say

“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.” (Type of toy suggested by Mumsnet user crazychemist)

Our verdict 

The Global Gizmos Crystal Star Ball Disco Light is a budget-friendly and easy way to stimulate your baby’s senses, just like the foil blanket option above. Disco ball lights are pretty and can help your child develop vision, focus, and cognitive skills. They’re mesmerising, can be calming, and encourage them to focus on the world around them. 

We’ve recommended this particular disco light because it is budget-friendly whilst still being good quality. It provides a bright, colourful, crystal-effect light show that will fill a whole room and entertain your baby for hours – just place them on the best baby play mat, turn the light on and watched them become entranced with the colours.

Due to it being lightweight and small, it is easily portable, so you can travel with it. You won’t have to worry about losing a cord as it is battery-powered. Though the battery cover and screws are a little fiddly, many people had ingenious solutions, including leaving the battery cover off and gaffa taping it on. If you do choose to try either of these options, make sure to keep it out of reach. 

6. Best soft sensory toy: Chiffon Satin Scarf

Rainbow chiffon scarf

Price on writing: £6.99 | Buy now from Amazon 

Key specs 

Size: L148cm x W34cm | Material: 100% polyester | Care instructions: Hand wash or dry clean only 

What we love

  • Budget-friendly 
  • Soft and silky
  • Various colours
  • 30-day money-back guarantee 
  • Good-quality 

What to know

  • It is handwash or dry clean only
  • Needs constant supervision in use

What Mumsnet users say

“Floaty scarves are good for peekaboo if you have one.” (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user Toottootdrivers)

“Hanging ribbons, fabrics of different textures, floaty scarves.” (Suggested by Mumsnet user Raggeo)

Our verdict 

This chiffon scarf is a great budget-friendly option for a no-frills sensory baby toy. The vibrant colours are mesmerising, and the material is soft and silky. There are plenty of ways you can use this product to stimulate your child’s senses. In terms of development, it can help them develop hand-eye coordination, eye-tracking, cognitive and motor skills, and communication ability. All of that comes from one £6.99 scarf.

The only downside is that they are hand wash or dry clean only, making the scarves a little bit fussy to clean. However, if you don’t mind giving them a rinse in the sink, they are still an excellent option for keeping in your sensory toolbox. 

7. Best sensory toy for comfort: Mary Meyer Taggies Hedgehog Huggy Blanket

A picture of a Mary Meyer Taggies Hedgehog Huggy Blanket.

Price on writing: £21 | Buy now from JoJo Maman Bebe

Key specs 

Dimensions: L33cm x W33cm | Care instructions: Machine washable, air dry only | Suitable from: Newborn+

What we love

  • Portable
  • Comforting 
  • Cute design
  • Tags for sensory play

What to know

  • More expensive comparatively

What Mumsnet users say

"Babies love playing with labels on toys - hence the 'tags' and they often become special comforters which go everywhere with them and with which they will not sleep without. Take my advice, buy two and use both in circulation." (Advice from Mumsnet user QueenFee)

Our verdict 

A comforter and a sensory blanket, this 2-in-1 sensory taggie blanket by Mary Meyer is perfect for babies obsessed with the tags on their clothes or toys. 

Portable with a cute, huggable hedgehog attached, this is the perfect portable sensory toy for your baby (plus, they make great gifts, too). One thing is for sure: your baby will want to take it everywhere with them! There are plenty of taggie blanket options, and some are more reasonably priced, but we chose this one because of its cute, neutral design and huggable element. Loved by Mumsnet users, taggie blankets are popular with parents and babies. We’d take Mumsnet user Queen Fee’s advice and buy two! 

8. Best summer sensory toy: Bubble Mania Bubble Blower

Bubble Mania Whale Bubble Blower

Price on writing:  £17.94 | Buy now from Amazon

Key specs 

Dimensions: 15.6cm x 17.8 cm x 23.2 cm | Weight: 770g | Assembly required: No | Batteries required: 4 x AA batteries (not included) | Suitable from: 3+

What we love

  • Cute whale design 
  • Easy to use 
  • Large bubble reservoir 
  • Free jumbo 8fl oz bubble solution included (Non-toxic) 

What to know

  • Best done outdoors, it can leave inside your house very soapy and slippery 
  • Some reviewers note that the fan can stop working after some time or uses 
  • You’ll need a good stock of batteries. The bubble blower uses them up quickly 

What Mumsnet users say

“A bubble machine (a great success).” (Suggested by Mumsnet user purpledagger

“I took my son to baby sensory classes which he loved and got a bubble machine and some ribbons for him to grab at.” (Type of toy tried and tested by Mumsnet user EmmaJR1)

Our verdict 

Everyone loves bubbles, and for babies, they are particularly mesmerising. Perfect for developing their visual tracking skills, hand-eye coordination and fine and gross motor skills, the Bubble Mania Bubble Blower is the perfect sensory toy for warmer weather. Recommended for use outside, it has a high-performance motor and a large bubble reservoir, which quickly creates many bubbles. Changing batteries and filling the bubble blower up is easy, too. You don’t even have to buy a particular brand of bubble solutions as they provide a guide on how to make your own. That’s after you use the free solution, of course! 

However, not all reviews are totally complimentary. Some noticed that it stopped working after some time or after so many uses. Others noted it goes through batteries and solution quickly, so you need a pretty decent stockpile ready. Although, with research, it still scores higher than most other bubble blowers for positive reviews. 

9. Best pram sensory toy: Lamaze Play and Grow Captain Calamari

Captain Calamari toy by Lamaze

Price on writing: £15.91| Buy now from Amazon

Key specs 

Dimensions: 12.7cm x 10.2cm x 25.4cm | Washing instructions: Surface washable 

What we love

  • Portable, clip-on toy
  • Number of sensory features 
  • Sturdy
  • Good quality 

What to know

  • Some reviewers said the toy was too large for their child’s pram or cot 
  • He is wipe-down only according to the washing instructions

What Mumsnet users say

"Lamaze Freddie the Firefly or Captain Calamari." (Recommended by Mumsnet user CrookCrane)

“Sensory toy-wise, there's a range of animal toys with different textures, Lamaze make them but so do others. They're aimed at babies but they actually are great for older ones too, I bought it for my autistic adult daughter to destress, I can spend hours myself!” (Brand vetted by Mumsnet user movingonup20)

Our verdict 

Lamaze is highly-recommended and trusted by Mumsnetters because of their quality sensory toys. Durable, practical and multi-sensory, Captain Calamari is easy to take on the go and keeps children entertained for hours. Though some report that he is bigger than you’d expect, more are enthusiastic about the sensory input Captain Calamari offers. He has a large clip to attach to a child’s pram so he doesn’t get lost. This is in addition to the soothing knots on his tentacles, clacking rings, crinkle hat, mirror and rattle, which are perfect for stimulating children’s visual development, fine motor skills and tactile processing. 

Though there are cheaper options similar to Captain Calamari available, Lamaze’s sensory toys are of a high standard and reliably high quality. The only issue is that according to Lamaze’s washing instructions, this toy is wipe-down only. However, after some research, some parents have said that they haven’t had any problems putting him through the washing machine or dishwasher at a low temperature. 

For more baby play essentials, don't miss our in-depth guide to the best baby bouncer for your little one.

10. Best baby sensory mirror: Baby Back Seat Car Mirror

John Lewis Baby Back Seat Mirror.

Price on writing:  £12 | Buy now from John Lewis

Key specs 

Dimensions: Length 40cm x width 20cm 

What we love

  • Soft touch frame
  • Convex shape for extra visibility
  • A shatter-resistant mirror 
  • A sturdy strap to attach it to the back of a headrest 
  • Secure buckle 

What to know

  • Easily scratched

What Mumsnet users say

“Oh and anything mirrored too - maybe one of those baby-safe mirrors small children can pick up.” (Suggestion from Mumsnet user Bogiesaremyonlyfriend)

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

Our verdict 

Though its intended purpose is to be used as a back-seat car mirror, due to its lightweight design and shatter-resistant mirror, it can double up as a great sensory toy too. 

A crucial step in your baby’s development is learning self-awareness, self-expression and how to communicate. From recognising their reflection to understanding their facial expressions, there is plenty for your baby to learn. As they age, it can aid language development, as they can use it to look at their mouths to see how they form certain sounds. Budget-friendly, multi-use and portable, it's amazing that something as simple as a mirror can provide so much sensory stimulation and fun – that's why it's one of the best toys for newborns as they learn about the world. 

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

Bubble fish light

Price on writing: £45 | Buy now from Argos

Key specs 

Dimensions: H90cm x W15cm x D8cm | Bulb: LED | Material: Plastic | Power supply: Plug | Requires: Distilled water 

What we love

  • Colour changing 
  • Floating fish feature
  • Calming
  • Bulb included

What to know

  • Requires you to fill it with water
  • Some report that it emits a loud hum
  • Some found the fish just floated to the top

What Mumsnet users say

“I did my son's room very sensory, he has a bubble tube from Argos. It was not expensive.” (Recommended by Mumsnet user MissTired)

Our verdict 

Bubble tubes are increasingly popular with parents of autistic children because of the sensory stimulation and calming effect they can produce. Features that children will love are the gently changing mood lights, the stream of bubbles and the plastic fish that float inside. This product is particularly stimulating visually and creates a peaceful environment. Though there is some fear of it breaking if knocked over, it's pretty sturdy and hard to break.

There are some reported issues with this product, many reviewers note that the lamp continues to be a big hit with their children and is more of an irritation to them, mainly in part to the loud noise it produces.

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

Tiny Love mobile

Price on writing:  £26.99 | Buy now from John Lewis

Key specs 

Dimensions: 34cm x 22cm x 26cm | Manufacturer’s warranty: 2 years | Batteries: Not included | Batteries required: 3 x AA | Assembly required: Partial self-assembly required 

What we love

  • Portable
  • Adjustable 
  • 30+ minutes of melodies 
  • Supports seven developmental skills 
  • Good size
  • Rotates 

What to know

  • Some reviewers worried about the security of the clips to certain cribs 
  • Some reviewers noted the rotation mechanism sounded a little loud 

What Mumsnet users say

“Having light-up musical mobiles in the crib from the time of birth has been shown to lower stress and increase brain function.” (Type of toy recommended by Mumsnet user Khaterine)

“I have a Tiny Love symphony-in-motion mobile and both of mine have loved it, so although it's not necessary, mine's been worth every penny.” (Brand tried and tested by Mumsnet user Yorkshiremum)

Our verdict 

There is much debate over whether mobiles are simply for show or whether they offer any benefits to your baby. However, we decided to include this mobile by Tiny Love because they’ve purposefully designed and created it to promote skills for their  “seven developmental wonders”. 

The design of this mobile is intended to encourage your newborn’s vision and language skills through the black and white characters that face down. The music and its travel features allow children to feel secure in unfamiliar surroundings and be soothed by the 30+ minutes of soft lullabies. They also have a story about their characters which can be found here to promote children's imagination and creativity.

Aside from its intelligent and thoughtful design, it is easy to take everywhere, and most reviewers report the product feeling sturdy and safe when attached to the baby’s furniture. Although some have found the rotating mechanism hum too loud, and that the mobile felt too large. Regardless, as far as we’re concerned, it is an excellent product from Tiny Love and a significant step towards creating more practical and developmentally valuable mobiles. 

What are sensory toys? 

Sensory toys stimulate a child’s five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. Sensory toys can be anything that fills one of these needs. Examples include light projectors, light reflectors, music playlists, rattles, crinkle books, mirrors, wooden blocks, a pile of jewellery or some perfume on a scarf (and that’s only a small sample of sensory toys and play you could try). 

Are sensory toys good for babies?

They develop age-appropriate social, communication, motor, cognitive, and emotional skills. Sensory toys are an excellent way for children to manoeuvre the developmental stages and learn skills they will need in everyday life. They help children explore and understand the world around them while presenting opportunities for self-soothing. 

Specially-made sensory toys are great as they have been safety tested and are specially designed to help babies, but you don’t have to break the bank to do it –  you can find plenty of budget-friendly sensory toys around your home. However, whether you have a homemade or shop-bought toy, you should always supervise your baby while they play.

Do babies need sensory toys?

Yes and no. No, in the sense that you don’t need to rush out and buy all the latest up-to-date products. However, children benefit from interacting with the world around them through sensory stimulation, which is incredibly important for 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 many sensory toys can be used from birth too.

How to choose a baby sensory toy

  • Safety: Before choosing a toy, you must ensure it conforms with the Europe-wide toy safety standard EN71. If, for example, it is a toy specifically for chewing, you should ensure that it is food-grade and toxin-free. You should also judge whether the toy suits your baby’s age range. If a toy comes with small parts, consider that babies often put things in their mouths as part of exploring and should never be left unattended with a toy. 
  • Durability: Some toys can come with a hefty price tag, so ensure you pick durable, good-quality products by reading reviews extensively before buying. Speak to people you know who might have purchased that product themselves. Ensure you shop around before you settle on one. 
  • Cost: Babies develop and grow fast, so although it is tempting to go for the big-name brands, it is essential to weigh up what is more important to you when purchasing a particular product. For example, foil is cheap but is single-use. However, a multi-use play gym will last longer and grow with your child but is often much more pricey. 
  • Your baby: Babies are like snowflakes, and no two persons' babies are the same. So, ignore the trends and hype regarding sensory toys and go with what you think your baby will benefit from and enjoy the most. If your baby is sensitive to loud sounds, there is no point in purchasing a toy with loud sounds and no volume control. 

What is the best sensory toy for autism?

As mentioned above, that depends on the child. Children with autism will have particular sensory needs that are special to them. Consult Mumsnet’s forums for ideas and to find support from other parents of autistic children. There is some excellent advice on where to go for sensory toys and honest feedback on particular products. In our article, we’ve included one of the most popular: bubble tower lamps

At what age should parents introduce sensory play? 

Sensory play can start from the moment a baby is born. Newborns can benefit from night light projectors and playlists of music, hearing you talk to them and sing to them and the feeling of clothing of different textures, for example. As they grow older, the sensory toys and play mature to meet their developmental stage. 

Can sensory play be budget-friendly? 

Yes, absolutely. Simply talking and singing to your baby plays an important developmental role. Sensory toys can be found in everyday household objects; even tummy time outside on a baby mat will do the trick. 

How we chose our recommendations

Mumsnet recommendations 

Our first stop was Mumsnet’s forums so that we could find and collate honest recommendations and advice from parents. With over 10 million unique users per month, we look for those that Mumsnetters repeatedly rave about, excluding any that don't meet the mark. 

Expert opinions

Once we had our initial list of the best sensory toys for babies, we cross-referenced them with industry experts and vetted which ones were high-quality, cost-effective and safe. We used comparison lists, awards and expert opinions to analyse them. 

Verified reviews

Finally, we analyse and weigh up the pros and cons of each product in our shortlist using verified customer reviews to triple-check their quality. We particularly look for those with the most 5* ratings. 

Celebrated sensory toys for babies 

Using this three-step verification process, we’ve whittled our list down to the best sensory toys for babies, which you can find above. 

Why you should trust us

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