Just like older children, babies can take part in sensory play. I began providing my little one with sensory experiences when she was about three months old and was beginning to tolerate tummy time. As she got a bit older and was able to sit up, we revisited many of these experiences as well.
For parents who are looking to start doing more hands-on learning activities for their babies and toddlers, here are some great sensory activities that can be done at-home with just a few easy to find materials. Here are some easy ideas to get started…
Water beads can be purchased at a craft store and are like vase filler that expand in water. Soak some water beads in a bowl of water for a few hours to let them expand into little balls. You can then put them into a Ziploc bag and let your little one explore the bubble like texture during tummy time. For a baby that can sit up, you can tape the bag on to their highchair or give them a small leakproof container with a bit of water and some water beads.
Do not give water beads to your child out of a container as they should not be put into their mouth or eaten. If your child is at an age where they no longer puts items in their mouth (such as a child in Kindergarten), I have let them hold the water beads and explore the bouncy texture.
Balloon on an Oball
My daughter has been a big fan of her Oball from a young age. Tie a balloon to the Oball, lie them on their back and let them move the balloon around with their hands. My daugther was fascinated by being able to move the balloon herself. Now that my daugther is a toddler, I still attach balloons to her Oball, as she likes to carry them around the house and it is much safer than having her carry around the balloon weight.
It’s important to note that a child, no matter what their age is, should ever be left alone to play with a balloon. The string presents a serious choking hazard. Always keep a close eye on them as they play to ensure the string does not become tangled.
Sensory jars are clear containers, such as an empty water bottle, full of different materials. I have made these with water and sparkles, or rice and small gems. Simply fill a bottle and let your little one hold it, shake it, and move the items around. This is a great experience for exploring different sounds.
When filling the bottle, make sure to leave some space at the top so that the materials inside can move around with ease. For babies who are just beginning to hold items, I have also used small clear craft jars, as they are not as heavy as holding a water bottle.
Painting in Ziploc Bags
I did this activity with my daughter as a tummy time experience at as early as three months old. I put paper with a few blobs of paint on it inside a Ziploc bag and then taped the bag to the floor with painters tape.
She used her hands and body to squish the paint around to make her imprints. When finished, you can just cut the bag to get the painting out to let it dry.
Color Mixing in Ziploc Bags
A fun and non-messy activity is exploring color mixing. Once your little one is able to sit up (either on his/her own or with support) this is an easy activity. I put two primary colors of paint into a bag and then used duct tape to seal around the bag. You can then tape it to the floor or to the window and let your little one explore the bag.
If doing this as a tummy time activity, I would double bag the bag with the paint inside so that it doesn’t pop.
Shakers and Instruments
My daughter loves anything that makes noise! Provide your little one with a basket full of different rattles, shakers or musical instruments and let him explore making different sounds. You can also make your own shakers. To do so, fill some small clear containers with beads, rice, beans, pasta, plastic jewels, etc.
When making shakers of my own, I choose to use clear jars so that my daughter can see the materials that are inside of them.
Oball with Fabric
When my daughter was about four months old, I filled her Oball with a few pieces of fabric and let her pull the fabric pieces out. This is another great tummy time experience. I purchased four scarves from the Dollar Store, cut about a foot off, and then pushed the fabric into the center of the Oball with a piece hanging out of the end.
I chose bright colored fabric to engage my daughter’s sense of sight. For a young baby, this task takes quite awhile to get one piece of fabric out, but if engaged she will persist. I revisited this with my daughter when she was about six months old and she still enjoyed pulling the fabric out quickly and then handing me the ball to put back together.
Lava Lamp in a Bag
This is a great tummy time experience. Simply put some ice cubes, baby oil and a bit of food coloring into a Ziploc bag and tape the bag to the floor with painters tape. Then let your little one melt the ice and mix up the contents with their hands or body.
For a baby who can sit up, you could put the same materials into a Ziploc bag and let him hold the bag, or pour the materials into an empty water bottle. You could also add food coloring into the water you are freezing to make ice cubes instead of adding the food coloring after.
Pom Pom and Ribbon Bottles
This bottle was gifted to my daughter by another teacher friend when she was about four months old and she loved this bottle for months. Poke a hole in an empty water bottle lid and put a few different colors of ribbon through the hole. You will want to tie the ribbon and hot glue gun it in place as well.
Then simply fill the water bottle with different colored pom poms and glue the bottle closed. My daughter enjoyed exploring this bottle as a tummy time experience and then again when she was able to sit up on her own.
Water (and Snow) Play
If your little one is sitting up, then she will love water play! In the nice weather, take some plastic containers and measuring spoons outside and let your little one play in the water. The Dollar Store also sells all of these items, so I purchased a set for outdoor water play and just left it on my porch all summer long.
My little one likes different sizes of measuring spoons and also slotted spoons to watch the water run through them. If you live in a colder climate, you can also bring a container of snow into the house in the winter and let your little one explore scooping snow with their water tools. I suggest putting a towel underneath of the container to catch any drips.
Buttons/Beads on String Board
Another great experience for tummy time or for a baby who is starting to sit up is to put some big plastic buttons or beads on a string and then have them mounted to a hard piece of cardboard. Make sure that you leave space for the beads to be able to slide back and forth on the string.
Your little one can then either lie on his tummy or sit up and slide the beads back and forth. Such a simple thing to make but it will occupy your little one for awhile.
Sensory Bag or Bin – Water, Elastics and Pom Poms
Another great tummy time activity is to put some pom poms, elastic bands and water into a Ziploc bag and then use painter take to stick it to the floor. Your little one can then squish and squash the bag to move the materials around. I suggest double bagging the bag with water inside so that the bag doesn’t burst.
Also, when creating the bag, make sure to leave some air in it so that the items can move around. If your little one is sitting up, you could also tape the bag to a window, as the sun shining through would provide another element to this sensory experience.