From newborn gifts to Christmas and birthday gifts, many people wonder what toys they can buy for the babies and toddlers in their lives. Often, it’s not just the little one who needs to be impressed, but the approval of the caregivers is needed too.

Could there possibly be a better gift to give than one that supports a child’s cognitive, motor, and language development? Sensory play toys help children to develop vital motor and language skills, as well as stimulating the child’s senses and encouraging exploration and problem solving.

What is sensory play?

Sensory play involves activities that engage and stimulate a baby or young child’s senses – sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing –  as well as activities that engage a little one’s motor skills involving balance and movement. Sensory play is essential in helping a child to learn more about the world and how it works. 

This type of play usually involves hands-on activities that encourage the little one to explore the world around them, and sometimes includes elements of problem solving. Children can feel different textures, see bright colours, hear the noises a toy can make, and much more with sensory play.

As bloss parent expert Olivia Tarry explains, “I promise you sensory play isn’t another fad or buzz word promising to turn your baby into an Einstein overnight, but a truly beneficial way in which to positively improve baby and toddler brain development.

At iki kids, it’s my mission is to simplify things wherever possible for parents. I explain sensory play as a way in which babies and toddlers can learn about the world through stimulation of their senses during a playful activity. When they take part in sensory play regularly, babies and toddlers improve their cognitive development, through learning how to respond to different stimuli.

When thinking about sensory play you can think about activities and toys that are appealing to a range of different senses. I like to use the Mnemonic bellow to remind me of the senses:

  • Sensory (smell)
  • Toys (touch)
  • Have (hearing)
  • True (taste)
  • Success (sight)”

Why is sensory play important?

Sensory play plays an essential role in a young child’s cognitive development. Activities that promote exploration, curiosity and problem solving – for example, fitting set shaped pieces into corresponding cut-outs – builds nerve connections in the child’s brain. 

Adding elements of problem solving into your child’s play – and not immediately helping them out – is a great way to encourage brain development. As well as supporting cognitive growth, sensory play also supports problem solving, promotes social interaction, develops motor skills, and also champions language development. 

A child development expert from The Practical Child explains, “Sensory play encourages learning through exploration, creativity and problem solving, creating new neural pathways to the brain.”

Best gifts for babies and toddlers

Bloss has partnered with Ocado to bring you the best baby and toddler gifting essentials. If you are expecting a new arrival or know someone who has welcomed a new baby this year, we have the ultimate checklist. Bloss has brought together its many experts and community of parents to share their knowledge on the best toys and books for your little ones as well as those everyday, affordable essentials you will need to keep your little ones happy.

A good toy for a little one needs to be fun, but it also needs to serve a function for their development – and kick-starting sensory play is the perfect way to do this! In order to create a list of the best gifts for babies and toddlers, we consulted the sensory play experts at bloss for fun toys that help a child’s development.

Find our pick of the best sensory play toys for children and toddlers from the bloss experts: 

1. Sophie La Girafe So’Pure Trio

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243493011 from Ocado, the online supermarket

Sophie La Girafe So'Pure Trio

The charming Sophie La Girafe So’Pure Trio includes three Sophie La Girafe themed toys: Sophie La Girafe, the Sophie La Girafe teething ring, and a keepsake Sophie La Girafe keyring for the caregiver. 

Ideal as a baby’s first toy, Sophie La Girafe is made of 100% natural rubber to keep your little one safe. The endearing little giraffe stimulates all of your baby’s senses, as they learn to play with the toy through curiosity of what stands in front of them. It’s likely this would be your baby or toddler’s first encounter with a giraffe, making the experience of exploring this new toy highly engaging to all of their senses.

Not forgetting about the all important Sophie La Girafe teething ring, providing relief for sore gums and sensory play to your little one. Soon to become their best friend, the teething ring is also made of 100% natural rubber and has many parts that can be chewed – ears, horns, legs, and the ring itself. 

Our early years consultant at bloss, Lucy Gregory, says, “We love Sophie! We have worked with so many families who have a little Sophie and their little ones are so fond of her.

Not only does Sophie offer support to those little ones while they are teething, but also a gentle squeaker and a super soft texture helps them with that sensory experience. Sophie helps with developing hand and eye coordination, and she can also be used as a prop when telling and creating stories, helping with language development too.”

2. Pull Along Turtle

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592596011 from Ocado, the online supermarket

Pull Along Turtle

This adorable pull-along turtle is perfect for helping littles ones to develop their motor skills. The turtle can be pulled along by its cotton string and the turtle wiggles as it moves, helping to inspire their imaginations too.

With a detachable shell, this cute gift is wonderfully portable and ideal as a mobile toy that can be taken anywhere. Best suited to children aged 12 months and over. 

As bloss expert Alice Curry explains, “Sensorimotor activities are ways you can help your little one learn to move and coordinate their body, while simultaneously developing their brain and body. It is important to encourage this with your children, to help build their foundations for their gross motor skills, aka crawling and walking!

This can be done in many ways, having stemmed from building a solid base of tummy time, and moving on to encouraging your little one to reach, crawl, shuffle and eventually walk and run towards an object.

This amazing wooden Pull Along Turtle is a great way to encourage your little ones to get moving. Play simple games, such as chase, or inspire your child to pull it along with them to develop their motor skills, helping to build the foundations of their movement. Even if just at the sitting stage, rolling objects like this turtle can help coordinate their vision and balance while moving around.

Not only is the Pull Along Turtle affordable and aesthetically pleasing, but it’s also a toy that will be played with during a variety of ages, making it that perfect Christmas gift.”

3. That’s Not My Dinosaur

Buy 1 and get 1 half price 

549914011 from Ocado, the online supermarket

That's not my dinosaur book

One of Usborne’s ‘touchy-feely’ books and a special edition of the much-loved ‘That’s not my…’ books, That’s Not My Dinosaur takes your child on a journey of sensory delights. 

With bright colours and engaging textures on each page, your little one experiences something new with each turn of the page. They can meet five friendly dinosaurs with fuzzy tails, bumpy teeth, and soft spines that they can explore through touch, sight, and hearing. A perfect way to help develop your child’s language awareness as well as their sensory awareness, That’s Not My Dinosaur is the ideal choice for children with a desire to explore. 

As bloss expert Olivia Tarry says, “For me reading with your little one is the ultimate sensory experience with Usborne’s ‘touchy-feely’ books.

They are super hard wearing for heavy handed toddlers, the thick pages aid independent page turning and they appeal to a range of senses. They have gorgeous tactile textures on each page for touching, scratching, stroking or whatever the heart desires. Plus, they use repetition represented through the words and colourful illustrations, making these story books perfect for appealing to multiple senses. We know it’s far more engaging to appeal to a range of senses rather than just one, such as just listening to a story.”

4. Colourful Caterpillar Journey Book 

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594957011 from Ocado, the online supermarket

Embark on a sensory adventure with this adorable caterpillar pal! On one side, each accordion panel is adorned with bright colours and playful images. Little ones can explore various sensory activities, from discovering a hidden squeaker and initiating delightful crinkle sounds, to feeling unique fabric textures.

Flip to the other side to find calming, black-and-white patterns. While the apple tethered to the front is perfect for chewing. Having been specially designed to stimulate the senses, there’s so much to discover! Suitable for children from the age of six months.

As Lucy Gregory explains, “As little ones start to grow, parents often start to question speech. When should my little one start talking, how many words should they be saying, are they in line with what their peers are doing?

Knowing where to start or what activities and toys to be using to promote speech and language development can be overwhelming! There are so many things on the market but ultimately, you don’t need anything ‘specific’ to get your little ones to start talking – all they need is you!

We love this Caterpillar Activity Book as there are so many things your little one can gain from it. Firstly the black and white colours appeal to newborns, especially when trying to introduce tummy time! As they grow and start to see more, the bright colours are really attractive and are a lovely thing for them to focus on. The different textures allow for a calm and sensory experience with touch, and the squeaker gets them exploring their sound sensory development.”

5. Safari Chunky Puzzle

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Product coming soon on 9th November

Safari chunky puzzle

Take your little one on a safari adventure with a fun wooden puzzle that features a variety of African animal favourites. This extra thick wooden puzzle includes eight easy-grasp, chunky wild animal pieces. All in full-colour and with matching pictures underneath.

The animal pieces stand upright for pretend play, encouraging eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills and creative expression. Suitable for children aged over two years old.

Our bloss speech and language therapists from April Cottages explain, “This is the gift that keeps on giving. While the chunky, colourful pieces are great for little hands to explore, as children grow, it can also be used to develop their talking and listening skills. 

Our top tips for using the Melissa & Doug Safari Chunky Puzzle are as follows:

  1. Rather than lay out all the pieces for your little one to grab at once, pop them in a clear box or bag and bring them out one at a time. This is a great way to develop their attention, take turns and explore each piece together! 
  2. As well as using the animals within the puzzle, use them to act out different actions like ‘eating, drinking, jumping, walking, sleeping’ etc. Talking about these early action words (verbs) is a great way to develop your child’s vocabulary!
  3. To develop pre-reading and sound awareness skills, try clapping the beats of each animal before you put it in the puzzle, e.g. ‘el-e-phant’ would be three claps. Children’s ability to manipulate words in this way is a key indicator of reading ability later on.

Did you know that symbolic sounds, such as animal noises, often make up the first 10 words babies say? This puzzle provides the perfect opportunity to model symbolic sounds during play!”

6. Rainbow Stacker 

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331333011 from Ocado, the online supermarket

Melissa & Doug Rainbow Stacker

The Melissa and Doug Rainbow Stacker Classic Toy is brightly coloured and includes smooth ring stacking pieces. Ideal for children aged 18 months and over, the Melissa and Doug Rainbow Stacker Classic Toy is a variation of the vintage staple from our childhoods. 

An easy way to promote shape, colour, and size-differentiation skills, the Melissa and Doug Rainbow Stacker Classic Toy also acts as a wonderful sensory toy to fuel your child’s curiosity. As they navigate the eight colourful, smooth, and easy-to-grasp wooden pieces and the solid-wood rocking base, your little one starts to problem solve and develop their motor skills.

We asked The Practical Child for their thoughts: “We love the Melissa and Doug Rainbow Stacker due to its versatility through different ages. From an early age, babies love to feel the small pieces in their hands, as they are smooth to touch and easy to hold or push along the floor. In addition to this the bright colours are visually stimulating, developing the infant’s sensory system.

As your child grows, the pieces, without the stick, are good for stacking together with adult support and knocking down. As your child learns to sit, they will continue to enjoy stacking the pieces and have a fascination with the hole in the middle!

Finally, when they are stable enough to sit independently, they will start to enjoy the toy for what it was really made for. A toy where the child holds the pieces and starts placing them on the stick. This may appear an easy task, but no! To use two hands together the child requires good core stability and the shoulders to be strong enough to reach up and place the pieces onto the stick.

This toy helps further develop these skills by repetition. In addition to this the stacking of the pieces on the stick in the right colour sequence and size develops visual and sequencing skills and also concentration.”

7. Baby Touch and Feel Merry Christmas book

Buy 1 and get 1 half price 

592581011 from Ocado, the online supermarket

Touch and feel xmas book

No need for Mum and Dad to turn the pages with this festive board book for babies. Help your baby to develop their fine motor skills as they learn to turn the tough board book pages themselves. Plus, with easy-to read-text, this baby Christmas gift helps to build an early language foundation too.

This charming Christmas board book for babies and toddlers also offers a range of different textures to explore and has clearly labelled pictures.  While the rounded edges and chunky pages protect your little one and their growing teeth. 

Norland Nanny Alice Curry explains, “Reading to your little one has many benefits to your child, but it especially encourages skills such as speaking and listening. It can sometimes be hard to get your baby to listen to a story if they cannot interact with it, which is why Touch and Feel books are the perfect option.

Sensory books can encourage your little one to interact, by touching and feeling the different panels in the book, making reading even more fun and enjoyable! Reading helps build a solid vocabulary and enrich their language skills from a young age, where they can learn to associate the words with the different colours, textures and shapes in the book.

This fun and festive Baby Touch and Feel Merry Christmas sensory book is a great way of getting into the Christmas spirit with your little one. The thick colourful pages make it easy for their little hands to help turn and feel the pages, giving them that sense of involvement. With doors to open, flaps to undo, rough, bumpy, shiny textures to feel and enjoy, this is the perfect book to enjoy at home with your little one.”

For more Christmas gifting inspiration, browse baby gifts at Ocado.

Get 25% off your first order (minimum spend £60) and three months of unlimited free delivery with code: VOU6344229