Benefits of Sensory Toys for Cognitive Development

Explore the remarkable benefits of sensory toys in supporting cognitive growth and emotional regulation.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
April 9, 2024

Benefits of Sensory Toys for Cognitive Development

Understanding Sensory Toys

Sensory toys play an essential role in children's cognitive development by introducing them to sensory-rich environments. They stimulate and engage multiple senses, thereby encouraging sensory integration and processing abilities, as well as promoting physical development, hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness, and social interactions [1].

Role of Sensory Play

Sensory play is defined as age-appropriate activities that encourage children to explore the world around them using one or more of their seven senses: sight, touch, taste, smell, sound, vestibular, and proprioceptive. It's also used to describe any type of play that aims to develop a child's balance and coordination.

Such forms of play facilitate learning and growth in all children, positively influencing cognitive development. Activities for cognitive development could include finger painting and manipulatives, musical instruments, and playground time. These activities help children develop their sense of touch, problem-solving skills, focus on specific sounds, and stimulate their sensory skills.

Benefits of Sensory Toys

Sensory toys play a vital role in promoting inclusive, open-ended play that cultivates vital skills, promotes self-regulation, sparks exploration, enhances problem-solving abilities, and nurtures creativity.

They have numerous benefits including language development, gross motor skill development, fine motor skill development, the creation of stronger brain connections, improved social development, enhanced problem-solving abilities, better self-calming skills, boosted creativity, and increased awareness.

Additionally, sensory toys can help to strengthen brain development, enhance memory, and improve hand-eye coordination, contributing to cognitive stimulation in infants and young children. They also encourage children to talk about new textures and shapes, stimulating language practice and enhancing vocabulary related to the toys or activities they are involved in.

By adopting sensory play and incorporating sensory toys, parents, educators, and caregivers can create a conducive environment that enhances cognitive development and sets children up for future success.

Developmental Benefits

Sensory toys are not merely playthings. They play a crucial role in aiding the development of fine motor skills and cognitive growth in children. This section delves into these benefits.

Fine Motor Skill Development

Sensory toys, such as Gel Aquarium Pads, Round Bubbles Push Pop Sensory Fidget, and Happy Face Gel Stress Ball, can aid in fine motor skill development. They can prove beneficial for individuals with various diagnoses and conditions, including developmental coordination disorder, premature birth, neurological impairment, developmental delay, sensory processing difficulties, abnormal muscle tone, and dyspraxia (motor planning difficulties) [4].

These toys can engage multiple senses, encouraging sensory integration, promoting physical development, hand-eye coordination, and spatial awareness. This multi-sensory engagement can also enhance social interactions [1].

Cognitive Growth

Sensory play, which involves age-appropriate activities that encourage kids to explore the world around them using one or more of their senses, has a positive influence on cognitive development. It provides a safe space for exploration, stimulates curiosity, expands understanding of the world, nurtures cognitive and sensory processing abilities, and encourages problem-solving through open-ended materials.

This form of play also helps strengthen brain development, enhance memory, and improve hand-eye coordination. Therefore, sensory play contributes to cognitive stimulation in infants and young children.

The use of sensory toys in play, therefore, serves a dual purpose. They provide an enjoyable and engaging activity for children, while simultaneously contributing to their growth and development. The benefits of sensory toys are multi-faceted, extending from physical to cognitive development, reinforcing their importance in the early stages of a child's life.

Social and Emotional Development

Sensory toys contribute significantly to social and emotional development in children. These toys offer a tangible way for kids, including those with special needs like autism, to interact with their environment and learn about the world around them.

Language and Social Skills

One of the numerous benefits of sensory toys is facilitating the development of language and social skills. These toys can help teach descriptive words, fostering skills like taking turns, sharing, and cooperation. When children play with sensory toys, they often discuss what they are feeling and doing, which can enhance their vocabulary and communication skills. Furthermore, these toys can stimulate collaborative play, providing opportunities for children to practice their social interactions in a controlled and safe environment.

Development Area Skills Developed How Sensory Toys Help
Language Skills Vocabulary, Communication Sensory toys offer various textures, shapes, and colors that encourage children to express their experiences.
Social Skills Sharing, Taking Turns, Cooperation Sensory toys can be used in group settings, fostering interaction and cooperation among children.

Emotional Regulation

Additionally, sensory toys can play a crucial role in supporting emotional regulation. Children with autism spectrum disorders often struggle with understanding their emotions and self-regulation. Sensory toys can provide a soothing and calming effect, helping children with autism to focus, pay attention, relieve stress, and anxiety. Regular use of these toys can help children become more aware of their emotions and better understand their environment.

Emotional Regulation Area How Sensory Toys Help
Focus and Attention Sensory toys can capture and hold children's attention, helping them concentrate on a specific task.
Stress and Anxiety Relief Sensory toys often provide a calming and soothing effect, which can help children manage stress and anxiety.
Understanding Emotions Through sensory play, children can express their emotions and learn to recognize and manage them.

In conclusion, sensory toys offer a wide range of benefits for children's social and emotional development. These toys can aid in the development of language and social skills while also supporting emotional regulation. Therefore, they are an invaluable tool for children, especially those with autism and other special needs.

Sensory Toys for Different Ages

When choosing sensory toys, it's important to consider the age and developmental stage of the child. Sensory toys are designed to stimulate the child's senses and promote learning through play. Here, we will discuss the benefits of sensory toys for different age groups, namely babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.

Babies and Toddlers

For babies, the goal of any toy should focus on sensory experience, motor development, and problem-solving. Toys with high contrast colors, sounds that chime, shake, and rattle, as well as those providing different textures, are beneficial for sensory development in babies [7]. These toys stimulate their senses and help them learn about the world around them. As KidsHealth explains, babies use their five senses to learn about the interesting new world around them, such as feeling if an object is hard or soft, sticky or rough, and exploring what happens when they drop or put objects in their mouths.

Toddlers, on the other hand, can benefit from sensory bins, busy boards, shakers, bean bags, rain sticks, and pop fidgets. These toys assist in fine motor development, engage the senses, and provide calming and rhythmic experiences [7]. They help toddlers practice using their senses and integrate the information their developing brains receive, contributing to cognitive growth and fine motor skill development.


For preschoolers, sensory toys like Play-Doh, kinetic sand, scented markers, dolls, and classic blocks are recommended. These toys help in muscle strength building, creative thinking, nurturing social-emotional skills, and various cognitive developments.

Preschoolers are at a stage where they are beginning to engage more with their peers and develop their imagination. Sensory toys like these not only stimulate their senses but also encourage them to interact with the world around them. They can create stories with their dolls, build structures with blocks, or make art with scented markers. These activities not only engage their senses but also promote creative thinking and social interaction.

Sensory toys play a vital role in children's development. By providing children with age-appropriate sensory toys, parents and caregivers can help them explore their senses and develop essential skills in a fun and engaging way.

Sensory Toys for Neurodiverse Children

Sensory toys, sometimes referred to as "Montessori toys," play a crucial role in the development and well-being of neurodiverse children. These toys can provide a wealth of benefits, from promoting sensory integration to aiding cognitive growth.

Benefits for Neurodiverse Kids

Neurodiverse children, including those diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), often experience challenges in processing and integrating sensory inputs. Sensory toys can be a valuable tool in helping these children navigate their sensory experiences more effectively.

These toys offer a range of benefits:

  1. Sensory Integration: Sensory toys can aid in retraining the brain to integrate sensations, as suggested by Dr. Anna Jean Ayres who pioneered sensory integration therapy (SIT) methods in the 1960s.
  2. Sensory Stimulation: Sensory toys can provide sensory stimulation, offering comfort and a calming effect.
  3. Cognitive Development: Sensory toys aid in the development of all eight senses in children, facilitating the creation of new neurological circuits through play.
  4. Skill Development: Sensory toys can help children develop important skills such as fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and sensory awareness.
  5. Relief from Anxiety and Stress: Sensory toys can help children with autism focus, pay attention, relieve stress, and anxiety, helping them relax and calm. These toys are gaining popularity among parents and therapists due to their reported positive results.

Sensory Integration Support

For children with sensory integration difficulties, sensory toys can be an effective form of support. These toys can provide different types of sensory input, helping to regulate and integrate sensory experiences [8].

Here are some examples of sensory toys that can provide sensory integration support:

  • Swings: Provide vestibular input, helping with balance and spatial orientation.
  • Trampolines: Provide proprioceptive input, enhancing body awareness and coordination.
  • Soft Bristle Brushes: Provide tactile stimulation, helping with touch sensitivity.
  • Weighted Blankets: Provide deep pressure stimulation, offering a calming and grounding effect.
  • Earplugs and Noise-Canceling Headphones: Help with auditory sensitivity, reducing noise overload.

By choosing the right sensory toys, parents and caregivers can support neurodiverse children in managing their sensory experiences, promoting their cognitive development, and enhancing their overall well-being.

Choosing the Right Sensory Toy

As the benefits of sensory toys become more recognized, it's important to choose the right toy that caters to a child's unique needs and preferences.

Factors to Consider

Before purchasing a sensory toy, consider the child's age, interests, and developmental stage. Additionally, look for toys that stimulate one or more of the child's senses, including sight, touch, smell, taste, hearing, proprioception, vestibular sense, and interoception. These toys should encourage engagement with the environment, facilitate the creation of new neurological circuits through play, and help children develop important skills such as fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and sensory awareness.

For neurodiverse children, sensory toys can help regulate and integrate sensory inputs, potentially reducing anxiety and overall strife. Therefore, it's essential to consider the child's specific sensory needs when choosing a sensory toy.

Popular Sensory Toy Options

There's a vast array of sensory toys available in the market today, each offering unique sensory experiences. Here are a few popular sensory toy options that cater to different sensory needs:

  • Swings: These toys provide vestibular input, helping children understand their body's position in space.
  • Trampolines: Like swings, trampolines also provide vestibular input, increasing body awareness.
  • Soft bristle brushes: These can be used for gentle tactile stimulation, helping children who have tactile sensitivities.
  • Weighted blankets: These offer deep pressure input, which can have a calming effect on children with sensory processing difficulties.
  • Earplugs and noise-canceling headphones: These can help children with auditory sensitivities by reducing background noise.

Remember, the ultimate goal is to provide a positive and enriching sensory experience for the child. Therefore, it's important to pay attention to their responses and adjust their sensory activities and toys accordingly.

By considering the child's unique needs and preferences, you can choose the right sensory toy that will not only provide enjoyment but also contribute to their cognitive, social, and emotional development.