DIY sensory items

DIY Baby Toys: Sensory Stimulation with items you ALREADY OWN

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Hi friends – as we come into the new year, I know money is a big topic due to *the tiniest possibility* that you might have overspent a bit during the holidays. Since I’m a big believer of living within your means, I wanted to share this post to help you get back on track with your spending – specifically to help you minimize the number of baby toys you buy this year. There are many do-it-yourself (DIY) baby toys that provide sensory stimulation, that can be made with items you already own! It is absolutely possible to get by with a minimalist toy strategy the first year, which will keep your budget on track and as a bonus, helps with clutter as well.

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There are so many items in your home that can be used to create sensory toys for your baby. You don't need to spend tons of money on new toys for each new phase. Sensory development is just a few household items away. Find out what we used to create baby sensory toys from things that were already in our house!



First off, I can’t claim to be an expert on the subject of developmental baby toys. However, I can say I have a child who is now a well adjusted toddler. We lived by this philosophy during her first year. You don’t need to sink all your money into every new baby gadget. I put that in bold because it’s worth remembering. It is so tempting as a new parent to buy absolutely everything you think will help your child in some way. The truth is, baby’s sensory needs can actually be met with lots of adult interaction. There are a  lot of “toys” you can make at home. Your baby probably won’t become a genius if you sink $200 into the latest fad object that claims to stimulate brain development. If you have the money and give it a shot, let me know how that goes. For the rest of us, it is possible to make your own toys that aid with sensory development, which saves you money while helping baby learn.


A few of the highlights in our house were water bottles, “shakers,” plastic cups, and tags. I’m linking to some products below so you have images for reference, but you probably already have these things in your house.

Water Bottles.

Yes. Water bottles. Little lady LOVED plain water bottles. She had a real thing for crunchy sounds so I think that the crinkles were fun for her once she learned to squeeze them. However, even before she could squeeze, she would always reach out and try to grab them out of my hands. After she became more dexterous, she pulled the plastic branding off every bottle she could get her hands on. Don’t worry – we watched to make sure she didn’t eat them! For months on end, she could be entertained with her teething rings and a water bottle. Although we had other options, those were her two favorites, and I’m willing to bet you can find a water bottle at your house or place of work pretty quickly. Give one a squeeze and let baby feel it to see if they work for you!

“Shakers” (or Rattles)

I’m not calling these traditional rattles because for our little lady part of the fun was grabbing an entire bottle in her fists and shaking with abandon. I’ve heard of people using salt and pepper shakers and filling them with rice, but what we still use in our house (as a toddler) are old prescription bottles filled with dried black eyed peas. Although you need to clearly mark the bottles, what I like about this is that they are the perfect size for little hands, and have a childproof cap so you don’t have to worry about them accidentally opening. The dried black eyed peas are big enough to make a pretty loud sound when shaken. If you use this method and are actually taking prescription pills, be sure to keep them hidden if you have a toddler so that they aren’t mistaken for a toy.


I’m not sure if “making” tags is a thing. I’d suggest finding a few old shirts or any toys you have and showing baby the tags. Our little lady was more obsessed with the tags on all her toys than the actual toys themselves. She played with the tag on every item she owned for at least a few months. There is something interesting about the different textures of the tag, as well as the fact that it is a small piece of fabric they can grab on to. If you don’t mind cutting up a couple of shirts and doing some sewing, you can put multiple tags on one piece of fabric and make a version of the small blanket above. I’m not sure I would have considered a tag a baby toy before I had a child, but after making it through the first year, I know it definitely counts 🙂 

Plastic cups

Plastic cups are great because they are another item that can go through the first two years. At first baby will probably just bang them on the floor, but will eventually learn to stack them. In toddlerhood, if you get a set that is multi-colored, they are a great tool for teaching colors as well.  Once they’ve been used as a toy and you’re out of the sippy stage, you still have cups for the dinner table. I’m not sure it gets more versatile than that!


All that said, you will probably buy some (or more than some) toys the first year, or grandparents and friends will want to bring gifts. The best bet is that you buy toys that have maximum versatility, with either multiple stages or purposes. Here are a few that we recommend.

Fisher Price Activity Table

This table pulls out all the stops. Each side has a different way to learn. It definitely isn’t quiet, but my little lady has learned colors, shapes, and animals while using it. Early on it can sit on the floor so as long as baby can sit up it’s an appropriate toy. You can put legs on when they are able to stand, so it helps develop muscles as well. My little still loves it at 21 months, so it’s a solid investment if you don’t mind the singing. This was probably her favorite thing from 12-18 months.

Fisher Price Kick N Play Piano Gym

The Kick N Play Piano Gym is a great gift for a very young baby as it can provide stimulation and fulfillment even when they are just starting to kick. There are tons of bright colors as well as sounds from the piano and the toys. We loved watching little lady learn to kick and hit the keys, and then eventually reach up for the hanging toys. After baby learns to move, the toys can come off and go places for continued use. Finally, the piano comes fully off and can be used on its own. It is still in the rotation at 21 months.


This rattle provides extra sensory stimulation! It changes colors when shaken and there is even a mirror on the bottom for baby to find herself. This is great for auditory stimulation (rattle) as well as visual stimulation with the mirror and different colors. Once you move into toddlerhood, you can even use it to work on colors.

Soft books

Soft books are a great investment because they are a great way to get reading early without worrying about destroying a book. I’d opt for ones that have additional sounds and textures for maximum early benefit. Many have crunchy pages, ribbons, or tags for infants to play with. Once you’ve fully moved into the toddler stage, these can still remain in the rotation for their story value.

For more infant and toddler gift ideas, check out my infant gift guide (0-12 months) and toddler gift guide (12-18 months). Great for new babies, birthdays, or holiday inspiration.

While you’re going to have to deal with some level of clutter due to a new member in the household, both parents and babies can benefit from a minimalist toy strategy the first year. Making your own baby toys to promote sensory development, and investing in toys that help develop skills or will last for multiple stages will help with your budget, clutter, and sanity.

Let me know if there are other great DIY baby toys that I missed!

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