Buying toys for your baby can be expensive, and sometimes they don’t last that long! We all want to encourage creative play in our little ones. But did you know you can just make your own safe, homemade toys for baby, for a fraction of the cost?
So before you fork out hundreds of dollars on expensive development toys, check out our 26 homemade baby sensory toys and make your own DIY sensory toys using common things around the home.
Your child really doesn’t care about brand names or labels. In fact, they don’t even know what a ‘toy’ is. They really just want something bright and noisy to play and engage with, and begin developing their senses through creative play. All of the toys below will help your baby to develop their senses through sensory experience.
There are plenty of household items that make great toys for baby, and with a little bit of imagination you can turn everyday things into toys with a twist.
In fact, you may just find that baby keeps going back to your colourful wrapped tissue box; bypassing all those ‘development’ toys along the way!
Safety First – Homemade Baby Sensory Toy Safety
When making your own toys, it’s important to keep safety in the front of your mind. A good checklist to follow is:
Size of DIY baby toys
A general rule is the smaller the child, the bigger the toy. If the toy can fit into a film canister, or it has removable parts that can, then it is not suitable for children under 3 years of age.
Surface on DIY baby toys
Babies put everything in their mouths and can be easily poisoned if a toy is made from, or coated in, a toxic material. Check out paint and adhesive labels before use. You should also make sure the surface is smooth, with no sharp edges or corners.
Strings on DIY baby toys
Make sure any strings or ribbons are not long enough to get wrapped around baby and cut off baby’s circulation. Knots must be strong, and loops not too large. Also make sure they are firmly attached to the toy.
Supervision of babies with toys
Did we mention babies put everything in their mouths? It’s important to remember any homemade toy can potentially cause choking – no matter how well you’ve made it. If anyone can pull it apart, your baby can! Keep an eye on baby at all times.
So with all those safety points in mind, here are some great ideas for turning everyday items into fabulous toys.
What are Sensory Toys for Babies?
Sensory toys are a specialist toy category that cater for all age groups, from newborns right up to adults. Think of squishy sound books for newborns, or newtons cradle for grown ups. Sensory toys for babies is a sub-category of these types of toys, specially geared toward 6 month old babies to toddlers.
We call these ‘sensory’ toys because they’re designed to develop your child’s senses.
So as you look around the house, think of the 5 senses: touch, taste, see, smell and hear, and you’ll start to find objects that could develop these important cognitive functions in your baby. Below we’ve included the 5 senses and importance of their development in early childhood, as well as some starter ideas to get you thinking about potential toys.
Touch is one of the most important senses for babies. Babies are comforted by touch, cuddling close can help your baby feel more secure. You’ll start to see your baby grab at your eyes and nose, as they begin developing this vital sense. And once baby is a little older and crawling, they’ll touch everything in sight as they develop this part of their brain.
DIY baby toy options for developing touch: squishy balls, edible paint, textured card, fluffy material, warm and cool items.
Babies prefer sweet tastes over sour or bitter tastes, this is an important survival mechanism in the first few years. But babies also use their sense of taste far more than we do as adults. Did we mention crawling and grabbing things, just watch how many of those go in baby’s mouth!
DIY baby toy options for developing taste: ice, warm and cool foods, sugar-free jello, food exploration
Over the first few months, your baby may have uncoordinated eye movements. They may even appear cross-eyed. This is because babies can only focus at close range. This is about 8 to 10 inches, or the distance between a mother’s face to the baby in her arms. Their focus improves over the first 2 to 3 years of life, so this is a really key sense to help baby develop.
DIY baby toy options for developing sight: dark and light patterns, objects hanging at different heights, bright colored materials.
Studies show that newborns have a very strong sense of smell. Newborns prefer the smell of their own mother, especially her breastmilk. Smell develops a part of the brain called the olfactory cortex and it has a relationship with deep, emotional memory. So it’s a really important sense to help develop.
DIY baby toy options for developing smell: essential oils, natural fibres like wool and leather, sweet and fragrant spices and exotic fruits.
Hearing is fully developed in newborns. Babies with normal hearing should startle in response to loud sounds. Newborns seem to prefer a higher-pitched voice (like their mother’s). They can also tune out loud noises after hearing them several times. A very cool sense!
DIY baby toy options for developing hearing: crinkly cellophane, pots and spoons, crunchy paper, blocks to bash.
17 Homemade Baby Sensory Toys
1. Magic scarves
Cut a cup sized hole into the lid of an ice cream container and then tape around it to soften any sharp edges. Fill the container with lots of different coloured scarves, ribbons, or long pieces of material, and watch baby have lots of fun pulling them out, then stuffing them back in.
2. Cardboard box building blocks for baby
Small boxes like those used for tea bags, tissues and cereal, make great building blocks for baby. Stuff the boxes with newspaper to make them sturdy, and then wrap them in brightly coloured book covering. Because the book covering is 100% adhesive, there are no bits of tape or paper that can come off and cause choking.
3. Fabric and foam blocks for babies
This is a variation on the idea above. Instead of cardboard boxes, you can construct a cute little set of soft bricks from foam or styrofoam and some leftover fabric. Just cut down the foam into small brick shapes. Then cut a rectangle of fabric and glue onto the brick. Make sure the fabric is well glued down so baby can’t get to the foam inside. This is a great way to use leftover fabric from previous do-it-yourself projects.
4. Disappearing ball
Cut a cup sized hole, half way along a postage tube or kitchen paper towel tube and find 2 or 3 brightly coloured small balls. When baby drops the ball through the hole it disappears, but when they pick up the tube to find it, the ball rolls out one end. Babies from 9 months on will be fascinated by how this works.
5. Cup and ball game
This is another variation on the ball and cup concept. This time though tie a piece of wool or string around the small ball, and glue in place. Then tie and glue the other end to the bottom of a plastic cup. Now watch as baby pushes and tosses the ball in, on and around the cup.
You can see the full instructions for this toy here: DIY cup and ball game.
6. Baby’s first board book
Make your own board books for baby by cutting out pictures from magazines and gluing them onto sturdy card. Cover each page with clear book covering and then tape them together to form an accordion. You could also print out photos of your family and pets, or places around your home, to really personalise the book.
7. Homemade rattle
Put a handful of stones, rice or pasta into a small Pringles tin and tape the lid firmly shut with packaging tape to make a great rattle. Make sure the tape is pressed flat onto the can, so that baby can’t pull off small pieces. Small Milo, baking powder or Quik tins are also a good size for baby to hold. But if you use a Pringles tin, then you get to eat the chips first!
Here’s some more musical instrument ideas in Making music with your kids.
8. Milk formula tin drum kit
An empty milk formula tin, or large milo tin, or similar, and a wooden spoon is all you need to make a great drum kit! And we know just how much you love noisy toys… 🙂 If you want to get all arty, consider painting them, or even using Washi tape to brighten them up.
9. Wine cask mailbox
Wine casks are sturdy boxes which make great ‘posting’ toys. Cut several different shapes out of one side of the box, some that are bigger than others. Cover the box in brightly coloured book covering, and give baby some small toys to post. They will soon discover that some items fit through the holes, while others are too big or the wrong shape.
10. Homemade baby activity gym
Make your own activity gym by tying a selection of small toys to a broom stick or long pole and resting it between 2 chairs or couches. Make sure the stick is well secured so that it can’t roll off and land on baby. A good way to do this is to use the edges between heavy cushions and the armrests. Insert the broom or mop handle down securely, and hold it in place with the cushions.
Use lots of different colour, shape and textured soft toys for brain development, and position them just high enough so baby has to stretch a little to bat them. This helps develop muscles, movement and hand-eye coordination too.
11. Glitter bottle snow globe
¾ fill a small water bottle or plastic jar with water and add 2-3 good handfuls of glitter, then top up with clear glue (like Elmers glue). Firmly glue the lid shut, so that it cannot be opened. Now let baby tip it backwards and forwards. When they start crawling they will love chasing it across the room!
12. Scrunchy sound socks
Stuff a sock with crinkly wrapping paper or newspaper, and tie a knot in the end. Baby can safely scrunch the sock and be rewarded with great sounds. This is a great way to upcycle those lost left socks, or the ones with holes in them your partner refuses to throw out!
13. Scrunchy sensory stockings
This is a variation on the idea above. Stuff an old stocking (you know the ones with ladders in them that sit at the bottom of your drawer) with lots of different sensory items and tie the end closed with a knot. Interesting textures could be round rubber balls, chunky Duplo or Lego blocks, and scrunchy leaves. Add them all into the same stocking for your baby to explore.
14. Plastic bottle lid bracelet rattle
Punch a hole through the centre of several plastic bottle lids. The lids from milk bottles, or soda bottles, are perfect. Then string them together on a piece of elastic, or string, to form a bracelet. This makes a great rattle too, which is light and easy for baby to grasp on to.
15. Homemade stacker cups
Collect plastic lids from various containers to make your own set of stacking cups. Hairspray, shaving foam, cooking oil, dairy whip, milk bottles and plastic soda bottles all have good size lids. Make sure you wash them well before use. This is definitely not a toy for younger children, play with supervision.
16. Texture fun
Make great textured blocks by gluing different fabrics and materials onto wooden blocks. Exploring different textures is a great way for baby to begin developing their touch sense, one of the key development milestones. Think of texture when you select your fabrics. So corrugated cardboard, sheeps wool, faux fur, satin, even light sandpaper. You can often get offcut fabric from bulk bins for next to nothing.
17. Click-click toys
Old keyboards or calculators are great fun for babies to tap on, especially as they are rewarded with the ‘click click click’ sound. Make sure there are no loose buttons or keys. This is another great toy for developing touch and dexterity.
18. Laundry basket racer
Laundry baskets (or large cardboard boxes) make great cars for baby to sit in. It takes some effort for you to push them around the house, but their giggles will make it worth your while.
19. Homemade ‘walker’
A large cardboard box weighted down with toys and books is a great way to help baby with ‘cruising’ (walking around while leaning on furniture or being lead by the hand). It needs to be light enough so that it moves when baby pushes against it, but not so light that it takes off from under them.
20. Baby Plays with Water
It’s as basic as it gets. Just enough water and bath toys should be placed on a baking sheet for him to splash in, and you should see the joy on his face. He is content to rest on his stomach at this time and moves objects around on his own. He ought to be nearby, of course. Don’t do it just yet if your infant is still learning to hold his head up.
21. Smoosh painting
This is a straightforward way to satisfy baby’s inborn desire to press items between their fingers. Just place a piece of craft paper into a tray, and spoon in different coloured child-safe paint. Then place a sheet of transparency paper over the top, and have baby smoosh away until their hearts content. After a few minutes you’ll have your baby’s first ever artwork to display, not quite a Jackson Pollock painting, but a great start. Just rinse out the tray and create again.
22. Bowling pins made from plastic bottles
Knocking over bowling pins is just run at an age. Make your own out of recycled bottles and paint them bright rainbow colours for interest. You can put some sand or water in the bottom to make them stay up longer. And teach baby how to roll or throw different objects to knock them over. Just wait for the giggles to start!
23. Cute wooden peg doll or clothespin doll
Wooden clothespins make the sweetest tiny fairies (or for older children even clothespin mermaids). Just glue material on as a skirt, and some wool as a head. Use a food safe marker to dot on wee eyes and a mouth. Make sure you use the large craft clothespins or peg dolls to prevent choking, as there’s nothing better for a teething baby than to drool on a wooden clothespin.
24. Sensory smell jars
This toy is just as much fun to make as it is to play with. You’ll need a number of small plastic jars with plastic lids. Poke small holes into the lids using a needle, or small nail, and fill each jar with a different strong smelling item. Think coffee grounds, lemons, spices like cinnamon or star anise, and herbs like mint and lavendar. Mix and match scents to make your own interesting smells.
25. Spider’s Web Discovery Basket
This is a really fun discovery play toy. Just stretch and crisscross a number of rubber bands over a plastic container, then add in a bunch of babies favourite toys. Now have baby try to take the toys out of the container by reaching through the spider’s web of rubber bands. Watch as they develop dexterity skills and hand-eye coordination as they navigate the puzzle. Just keep an eye on those rubber bands, especially with an extra curious child as they can be a choking hazard.
26. Upcycled… anything!
Remember, babies find fun in just about everything. Boxes, tubes, containers, cups, spoons, wrapping paper – you name it. It doesn’t have to be an ‘official toy’ to provide entertainment – the whole world is one big playground. Open up your plastics cupboard and raid the recycling, you’ll be surprised with just what you come up with. Have fun!
I hoped you liked our article on homemade baby sensory toys. For more information on toys that are suitable for the different stages of babyhood, check out Baby Toys, or check out our Toys section for some great new ideas.