Why is sensory play with babies important? They are too young to truly understand what they are doing. Does it even matter?
The internet is saturated with moms, teachers, and bloggers writing about sensory play. Pinterest is stuffed to the brim with the latest slime, edible play-doh, and messy sensory. Don’t get me wrong, I love messy sensory. I am a HUGE advocate for teachers and moms getting over the mess and letting kids be kids. Bring on the slime, paint, and gunk on the ceiling. Years down the ‘kid journey’ you won’t regret those joy-filled times. There are enormous benefits to messy activities.
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But tell me this you open wide internet, why are sensory activities so important? I’m seeing a huge deficiency of posts even explaining what sensory play is! Let me lay down something that may bust open wide the Pinterest boards of sensory play…sensory play does not need to be messy.
Before we go much further let’s take a look at what sensory play is.
What is Sensory Play?
Sensory play is anything that stimulates the growth of a child’s five senses. Most often we think of a child’s sense of touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing.
The thing that separates ‘good’ sensory play from ‘great’ sensory play is the activity also contributing to the development of the child’s proprioception and vestibular development. If you stumbled on those words, let me break them down. In the simplest sense proprioception is a sense of body awareness. Vestibular development is a sense of balance. Not every sensory play session needs to have these two things incorporated, but when they are, learning explodes!
Sensory activity play is a natural way for children to learn. As they interact and play their brain and body are making connections about the world around them. Sensory play supports a child’s fine motor skills, and cognitive development, it builds nerve pathways in the brain, and supports language skills. Sensory play can also help to calm a frustrated or angry child. The research continues to support sensory play being of incredible importance during a child’s developing years.
Sensory Play with Babies Ideas
I love bringing the intentional sensory play with babies into our home. Sensory play does not need to be complicated. It can be as simple as placing a bunch of plastic spoons in front of them while you cook dinner! A child does not need a classroom setting filled with sensory tables and accompanying directions. A sensory plan can easily be incorporated into a baby’s life at home.
Let’s get back to my first declaration that sensory activities do not need to be messy. Especially for my sitting baby, his attention span is rather slim. Exploring the world around him is the ongoing mission of his existence. Taking and setting up long, extensive, and messy sensory does me little good because he is not going to be interested in it long enough.
We can get away with short crafts, sensory play, and activites.
So are there sensory play with babies that meet the sensory needs of my sitting baby and are not messy? Of course. Here are just a few of our favorites right now. Not all of them are going to incorporate vestibular and proprioception aspects.
Playing with Balls
Balls should be a staple in households with children. They are intriguing to babies because of their shape and rolling movement.
Have you ever watched a baby hold out their arm while holding a ball and then watch it fall to the ground? That right there is vestibular growth. They are working with their sense of balance!
There are many balls out there that have bells in the center which adds another sense to a child’s neurological pathways. These are my three favorites right now. Links for convenience.
Who knew something could be so simple! Cutting the egg cartons up it allows for babies to grasp and manipulate them. When they are a bit older I like to include pom-poms and child-safe tweezers for further fine motor development.
Fabric and Cardboard Tubes
These fabric and tubes are among our favorites right now. Finding fabrics with varying textures really adds an additional sensory stimulation. I cut up old jeans, table cloths, shirts, clean rags, and anything else that had varying textures. I know it’s temping to cut the fabric out in perfect squares, but DON’T. Leave some flaws for your baby to play with. WyWy loves the seams I leave! Be creative with how you cut.
I find that very few children under 18 months are intrigued by cardboard tubes. Maybe I just have not found the right kids yet! I’m sure after this post goes live someone will message me to say their baby loves cardboard tubes!
However, I love playing peekaboo with the fabric. A fun game to play is letting your baby watch you stuff fabric into the tubes and then hand them the tubes. The babies I have played this with are intensely occupied while extracting the fabric with their little fingers!
This is one of my favorite sensory play with babies ideas. It can bring out lots of giggles!
Hula Hoops, Fabic, Scaves, and Ribbon
Music Scarves are a fantastic sensory play with babies. I mean fantastic! I use them in my baby music classes all the time! Proprioception is engaged as babies feel the scarves and watch the colors and movement. There are so many tactile ways to use them. Try playing peekaboo with your baby. The giggles are contagious. Or running the fabric over body parts and naming them. Turning on music that has fast and slow parts and then interacting accordingly with the scarves can be fascinating for little ones.
If you have an older sitting-up baby, try tying the scarves to a hula hoop. I like watching the child interacting with the attached objects. It’s just abstract enough that often I see a confused or intrigued look on the child’s face. The scarves are fluid and static at the same time. Fluid because they move independently from one another. Static because they all move in conjunction with the hula hoop. It is again fascinating to watch them puzzle over the phenomena.
Another fun activity with hula hoops is with ribbon. These are incredibly easy to make. Simply go to the store and purchase cheap Plastic Curtain Rings. Many dollar stores also have cheap ribbons that you can purchase as well. Tie varying lengths of ribbon to the rings and attach the rings to the hula hoop. Make sure that the ribbon is tied firmly but know that part of the fun for the baby is trying to get the ribbon unattached from the ring! Let them! Their neurological pathways are just exploding with learning!
You can also just let them play with the rings independently. This is especially helpful for younger babies. The rings are the perfect size for their little hands to grasp and they like to flail their arms around and watch all the movement!
The hula hoops tend to be more intriguing for those older infants who are in the sitting and crawling stage. This is another one of my favorite sensory play with babies ideas.
Playing with Snow
I’m going to breeze by this sensor activity quite fast only because it tends to be a rather fast activity. Snow. Is. Cold. Babies will react in varying ways to snow, but please, please, please keep this sensory activity fast for infants. They do not have the capacity to tell you when they are cold. Interact with small amounts and play WITH them. My 10-month-old has played with snow for no more than 4 minutes at a time.
As a child gets older there are many more water based activities that they will enjoy.
Alright here it is. The big one. This is the very popular sensory play with babies idea that is still all the hype all over Pinterest. I’m just as guilty. I love these things. They are so versatile and fun to use. But how do you use them with infants?
- Buy non-toxic sensory beads. You want to be monitoring your baby at all times so they don’t eat any, but there is a sense of security in knowing it's okay if the kiddo is faster than the momma! Here is a brand that I use.
- Play with your baby. Put them in a bowl and let them feel and play. Be careful though otherwise, the baby will spill the beads all over your floor. I'm not saying that has happened to me, but it proably did.
- Fisher-Price has all sorts of popper machines like this one: Fisher-Price Double Poppin' Dino Sensory beads are super bouncy and if you don’t mind your popper getting a little wet, this is just the BEST sensory activity I have done with my baby thus far. Place the popper in a large storage container. You will defiantly want to do this, otherwise, you will end up with a sea of sensory beads all over your house. I started by placing the lid on the container but found that if the storage container is large enough that you can leave the lid off and your baby can peak over the top and enjoy the bouncing beads.
- Alternatively, it is also fun to just place sensory beads inside a large Ziplock and let them play with it. I typically would tape the sides with packing tap, but in these pictures, I did not do that extra step. It’s worth it because my bag did end up popping!
- I have also tapped a large Ziplock to the window! Let’s take a moment to grieve for my poor windows. Window cleaning is not my thing. It is the only household cleaning project that I dread. So I apologize that your vision had to intake the severity of my unclean windows. This is fun because the sun glistens though the beads and creates a suncatcher feel. Use strong painters’ tape and decrease the amount of water in the bag to give it a firm attachment to the window.
There are so many other ways to increase sensory play with an older sitting infant. These are just a few of our favorite tried and true adventures.
Tell me your favorite sensory play with babies!