Sensory play for babies is a great way for them to learn and develop all those important developmental skills through play and it’s even suitable for all ages, even from birth! Following the below will allow you to gain some ideas for creative play and tummy time to enhance visual and motor development skills using textures, scents and so much more. You will enjoy watching your child grow and learn as they explore all the fun play you have put before them.
Why Is Sensory Play Important?
Sensory play is important because it allows babies and toddlers to engage their senses and explore their environment. This is crucial for their development because as young children learn and grow, they need to explore and experiment with the world around them
As shown by our sensory play ideas below, it provides them with a safe and stimulating environment as they can touch, taste, smell, hear and see different objects and materials.
Getting your baby involved in sensory play is so as shown by the points below.
What Are The Benefits?
- Promotes cognitive development: Sensory play helps babies and toddlers develop cognitive skills such as problem-solving, decision-making, and critical thinking. Through sensory play, children learn to recognize and differentiate between different textures, colors, shapes and sizes.
- Enhances motor skills: Sensory play can help develop a child’s fine and gross motor skills. Some of our sensory play ideas below such as Treasure Baskets help improve hand-eye coordination, balance and control.
- Boosts language development: Sensory play provides opportunities for children to communicate and express themselves verbally as well as learning new words to describe what they see, feel and hear.
- Encourages socialization: Sensory play can be a group activity (this could be you and your baby or siblings!), which promotes socialization and cooperation skills because children learn to share, take turns and interact with others.
- Calming and soothing: Sensory play can have a calming effect on babies and toddlers because it allows them to explore their environment in a safe and controlled way, which can help reduce anxiety and stress levels.
Our Top 10 Sensory Play Ideas
1. Treasure Baskets
A treasure basket is a great way for your child to explore items through play. Ideally, this activity is for babies who can sit and hold items as they will be able to choose what they want to explore by picking the item themselves (independent play). This will provide a stimulating experience for your baby, allowing them to develop their confidence to explore at their own pace. This in turn allows them to explore without being shown items and improves their independence.
During this sensory play you may notice that when they pick an item they put this straight into their mouth. This is because a baby’s instinct when they have an item they touch is to mouth it because this is how they explore the physical characteristics of the particular item.
Below is how to put together a treasure basket.
- Choose a basket or a shoe box (anything to hold the items in one place – as long as babies can clearly see every item within it)
- Place household items into the box/basket that are safe and large enough that they cannot be swallowed. You will also want to ensure that the items are free from sharp edges or anything that could be harmful when they are touched and put in mouths.
You can have so much fun with treasure baskets, you could try ‘themed baskets’ such as, wooden objects, natural objects or even Christmas objects. Items could include: spoons, spatulas, bowls, curtain rings, coasters, pinecones, seashells, whisks, measuring spoons and so much more, the list is endless!
The idea of the treasure basket is to allow you to put together a safe play that doesn’t cost, as it is likely that you will have items lying around the house.
In the photo below, I couldn’t find a box so I used a shower cap to hold the items, I then filled it with household items.
2. Sensory Bags
Sensory bags are a great way for all children to explore, this is great from birth onwards (they are great for that all important tummy time!). The idea of these is that the bags are filled with items that will engage their senses, e.g. sight and touch. The great thing about these bags is that they are portable and so you will have entertainment on the go! Again you could even do themed sensory bags e.g. Christmas, autumnal, birthday, the list is endless!
Below is a list of ideas for your sensory bags.
(Note: please be careful as to what you choose to place your baby on if this is being used for tummy time. You will want to ensure you choose items that will be soft and comfortable for your baby as you will want them to enjoy this time)
Ziplock bags are a great example as they are easy to open and close (to change the inside), However we also found that laminating pouches or polly pockets can also be used to hold items because it is easy to seal the edges with heat.
With either a Ziplock bag, laminating pouch or polly pocket, fill it with some water (be careful how much you put in as you don’t want the bag to burst as soon as you place your baby on it)
Once you have your bag filled with water, the fun begins! Now lets chose your filler:
- Add baby oil, glitter and food colouring and watch your ‘lava lamp’ inspired bag come to life.
- Shaving cream – add food colouring if you like to bring the bag to life with colours,
- Pasta or rice or popcorn.
- Leaves, pinecones.
Once you have filled your bags, tape them down and let your child explore! Never leave your child unattended and ensure that the bags are tightly secured so nothing can escape.
Sensory bags are a great ‘mess free’ play for your baby/toddler to learn and explore. As you can see from the below photo, we filled a bag with water and inserted silver circle confetti for some party inspired fun!
3. Exploring Jelly
From 6 months onwards, a safe edible sensory play for your baby will be jelly or Gelatin.
You can let your imagination run wild with this one, you could insert snacks, toys or anything inside the jelly and watch as your little one tries to reach in and grab whatever they can find, they can also eat it too! (make sure you stay with your child whilst they are playing and don’t insert anything too small that could be a choking hazard)
Once you have your jelly and your items, all you need to do is make the jelly up according to the instructions and insert your toys, snacks and any other items whilst it’s in its liquid form. Once set and cool, finally let your child enjoy the fun!
4. Scarf Magic Box
This is a great play idea that is fun for all ages and below is how you create this!
All you need is:
- An old box (I just used a tissue box)
- Brightly coloured sensory scarves
Firstly I covered the tissue box up with some wrapping paper that was laying around the house to make it look more appealing to my son. A great idea would be to use bright colour paper to really grab your child’s attention. I then made the hole from the tissues slightly bigger and then inserted the scarves.
You can create all kinds of fun using this sensory tool. You can watch as your child tries to pull out the scarves one by one or you can attach the scarves by tying them and watch as your child is amazed as the scarves just keep coming and coming.
For younger babies you will need to get involved, you can pull them out and gently waft it near their face, arms or legs so they can get the sensation of the scarf. Watch your baby track the scarves with amazement as you gently sway them from left to right encouraging babies to visually follow them, thus helping your baby develop their visual tracking skills.
5. Water Fun!
This is a simple but fun idea that all children will enjoy as it encourages them to get messy and play with their toys and water! It is as simple as that, all you need is a shallow tray, slightly fill it with water and place balls, toys or whatever they find interesting in the water and watch as your child has fun exploring their new wet space.
6. Rice & Pasta Shaker
A shaker is a great alternative if you do not have a rattle and children of all ages will enjoy listening/creating the sounds. Again this is a great sensory play idea for all ages and below is how to create your shaker.
- Use an old bottle (I just used an old pop bottle – please ensure that the lid is securely tightened, I super glued it)
- grab some dried rice or pasta and put them inside the bottle
And Voila! here is your shaker!
You can also go wild and add some glitter and food colouring to the pasta or rice to really jazz it up.
For children who can hold items, they will enjoy the different sounds they can create, for younger babies you can gently swish it so they can hear all the sounds too!
When using your home made shaker please never leave your child unattended due to choking hazards.
7. Blocks & Bubbles
Blocks and bubbles is as simple as it sounds, lay down a towel, fill a large bowl with water, add some soap (e.g. baby bath soap) and then some plastic play blocks, dish brush or sponge. Then watch as your child explores the soapy water, looking for their blocks and maybe tries to clean them using the brush or sponge. Alternatively they may just simply having fun splashing around! (this is also great fun in the garden on those very hot days)
8. Cotton Wool Crazy
This is a simple yet effective play and can be done anywhere around the house, it’s also inexpensive as you will undoubtedly have these items lying around the house. With this play, all you need is water and cotton wool balls.
To set it up, fill a bowl (shallow) with some water and place the cotton wool balls inside. The cotton wool balls will expand and your child will watch on with amazement. You can then encourage them to squeeze the water out or just simply watch them float around. And of course, they will love to splash, splash and SPLASH!
Please ensure that you watch your child whilst they play with these due to choking hazards.
9. Rice Riot
This is fun and again an inexpensive activity that will get all your childs senses stimulated. All you need for this is a bowl or tray, rice and some toys.
To set it up, fill the bowl or tray with rice, hide your child’s toys (we used wooden blocks from his building train) and watch as your child tries to explore the rice and find their toys. They will enjoy picking up the rice and dropping it and hearing all the different sounds it makes as it falls.
10. Curtain Rings & Ribbon
Here all you need is curtain rings (metal part removed) and some ribbon. This is great for the younger babies as it’s a great sensory activity for visual tracking and sensation on their face.
Attach the ribbon to your curtain ring (I just tied them on) and Voila! Gently swish from side to side and rub the ribbon on your child’s face.
In the photo below, I used black and white ribbons, this is because when babies are born they can only see in black and white (with tones of grey). This was great for my son when I wanted to practice his visual tracking skills. I also found he would stare at the ribbons for ages exploring the contrast between the black and white.
To conclude, sensory play for your child doesn’t need to be an expensive activity, it is the simple things that babies and toddlers find the most interesting. It’s a fun way for you to watch your child develop all whilst they are having fun and playing. The activities listed above are fun and safe for your babies as long as you are with them whilst they are playing.
If you require further information regarding our sensory play ideas, feel free to get in touch and we will try to provide our assistance where possible.