As a parent trying to enter the world of sensory play, it can feel overwhelming knowing where to begin and what items to use. Sensory play can be as simple or as complex as a parent wants to make it, but in the beginning, household items are enough to get you started.
With most sensory play, less is more, and that is especially true with babies. Life itself is a sensory experience to them, so activities don’t need to be elaborate to engage them. And remember: their attention span is minutes at most so if an activity you plan only lasts for five minutes that’s a HUGE win in the baby world! It’s also recommended to not let babies eat the sensory fillers. While a majority of these are taste-safe, it’s good practice to not encourage eating with sensory play since not all fillers will be safe as they age. These are five favorite sensory fillers:
- Fill a shallow baking dish ¼ of the way with water and prop your baby up on a boppy in front of the dish. This allows them to play during tummy time and strengthens those growing muscles while also keeping them at a safe distance from the baking dish.
- Add large bath toys (to prevent mold, you can hot glue the holes on the outside of the bath toys shut) and foam letters. It’s best to stick with brightly colored bath toys or teethers that babies are used to so they have motivation to explore the water.
- Try adding large craft store pom poms to the water as well! Babies can work on strengthening their fine motor skills by squeezing the pom poms with their hands. In doing so, they’re also observing natural cause and effect!
Oats are a great, taste safe filler that can be so fun for babies to explore!
- Fill a tray with oats and provide either an empty container or cups for scooping and transferring. Scooping and transferring during sensory play is fantastic for building motor skills that your little one can take into their practical life, and it also works on building pre-math skills. As kids begin scooping, pouring and dumping from various containers they’re being introduced to volume and concepts of weight - all through play!
- Try adding farm animals to your play to give babies a chance to work on both receptive and expressive language skills. As you introduce each animal to your baby, try to have them mimic the sound each animal makes! This way they’re working on vocabulary and language building while also learning to classify and mimic animals by their sounds.
Aquafaba or chickpea foam is a great taste safe (and eye safe) foam to use whenever there’s a can of chickpeas in the depths of your pantry. This foam couldn’t be easier to make and, with a little food coloring, you can dye it different colors to fit a variety of themes.
- Drain the liquid from one can of chickpeas and add to a bowl.
- To make stiff peaks, you can add 1/4 tsp of cream of tartar (this is optional: you can still produce a nice foam without it!)
- Add a few drops of food coloring if you plan on using it (but you can leave it plain) and then mix on high for 2-3 minutes.
- Repeat for each color you choose to make.
- A tip to keep in mind with foam or messy play is to provide a bowl of water so kids can clean their hands, or extend the activity to cleaning their toys if they so choose. Offering the water can help a child who may feel nervous about messes be more inclined to explore if they know they can easily clean their hands afterwards.
Jello is so easy to turn into an activity for any occasion, and it’s a great sensory experience to try with babies around 6-8 months!
- Make jello according to the box’s instructions (a common one to try is Knox brand gelatin) and hide spoons or teethers in it.
- Once the objects are added, put the jello in the fridge to set. Once it’s set, take it out and let your baby dig through it to rescue their toys. This is fantastic for working on strengthening the fingers and hand skills necessary for eventually developing the pincer grasp.
A few things to keep in mind when doing jello rescues:
- Your little one might not be into it at first. Some days the jello dig is a huge hit, other times it’s a flop. Just keep reintroducing, and always provide your little one with a bowl of water for hand cleaning! It’s a cold, sticky sensation and it does take some getting used to.
- Try unflavored gelatin over jello because the sugar in store bought jello can make it extremely sticky. Plus - the unflavored gelatin is sugar free and clear and can be dyed any color.
Easter grass is a great sensory filler for parents who need something quick and easy to set up or prefer not to use food-based products.
- Fill a tray with paper easter grass - you can use the plastic kind as well but paper can easily be recycled and it makes a fantastic crunching sound!
- Once the grass is in the tray, hide toys inside of or underneath it to work on your baby's object permanence and work to build their cognitive skills by finding the partially hidden objects.
- Another idea to try is to put the grass in a tray and provide a muffin pan into which your baby can transfer the grass. Adding interactive elements like transferring from one container to another really engages babies and works on their motor control and refining their movements.
- This is another perfect example of sensory play that can help build language skills. Parents can use this as an opportunity to introduce the different elements of the objects in the sensory tray. Some examples of this can be:
- identifying the colors your baby can observe in the tray
- describing the feeling of the grass (rough, crunchy) or the other elements like the pom poms (smooth, furry, soft)
Skills areas addressed:
- Gross motor
- Fine motor hand and finger skills
- Cause and effect
- Expressive and receptive language
- Imaginative play
Author: Celena Kinsey