No Batteries Required

December 6, 2022

Sensory Friendly Toys Work For All Kids

A fascinating but impossible-to-track statistic: The number of parents who have eagerly awaited the depleted batteries of their child’s buzzing, whirring, flashing, squealing toy – so that they could raise their hands in helplessness and say, “I don’t think it works anymore.”

And never, ever replace the dead batteries.

Probably every parent who ever lived.

“At one point we have all experienced a toy that we think is a little ‘much’ because of its sounds or lights and we are just counting down the days until the batteries run out,” said Rachel Hockaday, Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant at Howard Memorial Hospital. “A lot of parents want to make their child happy and feel pressure to buy the biggest and best toy seen on TV without knowing what other options there are. I believe everyone would benefit from knowing about sensory friendly toys.”

A sensory friendly toy is basically what it sounds like: A toy that provides a pleasant experience without overloading the senses. These toys tend to allow for exploration, learning and regulation through sight, touch, smells and hearing.

Although sensory friendly toys were developed for those with sensory processing disorder, AHDH or autism, all children can benefit from them because they provide an all-around sensory pleasing experience.

“Sensory friendly toys are important for everyone, no matter what the age,” explained Hockaday. “I really encourage sensory friendly toys from birth to age 10, just for the developmental milestones there are to reach in that age span. These toys tend to be more educational-based than non-sensory friendly toys.”

Favorite Sensory Friendly Toys
Wooden toys are a favorite of Hockaday because they come in so many colors, shapes and textures and provide a lot of opportunity for creative, imaginative play.

“I love wooden toys,” said Hockaday. “My go-to toys are blocks, puzzles, stringing beads and miniatures of animals, people, and foods. The sensory feedback from wooden toys in itself is pleasant and greatly enjoyed by my patients.”

Hockaday further explained that toys such as wooden blocks allow children to learn skills needed to develop at an age-appropriate level.

“One of my favorite examples is stacking blocks because they require a child to use fine motor, or hand, skills, as well as visual skills to stack the blocks,” Hockaday said. "If the blocks fall, this can open the chance for developing perseverance to continue to try again despite an undesired outcome, while learning to adjust and grow their skills until this task is mastered. This seems pretty simple but imagine the child at an older age learning to write or hit a baseball. These skills that develop at a very young age are important to grow on.”

 Melissa & Doug products are one of Hockaday’s favorite brands of sensory-friendly toys; the toymaker offers a variety of toys for all ages to help develop milestone achievement. Melissa & Doug products can usually be found at Target in addition to specialty toy and learning shops.

Hockaday also points out that sensory-friendly toys aren’t new: “I think social media has made sensory toys famous within the last few years, but they have literally been around for ages, like the Baoding balls from the Ming Dynasty. Personally, I remember in the 1990s where we had worry stones, and then in 2016, we started to see a rise in fidget spinners and Pop-Its.”

Sensory Friendly Is Safe
Most toys today are complex and come with safety warnings, which is another reason Hockaday finds sensory-friendly toys to be all-around winners for kids.

“I really encourage age appropriateness over anything else when choosing toys,” said Hockaday. “I make sure when I present a toy to my patients that they understand how the toy is made to be used and the effects of not using it correctly. This isn’t to scare the child or present them with the chance to challenge our authority, but to educate and enforce learning within the provided boundaries.

“Toys with moving parts have pinch points, batteries are harmful if ingested, and some children are photosensitive and can respond with seizures to rapid lights – it’s a precaution to consider when choosing the appropriate toy for a child. I believe toys with these components can be fun for the child, but once again, be present and aware. Even sensory friendly toys should be checked often to ensure that there are no loose parts or change in components that can cause injury.”

Where to Shop for Sensory Friendly Gifts
As a therapist, Hockaday said that Amazon is always the first place she checks, but encourages parents to look at Etsy for interesting homemade or custom products. Hockaday also recommends Montessori-styled toys because of their simplicity and usefulness in promoting age-appropriate skills.

According to Hockaday, another great resource is, which can offer a user-friendly guide to areas of play and toys for that category.

“Most websites can be overwhelming if you’re unsure what to look for,” said Hockaday. “You can always reach out to your child’s Primary Care Provider (PCP) to voice sensory concerns or speak to a professional if you notice any difficulties your child may have with playing.”

With any play difficulties your child may have, Hockaday also recommends occupational, speech and physical therapists as great resources; these professionals can assist with recommendations to specifically help you and your child meet those sensory needs to continue developmental growth.

“When it comes to recommending gifts, I always tell parents they know their child and how they respond,” said Hockaday. “Technology does play a daily role in our lives and especially when it comes to schooling and careers, so it does have its importance. I like to encourage the separation of technology and schooling from everyday play to help facilitate those basic skills children need to develop.”

For more information about sensory-friendly toys, call HMH’s rehab department to talk to one of HMH’s pediatric therapists at 870-845-8035.  

Posted in:  Kids