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Sensory Toys for 1-Year-Olds Romper.com Hopebridge Founder & Head of Clinical Strategy Kim Strunk

What should caregivers look for when considering sensory toys for 1-year-olds? 

I like toys that can engage a child’s imagination and teach them about the world around  them. Sensory play provides numerous opportunities for any and all children, but parents of  children who may be showing signs of autism or other developmental delays may find them  especially beneficial.

Hopebridge notes that caregivers should look for toys that appeal to their child’s preferences, such as a light-up  wand for children who enjoy visual stimulation. In addition to their child’s interests,  caregivers should also consider toys that can encourage them to explore new experiences.

Sensory toys can also support the development of other skills, like communication. Look for  toys that have the ability to build in rich language opportunities, like making animal sounds,  identifying colors, and identifying textures and other sensory experiences like “hot,” “cold,”  “bumpy,” “soft,” and “squishy.”

What makes a toy a “sensory toy”?

Sensory toys are intended to stimulate and develop a child’s senses. They expose kids to  different colors, textures, temperatures, movements, sounds or scents, and sometimes, even tastes.

Sensory toys can assist with emotional regulation as some children find certain sensory toys calming, though not everyone’s sensory systems work in the same way, so others may find them exciting or overwhelming.

What should be avoided?

Hopebridge says that safety is the biggest priority for toys at this age. Families should look for toys that are  appropriate for their child’s developmental age.

I recommend steering clear of slimes, modeling doughs, Kinetic Sand, or paints that are not  taste-safe if an infant or toddler still tends to put these types of items in their mouth. Avoid  toys that have small or breakable parts that could become choking hazards.

If a child has sensory processing challenges, parents may want to avoid toys that can be  overwhelming or uncomfortable for them, though there are ways caregivers can stimulate

those senses more slowly over time. For instance, I don’t recommend giving a toy that plays  loud music or has flashing colors to a child who is sensitive to sound or bright light.

Do you personally have any sensory toys you’d recommend?

Books are always on my list of go-to’s, and there is a range of sensory board books that  stimulate their tactile input and introduce children to new textures and language, like  Bedtime Starry, Peacock’s Rainbow Feathers, and Colorful First Words.

Hopebridge explains that children often find a small sand or water table a good investment because  the learning and exploration opportunities are endless. There are many exciting water tables  with tons of accessories, but I find simple is often better. If a child is already standing, I like this standing split sensory bin, though large but shallow plastic bins from a dollar store can also work wonders. Adults can keep these mini-play spaces open-ended with colored water and some simple scoops and spoons, or they can create more elaborate scenes by incorporating elements like animal figurines, trucks, shredded paper, noodles, or taste-safe dough.

Bubble machines like the Rainbow Bubble Maker spark wonder. Not only is it visually  stimulating, but many children are also delighted by the touch as they attempt to pop as  many as they can. Caregivers can also engage their child’s olfactory system by adding a little lavender essential oil to the bubble solution.

Light-up toys can be a lot of fun for children. Glowing bath toys like the Skip Hop Unicorn  Zoo Light Up Bath Toy can help children overcome their fear of the bath or aid them in  winding down before their bedtime routine. Though not exactly a toy, 1-year-olds may still  enjoy watching these colorful hexagon lights on the walls. They can synchronize with music  and have various color settings, which can be calming for children before bedtime.

Toddler-focused instruments like the Hape Beaded Raindrops “rainmaker” introduce 1-year-olds to new sounds plus can teach them about cause-and-effect. This toy uses vibrant colors and soothing raindrop sounds, plus it is easy for small hands to hold. Caregivers can also use it for learning opportunities by talking about the “shake shake” sounds and labeling the colors. Pop tubes engage the sense of sound, and their simplicity makes them easy to pack for kids’ entertainment on longer rides, as they are easy to pull and push on their own.

About Kim Strunk

Kim Strunk is the founder of Hopebridge Autism Therapy Centers, a leading provider of  autism therapy services in the United States. With over two decades of experience in  healthcare, Kim has dedicated her career to improving the lives of children with autism and  their families. A former Occupational Therapist, she founded Hopebridge in 2005 with a

vision to provide a comprehensive range of evidence-based therapies to children with  autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families.

Under Strunk’s leadership, Hopebridge has grown to become one of the largest providers of  autism therapy services in the country, with over 120 locations in twelve states. She has  been recognized for her contributions to the field of autism therapy, and in 2022, she was named a Healthcare Hero by Indianapolis Business Journal. Strunk continues to be an  advocate for children with autism, and her work at Hopebridge is a testament to her  unwavering commitment to improving the lives of others.