Best sensory toys for babies from birth to 6 months 2024: 42 toys to help little ones discover the world around them

The best sensory toys deepen your child's development while stimulating their five senses - these are our top picks

Collage showing the best sensory toys for babies
(Image credit: Future)

Incorporating the best sensory toys into playtime with your baby is a great way to help stimulate their five senses. When it comes to playing with a newborn, incorporating some sensory play can help your little one discover the world around them and help give their development a boost.

A sensory toy is one which is designed specifically to stimulate one or more of the five senses - touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste - sometimes more than one at a time - during play. These could be toys that have bright or contrasting colours, those that have a range of textures for little fingers to explore, those that light up or ones that crinkle or rattle when squeezed or shaken.

Child development expert Dr Amanda Gummer says: "Babies’ brains develop rapidly and they absorb far more of their environment that you might expect! As their senses start to mature, connections are made that form the basis of memories, getting them familiar with routines and making them feel safe and secure."

We've based this list of the best sensory toys for newborns up to six month olds, at which point they might move on to the best toys for six to 12 month olds, or stacking and nesting toys, on the experience of real mums, recommendations from experts, and wider consumer reviews. We've also made sure to include wooden options where possible as we commit to sharing more sustainable products with you.

Best sensory toys for newborns up to six months

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1. High contrast toys

In your baby's first few weeks, they can only see in black, white and grey, so black and white toys that offer high contract can be great sensory toys for them to enjoy at this age.

In their first week, babies can only see about 30 centimetres and in very muted colours, which is where black and white toys that offer strong colour contrast come in. According to Consultant Paediatrician Dr Caroline Fertleman and author Simone Cave in their book Your Baby Week by Week: "His eye retina cells aren't yet fully developed, so colours look muted to your baby; a black-and-white mobile about the only 'toy' a newborn will notice."

But from around six weeks, you could see your little one become more engaged in play. Dr Fertleman adds: "From around now, your baby will enjoy watching things that move...Black and white will be the easiest for your baby to see, but he'll also be able to see primary colours..."

2. Crinkle books

Crinkle books are a great sensory toy for this age, as they make a fun sound as your little one works on strengthening their finger muscles. The bold and bright colours, mixed with the new sounds will delight your baby.

In Your Baby Week by Week, Dr Fertleman explains: "As your baby continues to learn how to use his hands he'll start to enjoy rattles or anything that makes a noise. He's also old enough to start making a link between what he's doing with his hands and what he hears and sees..."

3. Lamaze toys

If other new parents haven't yet told you about Captain Calamari, then make sure you fill them in, stat! Part of a range of Lamaze toys to stimulate your baby's senses, the Lamaze range of toys can also be clipped on to a pushchair for sensory play on the go.

The toys in the range (we've picked our favourite below) are brightly coloured, and feature a range of fun textures for your little one to explore, including various fabric textures, crinkly parts and a rattle. The cute characters also foster early imaginative play and can aid your child's emotional development too.

4. Activity play mats

Play mats with different textures are perfect for babies to help them develop their sensory perception. These kinds of mats also foster fine motor skill development as your little one strengthens their finger muscles as they grab and touch. As they grow, you can get their feet involved in the sensory exploration too.

5. Teething toys

Teething toys are great for babies, beyond providing relief when their teeth start coming through, a process which can start from around 15 weeks (even if the teeth don't actually appear for a while). But babies also love putting things in their mouths as a form of sensory exploration.

You can also try popping a teething toy in the fridge for a while before giving it to your baby, for an experience of a different temperature (or to help sooth sore gums) but do check the instructions of the teething toy first.

GoodtoKnow's Editor and mum Anna Bailey bought all of these teethers for her daughter and says: "Freddie has all of these, and loved them all. Matchstick Monkey has been especially good on the go, as we could loop a tie around his arm and clip it to Freddie’s outfit. She also loves the crinkle noise that the Hungry Caterpillar makes."

6. Baby shakers

Baby shakers are excellent sensory toys - they're usually brightly coloured, textured, and make a satisfying noise. And babies will love exploring these objects with their eyes, hands and mouth.

As your baby learns to intentionally grasp objects and becomes more controlled with their arm movements, baby shakers can help your baby start to understand the concept of cause and effect, which is a critical part of their cognitive development.

7. Light up and flashing toys

Toys that light up or flash are super engaging for babies, stimulating their senses, especially if you close the curtains while playing. They can help to promote your baby's eye coordination as they trying to follow the lights with their eyes.

8. Wrist rattles and socks

Turn your baby's discovery of their own hands and feet into a sensory experience with the addition or wrist rattles and socks. They're soft and light enough that they won't hamper your little one's movement, but the contrasting colours and fun sounds will make your baby's exploring even more exciting.

9. Things for the play box

You might take your baby to a baby sensory class in your local area, but there's nothing stopping you creating your own class at home. Just stock up on a few of these essentials and you and your baby can bond in the comfort of your own home while enjoying some sensory play. Think brightly-coloured feathers, super-soft scarves and silky ribbons.

10. Textured balls

As well as offering fun textures for little fingers to explore, brightly coloured ball-shaped toys can also help your baby to work on their eye coordination as they follow the ball's movement.

For young babies, soft and plush textured balls are best to avoid any accidental injury.

11. Tag toys

When it comes to calming sensory play, comforters or blankets with silky smooth tags for little ones to grasp can be very soothing, while helping them develop their fine motor skills as they try to rub the silky tags. If you want to make the play a bit more energetic, you can always use the blanket in a game of peek-a-boo too.

12. Baby gyms

Baby gyms are another great option for some sensory play time, thanks to sound effects, a range of textures, bright colours and fun toys to develop the muscles in their hands and their fine motor skills.

They help your baby explore the world around them, safely, and can give parents some time with their hands-free. We've picked some of our favourites below, but you can always check out our list of the best baby gyms for more detailed information and reviews.

13. Light projectors

Less of a toy that your baby can play with themselves, and more of a sensory experience they can enjoy, light projectors are hugely popular at baby sensory groups, and are worthwhile having a home too.

14. Sensory toy kits

If you're not sure where to start with sensory toys, or want to buy a selection to see what your baby responds to best, then a sensory toy kit is a worthwhile investment. They can also be perfect kits to keep at the grandparents' to (slightly) reduce how much stuff you have to take (or remember to take) should you go to visit.

Why are sensory toys good for babies?

Sensory toys are really effective for babies by helping them to discover and explore the world around them. Child development expert, and founder of the Good Play Guide, Dr Amanda Gummer, explains: "Babies at this age love exploring different textures to stimulate their sense of touch and encourage sensory exploration."

Talking to your newborn while playing with sensory toys can have added benefits too, as Dr Gummer goes on to explain: "Talking to your baby while playing together and using natural speech patterns has been shown to help language development in later months and the rhythm and sound of musical toys will facilitate language learning, listening skills and can help with relaxation."

When it comes to choosing the best sensory toys, Karen Clarke, Brand Director at Smart Toys and Games told GoodtoKnow: "Babies like toys that are colourful and creative, and parents/guardians are increasingly searching for quality toys that help develop key skills, have an educational element, are good value for money and most importantly are safe!

"It’s amazing to watch a child’s development as they are continuously learning through play. For example, developing vision, hand-eye coordination, cognitive language, motor skills, spatial awareness, concentration, creativity and imagination, as well as aspects in toys that allow children to learn how to problem solve or learn to engage with others."

When should babies start playing with sensory toys?

Babies can start engaging in sensory play from birth, but they type of play or toys you choose will vary depending on their age. High-contrast black and white mobiles or pram toys are perfect for their first few weeks, while baby shakers are more suitable when they can start to grasp objects intentionally and have more control over their hand and arm movements.

Similarly, younger babies might enjoy the sensation of a feather being ticked over their skin, but as they grow, they might also enjoy something that they can squish and crinkle in their own hands.

As your child grows up, they might start to enjoy fizzing bath bombs or slime as a form of sensory play.

What to look for in a good sensory toy

If you're looking for a good sensory toy for your baby to play with, there are a few key things to look out for:

  • Bright or high-contrasting colours
  • A range of textures for curious hands to explore
  • Toys that light up
  • Toys that crinkle or make sounds when shaken or scrunched

Dr Amanda Gummer adds: "When choosing toys for your baby it’s essential to consider the baby’s age, stage of development and of course. My Good Play Guide is a resource created by myself and accredited child development and play experts, that helps identify toys that support key areas of development such as cognitive, physical, and emotional growth."

How we chose the best sensory toys

Baby Freddie playing with Captain Calamari sensory toy

(Image credit: Future/Anna Bailey)

To compile this list of sensory toys, we spoke to multiple child development and play experts, as well as consulting expert baby guides, to make sure the toys on this curated list made the cut and were developmentally suitable. We also had advice from mums and dads who regularly engaged in sensory play with their children, including GoodtoKnow's Editor Anna Bailey who bought and tested many toys on this list with her daughter, Freddie. Anna adds: "Freddie was adorable as a sleepy newborn, but it was so exciting watching her transition into a more alert baby. I loved watching her take in the world, and really wanted to encourage all that sensory exploration. She loved so many of these toys, especially the Jungly Tails books, and Sophie the Giraffe - but hands down, her favourite was Captain Calamari. She’s 16 months old now, and she still loves pulling him out of the toy box. I’ve bought him for a few friends who've recently had babies, and he’s a winner every time.”

We have also made sure that everything on this list is suitable for babies from birth up until they are six months old. Additionally, we have tried to include as many wooden or eco-friendly options as possible as we commit to promoting more sustainable product selections.

Dr Amanda Gummer
Dr Amanda Gummer

Dr Amanda Gummer has a PhD in Neuropsychology, the Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education and more than 20 years’ experience working with children and families. As such, she is renowned as an expert on all aspects of child development, including toys and play. In 2012, she founded The Good Play Guide, an independent, expert accreditation service for children’s products, including toys, apps and more.

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Sarah Handley
Consumer Writer & Money Editor, GoodtoKnow

Sarah is GoodtoKnow’s Consumer Writer & Money Editor and is passionate about helping mums save money wherever they can - whether that's spending wisely on toys and kidswear or keeping on top of the latest news around childcare costs, child benefit, the motherhood penalty. A writer, journalist and editor with more than 15 years' experience, Sarah is all about the latest toy trends and is always on the look out for toys for her nephew or Goddaughters so that she remains one of their favourite grown ups. When not writing about money or best buys, Sarah can be found hanging out with her rockstar dog Pepsi, getting opinionated about a movie or learning British Sign Language.