Sensory play are activities that stimulate your baby's five senses (touch, smell, taste, sight or hearing). It plays an important part in the development process as it encourages babies to use their senses to learn about their environment. Babies and children learn and remember information faster through engaging their senses. As parents it’s important that we provide opportunities for our babies to explore the world through sensory play. It’s vital for their brain development as it helps build more connections in the brain’s pathways which allow them to do more complex things and achieve milestones! There are a number of fun, easy activities that you can do during the first year of your child’s life. We’re going to breakdown some of our favorite play activities for each development stage.
At this stage you’re pretty much limited to what you can do as your baby spends a lot of their time sleeping. However, when your baby is awake and alert, seize this opportunity for some stimulating play time.
Our favorites include:
Tummy Time: At 0-3 months babies are unable to fully support themselves so it’s important to get a pillow or some type of support to prop them up. Tummy time is important because it helps strengthen neck and shoulder muscles which is vital for achieving future milestones such as sitting up/crawling etc. Tummy time also helps prevent flat spots at the back of your baby’s head. A great way to make tummy time more interesting is to add some ‘scents’ and introduce natural smells to your baby.
Mirrors: These are a great way for your little baby to explore, babies adore faces and will be mesmerized with their own reflection. They will even start to reach out to ‘touch’ and as they develop, they will recognize their own face. Mirror time is important for practicing visual tracking, you can pull silly faces and see if your baby copies etc. You don’t even have to stand in front of a mirror all day, simply purchase a toy with a safe mirror built in. You can even combine mirror and tummy time together for extra stimulating play!
Songs/ Sounds and Baby Talk: Any face to face time with your baby is a GREAT way to play, you can simply ‘baby talk’ or sing them some songs. According to researchers at the University of Washington and Connecticut, babies love higher pitch sounds and respond more by babbling. They also found that babies who were exposed to more baby talk had a larger vocabulary at aged two compared to those babies that didn’t. Talking/ singing to your baby also enhances their listening skills and in general is a great way to bond!
At this stage, your baby has come on leaps and bounds from the little newborn they were, and their motor skills have evolved. They can wiggle their arms and legs and kick! Their head control is much better and at this stage, they can hold their head and chest upright while lying on their stomach during tummy time. This means that playtime can become slightly more advanced and a bit more fun for both of you!
Our favorites include:
Texture Touch: This is a fun activity and you can use your baby’s whole body! Explore textures through hands, feet, and face and even during bath time! Developing a baby’s sense of touch helps in the development of many skills including gross and fine motor skills. Ways to incorporate texture are to play on a variety of textured fabrics or blankets including sheepskin, silk, cotton, etc. You can also let them explore toys or objects that are smooth, bumpy, spikey, hard, squishy, crinkly, shiny or furry. A fun one for both of you is to move different textured materials over their body (arms, feet, face, belly, and back), like a feather for example and enjoy the giggles! Another great way is to look at textured books together.
Visual Sensory Bottles: These are quite a popular form of sensory play as they’re easy to make, look good and are a great tool for baby exploration! You can fill the bottle with any cool, colorful things like marbles, water beads, and glitter. Then add some water and watch your child be mesmerized but be sure to secure the lid to avoid a mess! Visual sensory bottles are great as the baby can hold the bottle themselves which makes use of their proprioceptive sense (awareness of body movement and effort needed). Plus, their visual sense gets a workout too as they watch the contents of the bottle shift.
Wiggles & Rhymes: Time to get your baby moving! It’s so important to play in different positions to make your baby aware of movement and balance. One of our favorite activities is to listen to nursery rhymes or songs and do some actions and movements such as bouncing, rocking back and forth, swaying, etc. By combining music and movement your baby stimulates their auditory sense as well as movement/ balance. Some of our favorite songs include, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”, “Humpty Dumpty” and “I’m a Little Tea Pot”.
The third stage of your baby’s first year and they are developing faster than you imagined! Your baby now has advanced motor skills, improved hand-eye coordination and the ability to sit and stand! A lot of their speedy development is thanks to you and the effort you put in! All this sensory play is paying off, but we can’t stop just yet! A new stage brings new areas that need development! So, get to playing…………
Our favorites include:
Oatmeal sensory bin: This is easy to prepare and a whole lot of fun too! Simply fill a container with oatmeal and place different objects in for your baby to discover. You can place blocks or chewy toys; the important thing is that your baby explores and picks up toys. It’s great for practicing listening and speaking skills too as you can talk about the different items as they pull them out like the shape, color, size, etc. Oatmeal is the perfect texture too and is safe to eat! This play activity enhances hand skills, hand-eye coordination, and bilateral coordination. So simple but so beneficial.
Sensory Basket: At this stage, it is important for your baby to explore different objects and be aware of the amount of force needed to pick up different objects. A great way to encourage this is through a sensory basket. Take a small basket and fill it with all sorts of colorful and interesting objects. You can do all sorts of varieties from a fruit basket to wooden objects! It’s versatile and easy to prepare. Plus, you can combine it with tummy time for extra benefits for your baby!
Crawling games: At this stage, your baby is much more mobile, and it should be encouraged to allow further development. You can have fun by placing their favorite toys around the room and encouraging them to retrieve it, get them chasing after their favorite toys by pulling them away and get them crawling on different texture (grass, sand, carpet, wooden floors, etc.). These activities may seem simple but are important for the strengthening of shoulders, arms and for coordination between right and left sides of the body. Plus, it helps their visual sense as they have to focus on objects and their movement.
The final stage of your baby's first year! Your baby has developed so much, they can communicate using a few words and can either walk or are on the cusp. It’s an exciting time and they are still eager to explore their environment, even more so now! And the playing continues……..
Our favorites include:
Rainbow Noodles: Cook the noodles, allow them to cool and place in a container. Your child can dig into the noodles, squish them, move them around, pick them up. This is great for fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination! If they don’t enjoy the texture, you can give them a wooden spoon to poke them around with, once they are more familiar, they may choose to explore with their hands. It’s beneficial for their sense of touch and taste (if they eat the noodles).
Crawling Search and Rescue: Crawling is still very important at this stage for strengthening your baby’s body and making them aware of their movements. As they are more developed, we can provide them with opportunities for more challenging crawling. You can create obstacle courses that include homemade mazes by using cushions, pillows or toys. Another good way to encourage development is to get your baby to crawl up ramps, go through tunnels or encounter so man-made speed bumps! Your baby will love this exploring and it helps with their sense of touch, balance, and movement
Musical Hide and Seek: A great way to improve auditory development is to hide a hiding a musical toy behind a curtain or furniture item and let your baby find the noise. It’s fun and helps them be aware of body movement too!
These are just a few of our favorite sensory play activities, there are so many more and all are so beneficial to your baby! Sensory play is so important for brain, language, and motor skill development. It can even help to calm down anxious or frustrated little ones. We could not recommend partaking in sensory play enough! However, please make sure your baby is always supervised and all materials/ objects used are baby safe!