7 Easy Sensory Play Ideas for Babies
What is sensory play?
Sensory play is a way of playing with your child that encourages them to use all of their senses – most people associate it with feeling different textures, but it can involve a variety of smells, sounds and flavours as well as feelings.
Goodstart centres say, “Sensory play includes any activity that stimulates a young child’s senses of touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing, as well as anything which engages movement and balance.” and list lots of benefits for your child’s development.
Why sensory play?
Your baby is learning about the world around them and every experience is new. Stimulating a baby’s senses in a fun, playful way is great to help your baby begin to make sense of the world and learn about themselves in relation to the world around them.
Read more about why sensory play is important.
There are lots of fantastic activities and groups you can attend, as well as toys and materials you can purchase.
However, sensory play doesn’t have to break the bank as you already have lots of materials at home which can easily be re-purposed.
Sensory play works best when it is not only supervised by adults, but fully engaged with. Talking to your little one about what you are seeing, hearing, feeling, etc as you play together can help to build your bond as well as develop their own vocabulary.
So, if you’re looking for easy ways to include sensory play in your baby’s routine, especially if you’re self-isolating or your local baby groups aren’t running, read on and have fun trying out sensory play with your baby.
1. Sensory boxes/ bottles
These are probably one of the first things people think of when they hear ‘sensory play’ but there is a reason for that – they are easy to make in just a few minutes and can provide hours of entertainment!
Clear Tupperware boxes or plastic bottles with various objects inside can make sensory boxes or sensory bottles.
You could try dried pasta or beans, pompoms, etc to make a variety of sounds. You can also make a sensory bottle using water, glitter, hair gel etc – make sure you glue the lid down if there is any liquid inside! Lots more ideas for sensory bottles can be found online – have fun experimenting as you are only really limited by your imagination and the random objects that you have around your home.
An alternative or addition to this, for older toddlers, can be a large sensory box. This is a box complete with unpopped popcorn, rice, pasta or similar material and lots of cups, scoops and containers for pouring and measuring – great fun!
You can add toy animals, cars etc – use your imagination. If your baby is at the stage where they are putting everything in their mouth, this is best avoided until they are old enough to know not to eat the materials, although you can use edible materials too. When I taught in nursery we often used these, themed around whatever we were learning about at the time.
2. Mixed Textures
You can use paper, foil and material, etc with a selection of textures – these can be put into picture frames and arranged flat or standing up, they could be put into a basket or container – the possibilities for this are never-ending, especially as you can revisit the textures as your child grows. Touch the different materials with their hand, cheek, foot, etc and see how they react. Describe what they feel, look and sound like as you do so.
There are lots of lovely books out there too, featuring touchy-feely parts such as the ‘tails’ series by Jellycat and the ‘That’s not my…’ series by Usborne. Our baby already loves these!
One idea I have seen online which I love, is to attach lots of different materials and textures to a hula hoop to create a sensory hoop – the baby can go in the middle of this during tummy time, and you can turn it periodically to give them something else interesting to look at and feel! I am planning to make one of these as soon as I can get the materials gathered together.
3. Black and white patterned flashcards
You could buy or print these, but it is really fun to just get some white card, a black marker and doodle away. (Here are a few you can download and print for free: B&W cards for baby, Brill baby’s cards)
The cards can be laid out on the floor or in picture frames to give baby something interesting to look at during tummy time, or could be suspended from some wire and string to make a DIY mobile (black, white and foil work brilliantly so there’s no need to shell out on an expensive musical mobile unless you’re in love with one!)
We use the black and white flashcards to practise tracking objects with our eyes, reflected in the mirror (a very simple and effective tool in your sensory play arsenal) and to encourage baby to turn her head to her less-favoured side (most babies will be more comfortable turning their head to one side than the other, due to their position in the womb)
We have several black and white baby board books too, which Jellybean already stares at in fascination!
4. Cardboard collection
Collect boxes and containers of various sizes, especially those large enough for your baby to fit inside, toilet/kitchen roll inners, etc, as they all make for fun playthings. For example, you could open out a large cardboard box and provide your baby or toddler with some crayons to do some scribbling.
You could punch some holes in a smaller ox and thread through some ribbons for your baby to pull on – this teaches about cause and effect and can provide lots of amusement with the bonus that is only takes few minutes to make. I made ours using some ribbon scraps left over from other art projects and a small box. See some instructions for making a DIY tugging box for sensory play on Laughing Kids Learn.
A cardboard tube, such as those found inside a toilet or kitchen roll, can be used to build structures, look down like a telescope, or to make noise down towards one ear or the other. It may sound simple, but try it after your next nappy change and watch the excitement on your baby’s face!
Boxes can be used to construct towers and, once again, you are only limited by your imagination!
5. Edible paint
This is a messy one, but great fun – recommended for 6 months upwards due to the fact that your baby might eat some of the ‘paint’.
There are lots of recipes for edible paint out there, most using food colouring. Gel food colouring gives a much stronger colour to the paints but can stain clothes and skin. It will wash off skin in about a day, but it is something to be aware of – make sure your carpet is covered or do this activity outside, followed by a nice bath or dip in a paddling pool!
The easiest edible paint recipe I have come across is simply mixing some colouring with some baby yoghurt/petits filous. You can also try using Angel’s Delight – I like using the chocolate flavour for ‘mud’ with toy animals in a sensory box – give the kids some toothbrushes and they can clean the muddy animals! Another simple, recommended edible paint recipe uses cornflour.
6. Aromatic Herbs
Don’t ignore the other senses! While a lot of sensory play focuses on providing different textures for a baby to feel, or lots of colours to look at, it can really be fun to stimulate other senses too.
Fresh herbs can be great to get a reaction from your baby. You can use other plants too, but make sure that babies are well supervised to avoid any accidental ingestion. You can pick some herbs, or simply take a walk through a herb garden, crushing the leaves gently to release the aroma. It’s better not to use aerosol sprays or dried herbs for this as they could irritate your baby’s sinuses.
7. Music and Noise-making
This might seem like an obvious addition to the list, but so many people forget this one when thinking about sensory play.
You could investigate the different sounds made by instruments, pots and pans, tupperware boxes, etc. Babies often enjoy the ‘plinking’ sound that objects make as they are dropped into a tin or the drip and splash of water into a sink or other container. (I’ll be writing about water play another time as there is so much you can do with water!)
Simply listening to a variety of music with your baby can be fantastic fun, particularly if you sing or dance along, holding your baby or putting them in a sling.
It is often said that classical music can make babies more intelligent, particularly Baroque music (Read more about The Mozart Effect), but most studies have shown that the results of this initial study could be down to the variation of somebody taking a test twice. Still, music has a marked impact on the brain and can be something thatyou and your baby really have fun with.
Babies will pick up on your enjoyment of certain tracks so you don’t have to limit yourself to nursery rhymes or classical music – feel free to introduce your baby to your favourite artists and genres too, even those that might not generally be considered ‘baby’ music. Your baby also loves your voice and doesn’t care if you can’t hold a note to save your life (like me!) Give up on being self-conscious and sing to your baby, as well as saying rhymes and playing with a variety of instruments. You could even use the cardboard boxes from earlier to make some of your own instruments.
There are so many great ideas for sensory play out there that you can get overwhelmed, especially with some of the beautiful materials and activities often posted on the internet.
Yet, sensory play doesn’t have to cost lots of money or even take a great deal of time to prepare – some of the most effective activities involved a minimum of prep and I am excited to try out lots more of these ideas for sensory play with my baby as she grows, then share our successes and failures with you!
Have you spotted any activities that you would like to try?
Or are there any favourite sensory play activities that you would like to recommend to me?
Was sensory play a big part of our childhood?
Is sensory play popular in the early years education in your country?
While you’re here, why not check out my posts on 6 things I didn’t know about pregnancy, 5 things you will need if you’re pregnant, 5 ways blogging makes you better How Do You Read So Many Books? DIY Adorable Peg Doll Animals or The Secret Life of a Book Blogger?
Thanks for reading!