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8 DIY Sensory Toys You Can Make at Home

May 24, 2024

Diving into the world of DIY sensory toys opens up a universe of texture, sound, and color for children, aiding their development in profound ways. 

For little ones, especially those facing the sensory challenges associated with autism, these toys are more than fun. They’re tools for engagement and discovery.

Let’s roll up our sleeves and explore eight fantastic DIY sensory toys that promise to be as beneficial as they are entertaining for children of all ages.

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Sensory Play Ideas

1. Sensory bin made of rice

A sensory rice bin is an excellent tool for sensory play, combining color, texture, and the joy of discovery. Here’s how you can create one at home:

Materials needed: 

  • White rice (amount depends on the size of your container)
  • Food coloring
  • White vinegar
  • Large, shallow container (like an under-bed storage bin)
  • Small toys, assorted pasta shapes, dried beans, and other tactile items
  • Optional: scoops, small cups, or tweezers for manipulation

Instructions:

  1. Color the rice:
    • Mix food coloring with a splash of vinegar for each cup of rice you plan to color.
    • Add the rice, seal the zip bag, and shake well until the rice is evenly coated.
    • Spread the colored rice out on a tray to dry overnight.
  2. Prepare the bin:
    • Choose a large, shallow container to allow easy access for children.
    • Once the rice is dry, pour it into the container.
  3. Add sensory elements:
    • Integrate various items for tactile exploration (small toys, different textures, assorted pasta shapes, etc.)
    • Consider the children’s interests to make the bin more engaging – e.g., dinosaur figures, car toys, or plastic bugs.

To manage the potential mess, use a bin or a large tray. When playtime is over, seal the rice and toys in a container to keep it clean for the next use.

Remember, you should always supervise young children to ensure they do not ingest non-edible items.

2. DIY playdough

Unleash creativity and sensory exploration with homemade playdough, an excellent tool for children to express themselves and enhance their sensory skills.

Materials needed:

  • Flour
  • Salt
  • Hot water
  • Alum or cream of tartar
  • Cooking oil

Instructions:

  1. Mix ingredients in a pan:
    • To a medium-sized pan, add flour, salt, water, alum (or cream of tartar), vegetable oil, and any optional ingredients like food coloring and vanilla flavoring.
    • Place the pan on the stove and turn the heat to medium.
  2. Cook the mixture:
    • Stir the mixture constantly while it heats
    • It typically takes about five minutes for the playdough to start thickening and pulling away from the sides of the pan.
    • Playdough is ready when it forms a layer on the outside and isn’t sticky to touch.
  3. Knead the playdough:
    • Once the playdough has formed, remove it from the heat.
    • Sprinkle some flour on your work surface to prevent sticking. Optionally, use wax paper or a sheet pan to keep your counters clean.
    • Knead the dough by hand.
  4. Add color and flavor:
    • Make a well in the center of your playdough to add your chosen flavoring.
    • Incorporate food coloring at this stage. If concerned about staining, wear plastic gloves.
Kids playing with playdough https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/diy-sensory-toys/

Using tools such as rolling pins and cookie cutters, children can practice their fine motor skills and creativity. Use the dough to form letters, numbers, or even models of animals and plants. 

Once the child is done playing, store the dough in an airtight container or a sealed plastic bag.

3. Crayons for texture exploration 

Crayons aren’t just for drawing and coloring. They’re perfect for making texture rubbings, adding an exciting approach to sensory learning.

Instructions for creating texture rubbings:

  1. Gather materials: You’ll need crayons, plain paper, and textured items like detailed leaves, tree bark, coins, and fabrics.
  2. Prepare your workspace: Place a sheet of paper flat, then position your objects underneath. For smaller items like coins, consider taping them down.
  3. Choose your crayons: Peel the paper off the crayons. This makes it easier to rub across the paper.
  4. Create rubbings: Rub the crayon sideways over the paper where the object is underneath. Apply enough pressure to transfer texture without tearing.
  5. Explore and experiment: Encourage children to experiment with different pressures, angles, and colors. 

This activity improves sensory awareness as children move over textures and see results on paper.  On top of that, it enhances fine motor skills, which can improve handwriting and other movements.

This type of texture exploration will aid the child in their cognitive development and creativity while appreciating the small details of nature and the environment.

4. Sensory bottle

Sensory bottles, often called calm-down bottles, are clear, sealed containers filled with visually appealing items that move and float in a liquid. They enhance visual tracking skills and calm the mind.

Materials needed:

  • Clear, smooth, durable plastic or glass bottles with secure lids
  • Water, clear glue or baby oil, glitter, beads, sequins, small toys, and food coloring

Instructions:

  1. Ensure the bottle is clean and dry. If using a plastic bottle, opt for a smooth surface for clearer viewing.
  2. Fill the bottle halfway with water – add clear glue or baby oil to the rest to create a slow-moving mixture. 
  3. Add a few drops of food coloring to adjust the color, and sprinkle in glitter or sequins for sparkle.
  4. Add beads, sequins, water beads, and small waterproof toys. Each object should have a different density and texture to provide a variety of visual stimuli.
  5. Once your bottle is filled, glue the lid shut to prevent any spills or the contents from being removed.
  6. Give the bottle a good shake to mix the contents.

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Variations and themes:

  • Ocean-themed bottle: Use blue food coloring, sand, small shells, and fish-shaped beads to create a miniature ocean.
  • Rainbow bottle: Layer different colored beads and sequins in the colors of the rainbow for a vibrant effect.
  • Nature-inspired bottle: Fill with twigs, leaves, stones, and green glitter to mimic the tranquility of a forest.

Sensory bottles can be integrated into various parts of a child’s day. During quiet times, they can help soothe and calm. 

In educational settings, they can be used to captivate attention during story time or as a visual aid during lessons on color or density. 

5. Slime

Slime is a hands-on way to dive into sensory exploration and boost fine motor skills. This is how to make it.

Instructions:

  • In a bowl, mix 1/2 cup of white glue and 1/2 cup of water.
  • Stir in food coloring and mix.
  • Slowly add in liquid starch, a little at a time, mixing until you get the stretchy, but not sticky, consistency.

Always choose non-toxic glue and contact lens solution that contains boric acid, which acts as a slime activator. For a sensory twist, add different elements to your slime. You can also try adding essential oils, but make sure they’re safe for the skin.

Once done playing, store your slime in an airtight container to keep it fresh for next time.

6. DIY stress ball

Creating DIY stress balls is more than just a fun craft. These tactile tools play a crucial role in sensory play. Here’s how to make one.

Materials needed:

  • Balloons (choose various colors for added visual appeal)
  • Filling materials: flour, rice, and baking soda
  • Funnel (to help get the filling into the balloon)
  • Optional: spoon or scoop

Instructions

  1. Start by deciding whether you want a soft, medium, or firm stress ball. Flour gives a softer feel, rice adds a grainy texture, and baking soda offers a finer, powdery texture.
  2. Stretch the balloon by inflating it slightly and then deflating it.
  3. Attach the balloon to the narrow end of a funnel. Gradually spoon your chosen filler into the funnel, tapping or shaking gently to move the material into the balloon. Fill until the balloon is the size of a tennis ball.
  4. Once filled, carefully remove the balloon from the funnel, squeezing out any excess air, and tie the neck tightly to seal.

DIY stress balls are particularly useful for children who need help managing stress, offering an effective way to focus and calm down during overwhelming moments. 

They are also excellent for developing fine motor skills. The act of squeezing helps to strengthen the muscles in the hands and wrists, promoting coordination.

7. Sensory boxes

Sensory boxes are filled with various materials that children can dig through, helping to enhance sensory skills and cognitive development through hands-on play.

Materials needed:

  • A large, sturdy box, such as a plastic storage bin or a wooden box.
  • Sand, rice, beans, or shredded paper
  • Smooth stones, feathers, beads, pom-poms, small toys, etc.
  • Optional: Scented oils, spices, colorful scarves, and auditory objects like bells.

Instructions:

  1. Choose a theme that resonates with your child’s interests. 
  2. Fill the box with your chosen base material.
  3. Strategically place the sensory items in the box. These should vary in texture, size, and shape.
  4. Add tools such as tongs or scoops to promote fine motor skills.

Adapting sensory boxes:

  • For children with texture sensitivities, choose base materials that are smooth and uniform, like rice or fine sand.
  • For enhanced visual stimulation, incorporate brightly colored items and materials that reflect light.
  • Include items that make noise for auditory stimulation.

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Simple Sensory Boxes You Can Make to Teach Your Autistic Child Skills

Sensory boxes provide a dynamic platform for children to explore and learn about their environment through sensory play. They help develop fine motor skills, cognitive skills, and sensory integration.

These boxes can be particularly calming for children with sensory processing challenges, offering a controlled and enjoyable way to engage with sensory stimuli.

8. DIY fidget boards

Fidget boards are dynamic sensory tools that combine various textures and movable parts into one engaging board, designed to provide tactile, visual, and proprioceptive stimulation.

These boards are ideal for sensory seekers, offering a wide range of sensory inputs through objects that can be touched, moved, and manipulated.

Materials needed:

  • Sturdy wooden base: choose a size that’s easy to handle.
  • Buttons, zippers, beads, textured fabrics, sandpaper, rubber mats.
  • Hammer, nails, glue, or sewing kit.
  • Switches, LEDs, wires, and other electronic components
  • Adhesives like glue or epoxy

Instructions:

  1. Sand any rough edges on a smooth wooden board.
  2. Arrange the sensory items on the board without attaching them. Consider the flow of activities and ensure enough space for hands to move freely around each item.
  3. Nail or sew fabrics and mats, firmly glue beads and buttons, and ensure zippers are functional and secure.
  4. Include various textures for different tactile experiences. Soft fabrics can be combined with rough sandpaper to enhance sensory discrimination.
  5. Attach items that can be manipulated, such as dials, switches, or locks.

Customizing fidget boards:

  • If the child is particularly sensitive to textures, start with milder, smoother textures and gradually introduce more varied ones.
  • If the child has specific interests, include elements that reflect these themes to increase engagement.
  • Make parts easy to handle for younger or less skillful kids, and add more complex components to challenge older ones.
Young boy playing with a fidget board https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/diy-sensory-toys/

By engaging with a variety of textures and interactive components, children can enhance their tactile understanding and motor abilities in a way that is both fun and educational.

Reaching developmental goals with DIY sensory toys

DIY sensory toys are very beneficial, helping children develop fine motor skills, engage their senses, and expand their cognitive abilities through play. These activities ensure an environment where children can explore, create, and learn at their own pace.

Remember, the key to successful sensory play is letting children explore and interact with their creations. It’s not just about keeping a child entertained – it’s about opening a door to a world of imagination and learning.

FAQs

Q: How do you make homemade sensory toys?

A: You can easily make homemade sensory toys using household items. Color rice or pasta with food coloring and vinegar for a sensory bin, adding small objects for discovery. Playdough is simple, too. Just mix flour, water, salt, and cream of tartar. Personalize toys with various textures, colors, and shapes to keep sensory experiences engaging and stimulating.

Q: What is an autism sensory toy?

A: An autism sensory toy assists children who process sensory information differently, aiding with overload or under-sensitivity. These toys offer soothing textures, colors, sounds, or lights, such as fidget spinners, chewable jewelry, or textured balls.

Q: How do you make water sensory toys?

A: You can fill a sealable plastic bag or a bottle with water, add a few drops of food coloring, and throw in some glitter, beads, or small floating toys. For an extra twist, use different items that float and sink to make a little underwater scene. Just make sure to seal everything up tight so there are no spills!

Q: How do you make a homemade sensory board?

A: Create a sensory board by securing diverse textured items (zippers, buttons, fabrics) onto a sturdy base like wood or cardboard. Add movable or noise-making elements like bells. Ensure everything is securely attached to prevent choking hazards, offering kids a variety of sensory experiences in one spot.

References

Autism Parenting Magazine. (2024, January 24). How to Implement Sensory Toys During Play and Learning. Autism Parenting Magazine. https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/creating-visual-schedules/ 

Big Heart Toys. (2023, May 22). How to Make DIY Sensory Bottles for Your Child. Big Heart Toys. https://bighearttoys.com/blogs/sensory-play/how-to-make-sensory-bottles 

Little Bins Little Hands. (2023, June 18). 10 Simple Rice Sensory Bin Ideas. Little Bins Little Hands. https://littlebinsforlittlehands.com/10-super-simple-rice-sensory-bins/ 

Little Bins Little Hands. (2024, February 5). The Easiest No Cook Playdough Recipe! Little Bins Little Hands. https://littlebinsforlittlehands.com/no-cook-playdough/ 

Litwin, S., Sellen, K. Designing a Sensory Kit to Improve the Environment for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Pediatric Emergency Department. J Autism Dev Disord 53, 3369–3379 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-022-05651-7 

One Little Project. (2020, May 26). How to Make a Stress Ball. One Little Project. https://onelittleproject.com/how-to-make-a-stress-ball/

Roche, M.A., Back, E. & Van Herwegen, J. Parental perspectives on the use of fidget toys and sensory-seeking profiles in autistic and neurotypical children. Curr Psychol (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-023-05483-3 

The Craft Blog. How to Make Slime: The Ultimate Guide. The Craft Blog. https://www.thecraftpatchblog.com/how-to-make-slime/

Unwin, K. L., Powell, G., & Jones, C. R. (2022). The use of Multi-Sensory Environments with autistic children: Exploring the effect of having control of sensory changes. Autism, 26(6), 1379-1394. https://doi.org/10.1177/13623613211050176 

Unwin, K. L., Powell, G., Price, A., & Jones, C. R. (2024). Patterns of equipment use for autistic children in multi-sensory environments: Time spent with sensory equipment varies by sensory profile and intellectual ability. Autism, 28(3), 644-655. https://doi.org/10.1177/13623613231180266 


Zimmerman, K. N., Ledford, J. R., & Turner, V. R. (2024). The Impact of Fidget Toys on Story Detail Acquisition and Visual Attention for Elementary Students With Autism. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 26(2), 101-112. https://doi.org/10.1177/10983007231200529

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