Sensory Play ideas for the youngest babies and infants - simple ideas for playing with sensory and tactile exploration.
I've written before on the importance of sensory play and the importance of play for babies but now I'm minding a 7 month old it brings a whole load of new possibilities. Usually the biggest concern is probably babies mouthing the sensory material and choking, so any baby play needs to be well planned and supervised - especially when there are big kids playing too (ever had to explain to a 2.5yo why sharing your grapes with a baby is a bad idea?!) - but when a child is first experimenting with their full fist-grasp you need to think about what they can and can't manipulate. Also sitting up is still precarious at this age, you might prefer to prop them up in your lap or use one of those plastic bath chairs to support them while you don't need to worry about it getting messy. Also stripping down to the nappy and playing before bathtime is a good idea - too many baby clothes are white or pastel (perfect for staining).
So now you know how to, here are some ideas to get you started...
1. I know you're looking at this pic saying 'Legos?! Say what?' but I think they're pretty awesome if you're a baby. Here I picked out the large rectangle pieces from Vinnie's Duplo for babygirl to play with - bright colours, smooth plastic, excellent rattling sounds and a great shape for little fingers to grasp. Creative with Kids wrote about Legos and other interesting sensory play ideas here.
2. Read a story - you know your voice is your baby's most favourite thing to hear so indulge them a little with some bedtime stories. The great thing about little little babies is that they are happy lying still on your lap or chest so now is the time to practise your reading aloud with some long chapter books. As your newborn starts sitting up and grabbing at things I found that it's worth getting two copies of board books, one for them to hold and flip through and one for you to read from. Also, don't expect books to last long - you're working on their appetite to consume literacy - they will literally chew each page!
3. Like I said, mouthing is your biggest concern - playdough, cloud dough, shaving foam etc are all best avoided for a little while - so stick to playing with your food instead. Mashed potatoes, a bowl of peas or some dried porridge oats like we did here are good choices - and it's not a disaster if they end up eating a fistful or so! Later the big kids added water to make a lovely gooey sticky porridge mess to play with, this was a fun activity that big and little kids can get in on.
4. These plastic egg shakers are great for strengthening little hands - at first they will drop them a lot, work on picking them up, transferring between hands and probably surprise themselves when they make a noise. These are our Montessori Eggs filled with rice, corn, pennies and sugar - make sure to superglue up the sides and add a layer of electrical tape to prevent tiny hands getting at the contents. If you can find transparent eggs you could turn them into Discovery Eggs like we did at Easter.
5. There's a saying about putting a fractious baby in water - I think waterplay is one of the best go-to activities for bored, tired, overstimulated and cranky babies (and big kids as my son will tell you!) Bathtime is a great opportunity to splash around and get wet - but for some it's so traumatic that it's a quick dip, rub on the head and another half an hour to console them afterwards (just ask my son!) Here I filled up a couple of plastic bowls with about an inch of water, so when they inevitably got spilled there wasn't much to mop up! As they get bigger you can add bowls, bottles and scoops to explore with, a drop of food colouring, bubbles or some scented oil (be cautious using the oils on little people's skin though).
6. Exploring scents - I always think scent is the most under-noticed in sensory play, especially for babies who haven't worked out how to sniff yet. You can explore your baby's sense of smell with flowers, kitchen spices, scented bubble bath - while cooking and eating (with caution) is fun too.
7. Household objects - here I gave babygirl a stack of brand new bath sponges to grab, squeeze and eventually stack and knock down. I'm the biggest advocate of using household items as toys (Vin had a silicon whisk to play with for the longest time). We have also explored with plastic cups, juggling balls, velcro hair rollers (yep, crazy I know) wooden spoons, cotton wool balls - literally anything your child takes an interest in is a plaything at this age. I think it's interesting that toys designed for 'sensory exploration' have things like ribbon tags, crinkly foil squares, fuzzy strips of carpet etc - those things that come from your environment rather than a toyshop!
8. Again, I know you're thinking I'm crazy suggesting balloons but again I'll tell you to only do what you're comfortable with and always supervise your playtimes. Balloons are great for sensory play, they're colourful and light, they can't be easily grasped and grabbed and are therefore a great incentive for early crawling and moving. Plus they're a great way for older kids to play gently with a little one. Obviously watch out for popped balloons and be prepared for a little shock if one does pop.
9. Play outside - the outside world is full of sensory exploration for a little person to explore. Birds singing, breeze blowing, flowers to be smelled, grass to be wriggled in. I think the best way for little babies is in a baby carrier where they can explore with you, rather than a pram facing the sky and away from all the action. I also love spreading a blanket under a tree and lying back to watch clouds and exploring with tiny feet in spiky green grass. You probably do these kind of things without thinking, but I found once I started reading about play and sensory development I appreciated these natural curiosities much more.
10. Bubbles - what kid doesn't love bubbles? I think they're magical and captivating and I'm 25 - imagine how special they are to a 5 month old! The Imagination Tree just shared a post on Bubble Play for Babies, much more eloquently written than I could put it. You can check out our Bubble Solution Recipe here.
So friends, I hope you are inspired to get playing with your littlest ones - how do you like to explore with them?