Baby sensory activities you can do at home: A guide for parents
Many babies born in 2021 missed out on interactive and social experiences such as play groups, mothers groups and baby sensory classes due to Covid-19 disruptions.
Don't worry Mum and Dad - your baby doesn't have to miss out on any learning opportunities! There are a number of sensory play activities you can do at home with your baby to help them play, learn, develop and thrive!
You can stimulate your infant's learning by introducing baby sensory activities at home. There are a number of free and easy baby sensory play activities you can try at home to help build your infant's curiosity and learning.
What is baby sensory play and why is it important for my infant's healthy development?
Baby sensory play involves any activity that stimulates your infant's sense of touch, smell, taste, sight, or hearing. The idea is to encourage your baby to use their senses to: play, create, investigate and explore the world around them.
Infant sensory play stimulates the neural activity in your baby's brain. This creates new neural connections in their brain - allowing your bub to develop new skills such as language, memory, social skills and fine and gross motor skills.
What baby sensory activities can I do at home to stimulate my baby's learning and development?
1. Help your baby's vision and eye sight develop with sensory play activities and sensory toys.
Did you know that babies can only see in black and white for their first few months of life?
Up until about three to six months of age, infants can only see between 30 - 40 cm in front of them. Even stranger- a baby can only see in black, white and grey tones during this time!
Choose books and toys that have high contrast colours for your baby.
High contrast colours help stimulate your baby’s eye sight and help them differentiate between shapes and colors. This is important for strengthening your baby's cognitive abilities as well as their gross motor skills.
Babies love looking at things. Have you ever noticed the first time your baby really looked at your face and responded to your smile, or took an interest in looking at their hands? You can provide lots of sensory stimulation to your baby by providing different visuals for them to look at and examine.
Babies respond best to human faces and facial expressions.
One of the first ways babies learn is by exploring facial features. You can do this with them by sitting your baby on your knee and looking directly into their eyes. Experiment by making a variety of different facial expressions, and watch how your baby reacts. Does your baby smile when you smile? Do they laugh when you make a funny face? This allows baby to develop an emotional connection and bond to you as their care giver, while helping them learn important social skills and emotional awareness.
Use baby sensory toys with bright colours and high contrasts.
Make sure you are introducing baby sensory toys that are bright, colourful and contrasted. This will allow baby to differentiate between different shapes, colours and textures. Notice how our Jellystone Teether Stacker has a variety of different colours and shapes to pique baby's interest?
2. Incorporate Tummy Time into your baby's day - every day!
Every parent has been nagged about the importance of tummy time by their nurse, doctor or pediatrician.
What is tummy time and why is it important for my baby's development?
Tummy time involves placing a baby on his or her stomach (while awake and supervised).The idea of tummy time is to help your baby develop strong neck, shoulder and back muscles. This also helps develop their motor skills and balance. Tummy time can also prevent the back of your baby's head from developing flat spots as a result of lying on their back too much.
Why does my baby grizzle and complain during tummy time?
Baby's may complain during tummy time, particularly during early infancy. This is because tummy time is a physical work out for your baby! During tummy time, your baby has to activate and use their muscles - which can be very tiring for their tiny bodies.
How can I make my baby's tummy time a more enjoyable experience?
- Incorporate a safe floor play area for baby's tummy time with a play mat that is padded for comfort.
Placing your baby on a hard floor or surface is likely to be an uncomfortable experience for them while they are doing their tummy time work out. Make sure you are providing a comfortable, padded surface that will provide support if they fall on their face or roll over.
We love our sensory play mats and still use them every day even now my oldest is about to turn five! Although they are an expensive purchase - consider a good playmat a long term investment that will last for many years ahead.
We began our journey almost five years ago with our Earl Grey playmat - which is still in our playroom now! The design is reversible and waterproof - so any dribbles, spews or accidents can be easily wiped away.
The Mellow Mat Soft Touch Sensory Rug is another great option for baby tummy time. It features 30mm of thick slow rebound Memory foam and is the perfect place for baby to do their tummy time, rolling and crawling. The mat is soft and spongy and provides sensory feedback to your baby while also having the added bonus of being stain resistant.
- Place engaging baby sensory toys in front of your infant that they can reach, touch, grasp, shake, mouth and look at while doing their tummy time.
To encourage your baby to hold their head up high during tummy time, provide a variety of sensory toys that will keep their attention and interest. Anything that rolls, moves or makes a noise is great for this.
Image credit: Google Images "mostlyundercontrol.com"
3. What can I do to help my baby's hearing development?
Your baby's hearing rapidly develops during their first few months of life. In the beginning, most newborns startle or "jump" to sudden loud noises. This is called the "startle reflex" and is an inborn, survival reflex. The startle reflex disappears after the first few months of life. By 3 months of age, a baby is able to recognise and be calmed by their parent or caregivers voice. By 6 months, babies will turn their eyes or head toward a new sound and begin trying to babble, imitate sounds and repeat words.
This is why babies 3 months and older enjoy rattles and other baby sensory toys that make sounds.
How can I make DIY musical sound instruments for my baby's sensory play at home?
Some ideas include:
- Homemade Maracas: Fill a container or jar with any of the following pantry items: uncooked: rice, pasta, lentils or beans. Close them up and let your baby shake, shake shake! The homemade maracas make an excellent noise and are great for letting your baby learn about cause and effect relationships. Just be sure the lid is on tight as loose contents could pose a choking hazard.
- Homemade Drums: Place baking paper over the top of an open container. Use an elastic band or sticky tape to tighten the baking paper over the top of the container (refer to picture below). Let your baby tap the top of the drum with their hands or a toy drum stick.
- Homemade Percussion instruments: Pull out a wooden spoon and let your baby tap it on a variety of different saucepans. These act like a percussion instrument. Does your baby notice that each saucepan makes a slightly different noise?
Our Melody Music Activity Station set contains 10 different musical instruments designed to inspire the musical imagination and exploration of little learners.
4. Expect things to go in your baby's mouth - provide safe teething toys and avoid toys that are a choking hazard.
Why do babies put everything in their mouths?
There are a few reasons why babies mouth objects. Your baby will likely begin reaching for and grasping things between 3-5 months of age. Once they have accomplished the ability of grasping an object, you will notice it usually heads straight towards their mouth.
- Your baby is investigating the world around them and mouthing an object is a form of learning.
Your baby's lips and mouths are packed full of sensory nerves that let a baby really get a feel for what something is. From mouthing an object, your infant can learn if something is squishy or hard, furry or smooth, warm or cool.
- Your baby is teething
Fortunately, we don’t remember it, but growing all our teeth at the same time and having sore gums all the time must’ve been very uncomfortable! This is why teething baby's are often irritable and grumpy. Teething is another reason for baby mouthing. Your baby puts things into their mouth and bites down on anything near them because it feels good when they’re teething. Teething on an object relieves the pain and soreness of swollen gums when your baby is teething.
Tips to help my baby with teething:
- Wet a face cloth and place it in the freezer. Once cooled, let your baby chew on the icy cold wash cloth
- Place baby sensory teethers in the fridge on rotation so baby can chomp down on a nice cold teething toy to help relieve their sore gums.
- Placing things in their mouth to suck can be a self soothing behaviour
Baby's can suck or bite on objects, dummies, fingers or clothing to help them self soothe. The combination of the sensory receptors in their mouth and the sucking reflex can help your baby calm down and relax. You may notice this behaviour increases when they are tired and ready to go to sleep.
What can I do to encourage healthy mouthing & teething habits in my baby?
- Provide your baby with age appropriate teething toys that are BPA free and don't have any nasty chemicals
- Regularly wash your baby's teethers in warm, soapy water to kill any germs.
5. Help your baby develop their fine motor and finger dexterity skills.
Manual dexterity is directly tied to your babies cognitive development. It's believed that through their hands, your baby learns the link between their thoughts and actions. Your infant's fine motor control skills will develop rapidly over the first 12 months of their life. From fumbling, grasping of objects from 3 months, to goal directed behaviour towards the end of their first year of life.
Here are some activities you can try at home to help encourage your baby's fine motor skills:
- Lie your baby under a play pen with hanging objects and let them hit, grab and pull at them.
- We love the versatility of our sensory scarf sets . The sensory scarfs can be tied onto play pens, you can cover babies face to play peek a boo, hide objects underneath the scarf and let your baby grab the scarf and retrieve the hidden toy.
Fine Motor Skills Sensory Games for Older Babies and Toddlers:
- Place holes in different boxes and containers and let your baby post items such as soft pom poms into the holes.
- Scarves in a box - place scarves into a box or a baby wipes container and let your baby try and pull them out one by one.
- Help your baby develop their finger dexterity skills through threading exercises. Place pipe cleaners into a plastic kitchen colander. Let your baby try and pull out the pipe cleaners one by one, or re-thread them back into another hole.
- Use sticky tape to stick down animal figurines onto a table or tray. Let your toddler use their fine motor skills to carefully lift off the sticky tape and save the animals.
This article was written by Sarah James, owner of The Sensory Specialist. Sarah is a qualified Psychology teacher and mother of boys- aged 2 and 5. Through her experiences in Psychology and motherhood, Sarah has learnt lots of tips and tricks to help with baby development at home. Please contact Sarah if you have any questions or feedback.