Babies smearing colorful paint all over their bodies. Tiny grains of rice strewn everywhere. Squishy Jell-O crumbles between baby’s little toes. There’s no doubt about it—sensory play can be incredibly messy!
Although the cleanup may sound less than ideal for busy parents, research shows that sensory play is well worth your time and effort. 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.
But what is sensory play? Why is it so crucial to your baby’s development? And how do you get started? Read on for everything you need to know about sensory play for baby.
**Tip: Before engaging in sensory play, be sure to change your baby’s diaper and dress them in a soft baby bodysuit that lets them move around comfortably. The happier your baby is, the easier it will be for them to focus on the sensory activity.
What Is Sensory Play?
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 starts early. In fact, some of their sensory development, like hearing and sense of smell, begin in the womb.
Once babies officially enter the world, they begin to develop these senses in greater detail. 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
Many 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.
What benefits are those, exactly? Here are a few important reasons to embrace sensory play:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
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 baby with rich, sensory experiences that promote a life-long love of learning and curiosity.
Sensory Play Ideas for Baby
Ready to introduce baby to sensory play? Here are a few sensory play activities for babies and toddlers that will take playtime to another level.
- Whipped Cream
Although shave cream is often used for sensory activities, it’s not safe for babies and toddlers. Instead, try busting 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 coloring in each one and “paint” your baby with the colored Cool Whip. Point out the different colors and where they are on her body parts.
- Cereal Sensory Bin
In case you’ve never heard of sensory bins, they’re basically a container full of items that may have different textures and shapes. While you can put just about anything in a sensory bin, cereal is by far one of the easiest and safest fillers for babies. Pick a low-sugar cereal (plain O’s cereal is a good choice) and dump one or two cups into the bin. Throw in a few different sizes of scoops and let baby happily play in the bin.
- 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. Plus, it’s the perfect summertime activity that you can do in your own backyard.
- Sensory Bottles
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.
Playdough is a wonderful sensory play tool for babies and toddlers. To heighten their senses, make your own multi-colored playdough and let them cut out shapes using cookie cutters. Consider adding craft feathers or googly eyes to make things more interesting and visually stimulating.
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!