Bonus: they’re super easy, and you probably have everything you need already.
For babies, every milestone and “first” counts. And as parents, we are there to snap the photos of their squishy faces eating the lemon, video those first wobbly steps, or giggle with them as they splash their hands in the bubble mix. While these moments are cute, they serve a bigger purpose for their sensory development. Yes, even the bubbles! There are certain sensory activities for babies that experts recommend to help with meeting developmental milestones, and they’re easy enough for you to do at home.
“Sensory play is a natural way for infants and younger children to explore their environment by using all or some senses, such as sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. As they explore the world around them, children are indirectly contributing to their developmental progress,” Fadiyla Dopwell Louis-Obike, MD, developmental-behavioral pediatrician, tells Romper.
A child’s most significant development happens from birth to the age of 5, according to the CDC. When babies aren’t stimulated, parts of their development can be stifled. Obike says, “As a child navigates and explores his/her surrounding world during the critical period of brain development, he/she is often making progress across each developmental domain.”
Sensory play is a fun DIY that you can start with your baby today, and it’s as easy as talking to them to help develop their language skills. Most of your activities can be made with simple products you already have in your pantry and others you can buy. Whichever route you choose, your baby won’t know the difference. The best part is they are having fun, and you are helping them grow!
Here are several sensory play activities that experts recommend to get your baby’s senses tingling.
Yep, a sensory activity as easy as letting your baby lay on your chest. “Your baby’s sense of touch is highly developed at birth,” Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, board-certified pediatrician, tells Romper. Many parents choose to use skin-to-skin immediately after their baby is born. However, Poinsett advises that this sensory activity can still be used within the first couple of months following birth to enhance their development.
Touch is a powerful sense, and so is sight! Finger painting allows your baby to explore a new texture and go crazy with mixing different colors, and you can use homemade edible finger paint. This play is recommended for babies starting at 6 months old.
“Let your baby explore different textured cloth such as fake fur, corduroy, velvet, and wool,” Poinsett says. Describe each texture as your baby is touching them using words like “soft, bumpy, scaley, or smooth.” For this activity, Poinsett recommends a Feel book like Pat and Bunny.
This activity is a great way for your baby to develop their neck and shoulder muscles’ strength. Poinsett says, “Put your awake infant on their tummy starting at 10 to 15 seconds at a time, up to 10 to 15 minutes several times a day.”
This is the perfect play for babies between the ages of 4 to 6 months. “Babies at 5 months of age can reach for objects. Play with balls of different colors and textures. Show the baby how to roll, drop, and bounce a ball,” says Poinsett. This helps develop motor skills like grasping and passing objects between their hands.
Playing with dough is all about the hands and fingers. Your baby will get to investigate this texture while having control with trying to manipulate the dough. This will strengthen their fingers for being able to hold small things in the future. Using edible dough is a safe way to play.
There’s so much to see, hear, and feel in nature, and your baby can get started with doing things like identifying sounds. Obike says, “Ask your child if he/she hears the barking dog. Based on your child’s developmental level, you can either help your child locate the dog or have them independently locate the dog.”
Between the ages of 6 to 8 months, messy play is great for your baby’s fine motor skills. “This is the age perfect for messy play. Let the baby explore using rice cereal paste, shaving cream, or cornstarch paste,” Poinsett says. They can use these items to paint and practice making small movements with their fingers.
“Colorful toys are important at this point. Also, toys that make noise such as rattles and bells,” says Poinsett. Between the ages of 2 to 4 months, your baby needs their sight and sound senses stimulated in a way that is entertaining and engaging.
This is another easy DIY activity. Obike says, “Parents can also use plastic containers filled with dry beans and cereals to stimulate both sound and touch.”
There are many different stacking toys that your baby can use, including soft blocks or stacking rings. Poinsett recommends this sensory activity between 8 to 10 months old. Cognitively, your baby will understand how these toys should go on top of each other, and the bright colors will stimulate them visually.
“Make a guitar with rubber bands wrapped around a loaf pan,” says Poinsett. By 8 to 10 months, babies are ready to start their band. They tend to love different sounds, according to Poinsett, and this one should be a hit!
“When your baby is in the bath, provide squeeze toys, cups, and containers to splash around with,” Poinsett tells Romper. Bath time is perfect for introducing your baby to new sensory activities. With squeeze toys, they get to work more hand and arm muscles, and they will be highly engaged watching water splash everywhere.
By 10 to 12 months old, your baby is ready for games like peek-a-boo and popping bubbles. Poinsett says, “Blow bubbles and show the baby how they move up and down and pop.” And bubbles can be used to help in a few different ways. You can blow them and have your baby grab at the floating bubbles or point their fingers to poke them, which also introduces them to a new texture through their touch sense. Your baby can also work on their fine motor skills by mimicking how you put your lips together to practice blowing.
“Banging pots and pans with a wooden spoon allows children to hear different types of sounds, make music to sing along with their nursery rhymes, and develop their imaginative skills,” Obike says. The banging may be loud, but just go with it!
Fadiyla Dopwell Louis-Obike, MD, developmental-behavioral pediatrician
Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD