Blogger Amy Steinbauer

Toddler Explorations: Sensory!

When I started rotating programs for Toddler Exploration, I knew I wanted to include sensory experiences. Sensory experiences/activities are important because of the importance of tactile experiences (especially because so many kids are getting lots of screen time- which is cool- but they need other experiences). Also, I’ve always believed that the library is a place for kids to get messy and explore!

Originally, I had planned on a sensory story time– but once I realized that I was not including a story element to the other versions of the program, it seemed unnecessary to include it here.

Like similar iterations of Toddler Explorations, I create 4-6 different experiences each time. While it may seem like a lot, there are easy ways to repeat things, and then children can explore based on their own interests and curiosities.

Below are what I have done before, some notes on how it works, and the cost. Enjoy!


Pinto bean trays aluminum tins, pinto beans, random plastic animals, and plastic spoons and utensils, packing peanuts, and Dixie cups. Each table had two tins (4 tins total) and an additional tin in the middle for invitational play. I also labeled them with red tape to remind caregivers that children under 3 needed additional supervision.

Newspaper Bins: Three boxes (used Baker and Taylor boxes with flaps cut off) of newspaper shreddings, felt dinosaurs, pom poms, plastic cups, rubber ducks, and plastic utensils.

Shape sort: egg cartons, precut small shapes.

Shaker Eggs: Parachute and shaker eggs

Thoughts: Pinto beans trays are easy and fun– but I needed more of them! Having bigger bins for smaller children was a great idea, as well as keeping them on the floor and able to crawl into.

Total cost: $18-20 dollars (mostly aluminum tins and plastic tools and animals)


Scrubbing station: Aluminum tins, toothbrushes, cut sponges, plastic animals, and soap and water

Gel Discover Bags: Ziplock bags, hair gel, food coloring, and foam stars

Water Painting: construction paper, water, cups, sponge brushes– I made mine out of hair curlers and popsicle sticks!

Sensory Tubes: From a supply order

Thoughts: Scrubbing station was so fun! I will definitely do this one again! The water painting was so simple, and it was funny seeing children/caregivers want to take the creations home.

Total cost: $18 (Used the tins of previous weeks–toothbrushes, sponges, hair gel, zip locks, etc from Dollar Tree)



Pumpkin dough: Pumpkin puree and cornstarch, plastic covered tables

Sticky wall: Contact paper, pom poms, plastic buttons

Shaker Eggs: Parachute and shaker eggs

Rice Play Bins: rice, aluminum tins, spoons, cups

Thoughts: Pumpkin dough was a hit! Loved telling people how easy it was! And great fine motor practice!

The sticky wall was loved! It’s amazing how simple of an activity this was! The hardest part was taping to the wall– luckily my coworkers helped! People spent a lot of time here!

Rice was a mess– a fun mess… I should have thought it through a bit more! I was happy to do this on a day when my manager was not in the building!

Total cost: Rice $9.87, corn starch: $3.96, pumpkin $6:58 = $20.41

I used tins, shapes, spoon sets, and cups from previous programs and previous budgets!



Shaving Cream Ghosts: Plastic cups, shaving cream, googly eyes

Spider Web Weaving: Felt spider web, pipe cleaners

Halloween Sensory Hunt: aluminum trays, yarn, Styrofoam, fuzzy pieces, Halloween erasers

Sensory Tubes: Parachute, sensory tubes

Jiggily brains: Jello

Thoughts: Shaving Cream ghosts were loved, maybe too much as I saw one grandma made a shaving cream beard for herself.

Total Cost: Googly eyes, shaving cream, Halloween erasers from the Dollar Store- about $15, Spider weave from Target 2 for $6. I spent more on this program since I reused a lot for other programming.



Shredded Paper Bins: Aluminum tins, shredded paper, plastic tools, cups

Listening Station: Parachute, various musical instruments, and sound makers

Cinnamon Scented Dough: baking soda, water, cinnamon, tools, tins or tubs

Letters and Feathers: Aluminum tins, feathers, felt letters

Thoughts: Cinamon Scented Dough was an obvious hit and was able to reuse it for another program later that week.

Total cost: $4 for baking soda



Ice painting: Aluminium tins, ice, paint, brushes

Bubble Wrap: bubble wrap on the floor

Styrofoam bin: Aluminium tins, styrofoam, plastic toys

Bells: Parachute and bells

Maybe snow dough: hair conditioner, cornstarch, dough toys

Projected cost: $5-10 for hair conditioner and cornstarch- I have to check my supplies.


Overall— this is one of my favorite programs… kids really love it, parents and caregivers are always asking for ideas and things to do with the children. I have had lots of patrons ask for these activities. And as you can see in the photos, I try to create facilitation posters for each to engage conversations and interactions between caregivers and their children. And it’s always great to sit down and model how to talk to children. My only note would be that be prepared to have a mess! Think about how children will use items– messy items like shredded paper and rice need to either be on floor (with some floor covering) or in bins on tables with floor covering! Encourage clean up as part of the sensory experience!

I am price conscious since our Friends group isn’t in full budget yet, so I am shelling out some money on my own! But, I just received Internal Funding for my system that will support the expansion of this program.

(Photos courtesy of Amy Steinbauer_

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: Programming Skills


  1. Leslie Guhl

    Awesome ideas! Thank you

    1. Amy Steinbauer Post author

      You’re welcome! Hope you get to try some out.

  2. Kara DeCarlo

    These are great! How many kids do you have at one time?

    1. Amy Steinbauer Post author

      It depends! Probably anywhere from 50 to 75 at one time… but it’s an open, drop-in program… so it’s hard to count! Today for play- we had around 97 people total, but that’s over the whole hour and fifteen minutes! Stations help with the flow of activities.

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