Keeping Them More Than Engaged: Social and Sensory Developmental Activities for Toddlers

If you're a conscious parent wondering how to support your child's social and emotional development — learn more about these social and emotional development activities for 1-2 year olds!

As your baby hits the toddler years, you have a front-row seat to see their personalities and preferences emerge through play. I find it endlessly fascinating to notice how each child is unique from their siblings, and equally fascinating that there are common themes among most children. In this blog today, we’re going to talk about some different ideas and things to consider as you help your child use play as a social and emotional development experience.

Social Development Activities For Toddlers

Between ages 1-2, your child is learning to explore and express his feelings, how to interact with others, and how to become independent. The independence is easier to spot because they suddenly have preferences on which shirt they’re wearing, which foods they’re eating (or not eating) and I DO IT MYSELF when it comes to, well, you name it.

Parents help guide their children through learning independence by giving them time in the schedule to try for 20 minutes to get their shoes on themselves, inevitably need help and experience the emotions through all of that. Then you get out the door. Sweating and exhausted, but you’re on your way.

The other elements of exploring different emotions and interacting with others can be a little less straight-forward. Most of the time, these are “caught” not taught. Your child will observe the way that the people in your home express feelings and will likely do the same to some degree. This is why it’s so important as a conscious parent to notice your child, learn to read them, and guide them through their emotions in a healthy way.

Interacting with others often is also “caught” by observing and interacting with family, neighbors, and other children at school or playgroups. This is also a huge parenting moment where you can observe your child, and help them see their actions from other perspectives and talk through what they should try next time.

For example:

“Hey honey, I saw that Andy took the ball you were playing with and that made you angry and so you hit. Let’s try it again, and this time, you can say, “Please give it back.” Or you can ask me for help.”

Here are some ideas to help facilitate these social and emotional development milestones for your child:

  • Encourage imaginative play with dolls, stuffed animals, toys, and/ or dress-up clothes. Invent scenes for your child – pretend to make a meal or go to the store.
  • Singing and dancing – This is a great playlist with lots of opportunities for singing, clapping, and dancing along.
  • Let them get messy with paint, mud, sand, or even Kinetic Sand is a big hit and less messy. Perfect for those preschool years, too!
  • Play outside in a yard, park, or playground. This will help your child “run out” their emotions and get some fresh air! Plus, it's a fun way to simply get out and move their bodies.

5 Fun Science Sensory Activities For Toddlers

If you find that every time you turn around, your child is climbing into the pots and pans or dunking his toy boat in the dog bowl, you might want to incorporate some science sensory activities into his play routine.

  1. Flour tray – If you have some extra flour or uncooked rice on hand, spread a little out on a baking sheet (with sides) or a paper plate and let your child play with their hands. You may also want to add toys or cars – maybe you have a bulldozer or excavator that needs to get to work!
  2. Smell and go seek – Spray a scent like perfume or a room deodorizer on a washable object like a clean sock or washcloth. Tell your child to smell the object and then close her eyes and count to 20 (you may have to count for her) while you hide the scented object somewhere in the room. Then, time her to see how long it takes her to find the object using her nose! This helps your child isolate an often-overlooked sense.
  3. Bake or cook something with your child – You can start with something easy like a box of muffin mix or even slice and bake cookies. They’ll love getting their hands dirty, participating in dividing the muffin tins and seeing the process from start to finish.
  4. Wash the dishes – While we’re in the kitchen, let your child “wash the dishes.” Pull up a stool, put down some towels and give them some soapy water and a scrub brush. Word to the wise: You’ll want to make sure that everything is nice and dry after he’s done – We accidentally flooded our lower cabinets a few times.
  5. Play music – Music is a fun educational experience for children. You can turn your pots and pans into a drum set and encourage them to make noise along with the music – or make their own! You can also make or buy some egg shakers if you need to avoid the sensory overload of the homemade drum set – I know I will not be opting in for the pots and pans approach.

5 Sensory Table Activities For Toddlers

  1. Find the pirate treasure! Pour aquarium rocks in a bin, add some “treasures” (shells, toys, rocks, whatever you have), and invite your toddler to go on a treasure hunt.
  2. Use chickpeas for added weight. Chickpeas provide a little more resistance to help your child gain better body awareness and control. This can be a great activity before writing or cutting that focuses on smaller muscles. These rainbow chickpeas look so fun!
  3. Oatmeal is a great taste-safe option for kids who put everything in their mouths. Oatmeal is a messier base for your sensory bin, but if your child is one who experiences everything by tasting it. You can use steel cut, whole rolled or instant. Give them some scoops, cups or measuring cups, and let them have at it.
  4. Pom-poms. They’re quiet, easy to clean up, colorful and lightweight. It also helps that most toddlers don’t find them that tempting to put in their mouths like other food sensory bins.
  5. Rice is a huge hit because it doesn’t leave a residue, is easily swept up, and not typically an allergen. You can even color it with food dye if you are feeling particularly crafty.

Activities like this can really help you mix things up as you guide your child as he or she develops emotionally and socially. Happy playing!