As a new mom, I have always wanted to introduce Shloka to fun activities that help her learn, explore and grow but most importantly don’t seem like tasks. I strongly feel that babies learn so much more in their first 2 years and should be equipped with all the tools and setups to help them. If you have a baby or have had one, you will know that babies smearing colourful paint all over their bodies. We’ve had tiny grains of rice strewn everywhere and squishy Jell-O crumbles between Shloka's little toes. There’s no doubt about it—sensory play can be incredibly messy but its the most effective way to teach your baby about textures, colours and help them explore. Engaging your baby’s senses in unique ways can provide a slew of developmental benefits–from boosting their fine motor skills to improving their language skills.
Through the lockdown, we have done many such activities where Shloka and I have enjoyed ourselves and then I try to involve her in the cleanup, even though to be honest there’s not much value add there, she does feel she is doing something for her mama.
So let us start from the very beginning - What is sensory play? Why is it so crucial to your baby’s development? How do you get started? Read on for everything you need to know about the sensory play for baby.
**ACL Tip: Before engaging in sensory play, change your baby’s diaper and dress them in comfortable play clothes that let them move around comfortably. The happier your baby is, the easier it will be for them to focus on the sensory activity.
So, what is sensory play?
Put simply, it’s any kind of activity that stimulates your child’s seven senses.
Yes, you read that correctly. There are actually seven senses and not five like most people believe. In addition to sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch, there are two lesser-known senses: the vestibular sense (movement and balance) and the proprioception sense (body awareness).
Babies use one or more of these seven senses to explore the world around them. This discovery and sensory development start early. In fact, some of their sensory development, like hearing and sense of smell, begins in the womb itself. Once they’re out, they begin to develop these senses in greater detail. You will notice that they’ll pick up objects to feel their texture or put things in their mouth to taste them, all the while learning new information in the process and filing it away for future use.
The Benefits of Sensory Play
A lot of parents are put off by the idea of sensory play because it’s often synonymous with messiness. However, not all sensory activities need to involve glitter or sticky globs of goo, and even if things do get a little messy, one could argue that the benefits of sensory play are well worth the additional cleanup. In fact, we also have curated a set of sensory tools like sensory toys and grasping aids to help you indulge the baby in some mess-free sensory play.
So why sensory play adds value and is worth investing in toys, aids and the mess! I am not an expert but based on my reading and research here are a few important reasons to embrace sensory play:
Fosters imagination and creativity. There is no right way to engage in sensory play. It’s all about letting your baby explore different textures and objects on their own with no restrictions. This unrestricted play can help stimulate your baby’s curiosity and encourages them to run wild with their imaginations.
Boosts fine motor skills. Sensory play is a great way to develop your baby’s hand strength and fine motor skills. Sensory activities can help strengthen the tiny muscles in your baby’s hands, allowing them to perform basic tasks such as building a block tower or turning pages in a book.
Promotes better language skills. Sensory play is a social activity. Whether your baby is learning and playing with other babies or with family, the social interaction they get from sensory play can boost their language and communication skills. Babies who haven’t yet learned to talk will try to communicate their thoughts in other ways, which helps boost their cognitive development.
Supports independent play. While interacting with adults and other children is crucial for a baby’s development, the ability to play independently is also important for babies and toddlers. Sensory play is a fantastic way of letting babies learn and problem-solve on their own while you sit back and watch them explore their environment. I can leave Shloka for about 15-30 minutes with her Sensory Play blocks and she is busy and happy with them, shaking them for sound and peering through them for a coloured world.
The benefits of sensory play for babies extend well beyond their growth and development. It’s also fun and interesting for the kiddos! With the right activities and a little patience, you can provide the baby with rich, sensory experiences that promote a life-long love of learning and curiosity. The fun part is you don’t need to necessarily invest in expensive equipment for this, you can introduce your baby to sensory play through items available at home. However, some tools are great for busy moms who don’t have the time to be hands-on all the time, clean the mess and yet want their baby to play and explore. Investing in these tools, of good quality can help you for at least a few years because these are open-ended toys and the child will use them in numerous ways.
Sensory Play Ideas for Baby
** ACL TIP: Never leave the child unsupervised, be cognizant of the fact that babies taste everything and beware of choking hazards/ chemicals. Most of these activities can be done with materials available at home but under your supervision. We have made alternative suggestions below for safer options.
Shaving foam alternative - Whipped Cream
Although shave cream is often used for sensory activities, it’s not safe for babies and toddlers. Instead, try bringing out the Cool Whip from the fridge to create a taste-safe sensory activity that your little ones will love. Take a cupcake pan and put a glob of cool whip in each hole. Mix some food colouring in each one and "paint" your baby with the coloured Cool Whip. Point out the different colours and where they are on her body parts.
Green Pea Sensory Bag
Grab a gallon size big ZipLock bag ( I have a few that I reuse and bought them from Ikea). Fill it with peas, fill it with water and tape it on all 4 sides against the floor. Watch your baby squish and push the peas around. Simple and inexpensive activity.
Jello Dig Activity
This jello dig activity is suitable for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers! Jello sensory play is fun for kids of all ages!
Every baby loves Baby Bubbles
If you’re looking for a non-messy sensory activity, pick up some baby-safe bubbles. Babies and toddlers absolutely love watching you blow bubbles and watching them float away in the air. Older babies will try to pop them, improving their dexterity and hand-eye coordination in the process. A friend gifted us a bubble maker for Shloka and we love it, we did replace it with a baby wash to keep it as safe as possible for her because she does put her hands into her mouth post popping them.
This is also a fantastic way to make the baby move, crawl or run to catch them.
Easy to make Sensory Bottles
This is the simplest of all and least messy if you ask me. This will be perfect for moms looking for ways to entertain both a baby and a young child. Get the older child involved in making a sensory bottle. Sensory bottles are clear bottles that are filled with glitter, buttons and other interesting items. Your older child will have a blast making it, while your baby will be entranced watching the items swirl around in the bottle. Again I would suggest either taping the lid on or not leaving the children unsupervised. Shloka has mastered the art of unscrewing lids off most bottles so we have to now be more watchful around her.
Play Dough Time
Playdough is a wonderful sensory play tool for babies and toddlers. To heighten their senses, make your own multi-coloured playdough and let them cut out shapes using cookie cutters. For older children consider adding craft feathers or googly eyes to make things more interesting and visually stimulating. I suggest making dough from household kitchen materials and food colours only.
The messiest of the lot but our favourite and this one deserves an entire post so stay tuned for it and sign up to get the exclusive posts on all things, baby and kids.
There are so many more that we will share along the way!
Stimulating Baby’s Senses with Sensory Play
It’s important to point out that while some kids love sensory play, others seem to become easily overwhelmed by the stimulation. Their avoidance is usually nothing more than a phase. If your baby has a negative reaction to sensory play (turning away, crying, etc.), try introducing them to sensory play activities slowly. He or she will eventually learn to love it!
If you have suggestions, feedback or questions please feel free to write in firstname.lastname@example.org
Remember I am no expert but a mom like you, with a passion for ensuring children are raised in the most fun and sustainable manner. The above have been tried by us, even the toys suggested are something Shloka has used and loved and hence we recommended them/ similar products.