The benefits of sensory play to children and babies are enormous, it encourages brain development, and helps to improve their problem solving and motor skills, plus it’s a great stress reliever and of course fun!
We wanted to bring together some ideas you can try at home that are focused around sensory play for all ages. We personally love all of these ideas as they are simple to set up, require just a handful of items you most probably already have in your home and your little ones will love getting involved in. They’re all focused around learning, development and focus on all the 5 senses, but in a fun playful way.
But first, what is sensory play?
From the moment your baby makes their special arrival, they are exploring everything for the first time through their 5 senses; smell, touch, sight, sound and taste. The world is a funny place to someone so small, everything is new and exciting and a little confusing too.
To help with their development it is important to stimulate all those senses so they can learn and understand more of the world around them. By providing babies, toddlers and young children with a wide range of experiences focused on their senses, you are helping their development.
So let’s get to it! Here are our top sensory play ideas for all ages that you can do at home.
Baby Sensory Play
Young babies don’t need extravagant sensory play ideas, everything around them is new and exciting. Things we take for granted and class as ”every day” is special and new to them. This means that sensory play ideas for them are easy and the list is endless! But here are a few of our favourite ideas to get you started.
Believe it or not, at this small age you are the best toy and object for sensory play. Talking, touching and engaging with your little one is the quickest and best way to help develop you little ones early stage senses. Talking to them will help them get used to not only your own voice as a source of comfort, but also different tones, sounds and words.
Introduce them to the sense of touch by gently tickling them to make them giggle, or stroke their feet, hands and forehead to see how they react. Also let them reach out and touch you in response so they can explore too.
Imagine the excitement of seeing a round see through globe floating around you and magically popping in mid-air for the first time! For a little person this is something of wonder and amazement that can make them giggle and entertain them for a surprisingly long time.
Mirror Mirror on the wall
A reflection is something we as adults take for granted, but a simple object such as a mirror to a little baby is fascinating. For the first few months, all they have seen is the world in front of them, but giving them the opportunity to see a reflection looking back at them is great simulation for them. It’s very entertaining for parents as well to see how your little one reacts, see what expressions they pull and how they engage with their reflection.
Now every little one has their collection of rattles to shake and throw around, but we think we can do 1 better and incorporate more than 1 senses into this play idea. Simply get some old drinking bottles or any bottle you have that is see-through, and full with any items you can find. We like buttons as they offer that element of colour too, but beads or even dried rice works well. This helps them to explore their sound and sight senses as they shake and play with the bottles. It is important to make sure the lid on the bottle is on as tight as it can go and has no holes in so none of the items can come out and become a choking hazard.
Sensory Play for slightly older ones
By this stage your little one is starting to engage and react much more to the world around them, they grow up so fast it’s scary! This extra development and growth means a little more thought needs to go into their sensory activities to ensure they are stimulating enough and offer enough entertainment.
The idea of this one is to help develop their fine motor skills and an understanding of cause and effect. Simply find an old cardboard box and cut circles in the top big enough to fit suitable objects that you have around the house through, i.e balls or building blocks. Then watch their fascination as they post the balls through the different sized holes. You can also do this on a smaller scale with a finished toilet roll, simply tape it to a wall with masking tape, and provide your little one with smaller objects to post through the tube to drop through and out the bottom such as small pom poms.
This might create quite the racket but it is proven that encouraging your little one to play with musical toys can help develop multiple areas of their brain. Making music, instead of just listening to it, can help improve your child’s communicative gestures which may later help to develop their language skills. If you don’t have any musical toys at home, you can make your own. Simply add elastic bands across a tupperware pot for a make shift guitar. Put rice or even small stones into an old tube and seal the ends and you have a rain stick, or make drums out of old tin cans. A little imagination and before you know it you’ll have a whole percussion, your little one will love making as much noise as possible - sorry about that!
A sensory board is sort of an all in one sensory development idea. It’s great to keep them occupied for hours, inexpensive, and the best part of all is you can switch and change what is on the board as they develop to keep them from getting bored. Simply get a cork board and attach a variety of things on to it that offer different textures, colours and sounds. A few ideas are things like bubble wrap, ribbon, sand paper, foil, you could even attach your keys because every kids loves a set of keys. The possibilities are endless, simply use any object that your little one engages with.
Toddler sensory play ideas
By this age your little explorer is moving and exploring the world around them at a rapid rate and is starting to really show their own personality. Now is a great time to start upping the level of sensory play to make it a little trickier with a focus on trying to solve a problem to really get their brain working.
Ice Ice Baby
Ice is fascinating to children, how an liquid element like water can become a hard object is mind blowing in itself. But there is so much sensory play opportunities to be had with ice too. You could get a tupperware pot of water and pop in their favourite toy car or object and freeze over night, come morning, they have to figure out how to get their favourite toy out from the frozen block.
Another popular ice game is to freeze little cubes with food colouring. You can either put the coloured ice cubes in a bucket of water and let them splash and dunk the ice and watch as the water gradually changes colour. Or some parents encourage their little ones to do some art with the coloured ice as it’s acts as a diluted water colour paint.
Start their learning as early as possible with this interactive colour sorting game. Find as many objects in your house as you can in 4 different colours and empty them all into 1 big box mixed together. Then lay out 4 coloured pieces of paper in the same colours of your objects, and ask your little one to sort all the objects into the correct coloured sections.
Hide and seek
It’s a classic but there are hidden benefits in this favourite game that you would never have realised. Hide and seek is one of the best activities for toddler because it covers all the developmental areas, it is also super simple to set up. To also involve their listening skills, we like to hide an egg timer or a small speaker, for them to find. This game is really fun, whilst also developing their problem solving skills.
There is so much learning, exploring and developing that you can do inside the four walls of your own home. These are just a few of our own sensory play to make learning fun and keep them entertained whilst they learn!