Did you know that babies can benefit from sensory play?
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) recommends that toddlers get messy and explore through sand and water play every day.
Sensory play, even with simple materials like just sand and water, helps children’s brains to develop and allows them to explore the materials they are playing with and the world around them.
Benefits of sand and water play (according to NAEYC)
- Allows young children to have learning experiences that are creative but structured.
- Gives parents and caregivers the chance to play alongside kids to model (show them) the expected behavior and rules.
- Promotion of higher-level learning skills, such as:
- Sensory exploration and perception
- Mathematical learning
- Scientific understandings
- Development of language
- Developing creativity and independence
Can babies also benefit from sensory play?
So, sensory play clearly has many great benefits for toddlers. But do I need to wait to start sensory activities until my child is old enough?
What about sensory play for babies?
A study from the University of Alberta found that sensory play is important for children of all ages, including starting sensory bins with babies as young as six months old (with some safety measures place). Sensory activities like singing, talking, and feeling different textures can even be started right away with babies.
Sensory play is a simple and beneficial activity for children because it can develop many of children’s skills, like creativity, emotion management, and more.
Benefits of sensory play for babies
- Practice with balancing
- Development of gross and fine motor skills
- Management of risk and challenging situations by problem solving
- Emotion management
- Increasing emotional intelligence through sensory play with others
- Building self-confidence and self-esteem
Related: The 20 Best Board Books for Babies
Make room for free play!
The University of Alberta study about the importance of play in children’s development even says that open-ended play during unstructured playtime, which they call free play, has long-term benefits and that starting free play early is a great idea.
They also found that free play and playing creatively can have positive impacts on children’s future in education and beyond, including success in their future jobs.
Long-term benefits of free play for children’s health and development
- Cognitive benefits (thinking, remembering, imagining, communicating, etc.)
- Interpersonal skills through play with others
- Prevention of obesity and diabetes
- Increased sensory exposure can prevent being a picky eater
- Improvement of overall health and well-being through locomotor play
- Building stronger muscles
- Increased heart and lung functions
- Improved bone density
- Influence neural circuits in a child’s brain
- Stronger ability to make decision and solve problems
- Understanding of strategy, rules, and objectives
- Improvement of judgement and reasoning skills
- Enhancement of communication skills leads to become socially adjusted and well-adapted adults that can get along with a variety of people
- Heightened senses: visual (sight), olfactory (smell), auditory (sound), tactile (touch), gustatory (taste), vestibular (balance), proprioceptive (position in space), kinesthetic (movement), and baric (weight-bearing movement)
Sensory materials for babies
A baby does a lot of growing in their first year, as more synapses in their brain are formed at a faster rate during the first three years than at any other time in their life.
A baby is born with about the number of neurons their brains will have for their whole life. Amazingly, our brains double in size in just the first year.
Use these sensory materials to help your baby develop their sensory perception, along with many other beneficial skills, starting at as early as six months.
- PlayDoh (we recommend making your own taste-safe play dough)
- Scarves or cloth
- Taste-safe sand
- You! Babies love seeing facial expressions.
Sensory bag activities for babies
Sensory bags are just like sensory bins, but sensory bags are typically less expensive and can last longer than sensory bins. For the bags, you’ll want to choose bags that can seal tight and are 100% leakproof, or you can use tape to stick the bags down to the floor before letting your baby start exploring.
Try these affordable and fun sensory bag activities for babies.
- Shaving cream and paint
- Oil and water
- Hair gel with food coloring
- Cornstarch and sugar (recipe)
- Shampoo and glitter
- Baby oil and popcorn kernels
- Water, confetti, and pom-poms
Sensory bin filler materials
When choosing materials to fill your sensory bins, the possibilities are endless! Just be sure to consider what is appropriate and safe for your child to play with while you closely monitor them.
A general rule of thumb for babies and toddlers is if the item can fit within a standard toilet paper tube, it is too small and poses a choking risk.
- Start with a bin, cardboard box, baking pan, or similar
- Pick a base: water, snow, dirt, rice, dry pasta, water beads, shaving cream, coffee grounds, or other materials
- Add color or scent using food coloring, Kool Aid, powdered paint, or glitter
- Choose a theme for your bin with natural materials like leaves, rocks, pinecones, sticks, stones, or grass
- Endless possibilities come from adding materials like pom-poms, buttons, beads, pipe cleaners, cotton balls, or feathers
- Explore and foster creativity by adding shovels, spoons, bowls, ice cube trays, muffin tins, syringes, magnifying glasses, or old cooking utensils for free play
Sensory table recommendation
- This children’s sensory table is a perfect option to take your sensory play outside, or you can tuck it away indoors. Plus, it has a lid to keep the nested sensory bins covered when you’re not using them!
- You can always just use the sensory bins both inside and outside to spice up the activities (or keep the messier ones out of the house).
We love these sensory activities for children of any age, but these sensory play activities are especially beneficial for babies from 0-13 months old! The best part is that these activities are easy and SO affordable.
- Finger painting
- Playing with/ watching bubbles
- Play with ice cubes in a bowl (for a few minutes)
- Texture board or busy board
- Observing self or others in the mirror
- Watching things that move like a parent clapping or a hanging mobile
- Listening to music or someone singing
When to safely start sensory activities
Starting from birth to 13 months old, baby sensory exposure can stimulate baby’s senses through movement, music, and play. Touch is the very first sense that babies develop, starting at 8 weeks or so.
Avoid sensory overload in your baby
If you’re starting sensory activities from birth, be sure to monitor the amount of time you are exposing your baby to sensory stimulation.
Signs your baby is done with the activity or may already be overstimulated including crying, fussiness, tiredness, or turning their heads away.
Especially with very young babies, it is important not to cause their sensory system to overload by overloading the stimulation or activity you do.
Now you’ve got all the best tools to get started with sensory play for babies!
Which sensory play idea are you looking forward to trying first with your baby? Comment below! I look forward to talking with you in the comments! For everything homeschool, we can PlanIt! ♥