Sorry I haven’t posted in almost a week! We left Friday to head up to my family’s cabin on Lake Champlain, and got back Tuesday. Yesterday Lewis and I were busy settling back in here and unpacking.
As usual our time at the camp was lovely, busy, and too short. Last time we went up it was quite chilly out. This time the weather started off pretty mild and then got hot and humid. Friday was a very nice day. Chris made a fire and we had hotdogs and s’mores for dinner. (Lewis had strawberries.) My uncle and cousin also arrived on Friday. They were pretty busy working on the treehouse all weekend so we didn’t see a ton of them.
Saturday started out nice but a little chillier than I expected. A couple of my best friends came and visited with us for a few hours. Lewis wasn’t sure what to think of them, but warmed up after a while. We had some rain saturday afternoon but not too much.
For some reason I hardly took any photos the first few days. Most of the photos we took were of our Tegu blocks. (Which reminds me… I need to submit those photos for a chance to win more blocks!)
On Sunday Aunties Ellen and Sallie came to visit. We hung out and chatted and then got brave and went for a swim! The lake was quite cold but it was refreshing. Lewis loved it and didn’t seem to mind the cold. It started raining again shortly after our swim, so all our towels and swim suits got soaked.
Sunday was also Chris and my 1 year anniversary! A year ago we were up at the camp for our wedding. It has been a really wonderful and busy year together, and we are looking forward to many many more years with each other. We didn’t do any big celebration, just enjoyed our favorite wine together after Lewis went to bed, played Yahtzee (I kicked his butt) and looked through some of our wedding photos.
Monday was very busy because we went to the laundromat and walked all around town and played in two different parks while the laundry was running.
Tuesday was time to start packing up and getting ready to go home. The family has two cabins and I asked Chris to drive some things across the street to put away in the other cabin until we’ll be there again. He thought it would be easiest to back up to the door to unload things, but didn’t factor in the wet lawn.
He ended up stuck in the mud. We tried several things to get the car out ourselves but the front tires were just spinning and digging themselves deeper into the mud. We thought if we left it alone for a bit the sun would dry out the ground and we might have better luck. Of course another rainstorm rolled in with the heaviest rain we had seen yet. Even the lake started getting muddy from the hard fast rain coming down.
We admitted defeat and called a tow company to get the car out. I had tried to convince Chris that getting stuck was just a sign we needed to stay at the lake an extra day, but he has this pesky thing called “work” that he needed to go to. Oh well! At least we got the car out and were still able to make it home in time to have dinner and watch So You Think You Can Dance.
When I decided to start a “sensory bin” with Lewis when he was 5 or 6 months old, I was really disappointed with the lack of ideas I could find that were truly safe for young babies. Unfortunately, a lot of the “traditional” sensory materials such as dry rice, beans, sand, and paint just are not safe for young babies who use their mouth as their main way to explore the world. A lot of ideas I found seem to revolve around just putting toys, kitchen items, etc. in a bin for baby to explore. This is fun a few times, but eventually it becomes just another bin of chunky plastic/wooden/metal items. Where was all the messy truly full-body sensory play for babies?
As I’ve continued to search the web and engage Lewis in various types of play I’ve come across many more ideas and also come up with a few of my own. The main thing I’ve realized is that if baby is going to put the materials in their mouth, you need to use something that is truly edible. Food. (Yes, play with food can be controversial and I know some people are not comfortable using food in play for a variety of reasons. I am not going to go in depth about that here, but if you are interested I highly recommend the Child’s Play 101 – Fun with Food post over on Train Up a Child.)
I’ve decided to compile a list of sensory play ideas for babies, to help out all those other Mamas like me who want to use some sensory play with a young baby but don’t quite know where to start. Remember, these are just suggestions to get you started and spark some play. Don’t feel that you have to recreate another mother’s activity in the exact way that she has done it. Just have fun!
Why Use Sensory Play?
Besides the fact that it is just plain fun, sensory play is incredibly important for children of all ages. Children (and adults!) learn best when using their senses – the more senses that get involved the more information will be taken in and retained. Sensory play is play with materials that involve the senses in many ways, but especially through touch and experiencing different textures. It is often messy, and that is part of the fun and also the benefit of it. When a child is allowed to experience slimy mud, sticky paint, or even just water from head-to-toe they really are learning and experiencing with their full body.
For babies, sensory play is a great way to begin learning about their world. When you are a baby, everything is new to you. Every new texture, smell, taste, every object you interact with helps fire up the neurons in your brain and form connections that will be with you for the rest of your life.
Through sensory play a baby can learn about the textures and properties of different materials- how is water different from dry pasta or jiggly jello? Interacting with materials will help develop both large and small muscle groups throughout the body. Using food materials in play can help baby become comfortable with a variety of tastes and textures, and lead to better eating throughout life. Sensory play also helps a child begin to discover math and science concepts through scooping, dumping, mixing, pouring, etc. The learning really never ends with sensory play, all while the child feels like they are just having a good time.
When starting sensory play with an infant it is important to keep things simple. A big bowl or plastic bin with your sensory material in it is really all they need to start exploring. I like to give Lewis a couple of toys or tools (spoons, scoops, etc.) just to give him the opportunity to explore in a different way but more often than not these objects are simply ignored. If you get too complicated and provide too many options of toys baby can feel overwhelmed or it may just draw their attention away from the actual sensory material.
A few notes on safety: While many of the items on this list are safe for babies of any age, please use your own judgement. You know your child and their abilities best, so please do not give them anything that you are not comfortable with them putting into their mouth. Lewis is now 9 months and I am including some items which I am just starting to feel comfortable giving to him. Also, please ALWAYS supervise your child during sensory play. Your baby will do things and get into situations that you never expected, and it is important to be there both for their safety and comfort. Many of these materials can make the floor slippery if spilled out of a sensory bin (or if the child decides to crawl through them.)
- Give baby some water in a bowl, plastic bin, or even on their high-chair try! Baby will love splashing with their hands. Bath time is also a great time to play with water. If the weather is hot take it outside. Childhood 101 has a great post on starting out with water play for babies.
- Add ice cubes to the water. Lewis loves scooping up the ice cubes with his hands and sucking on them.
- Add some color. Use a little food coloring in the water, the ice cubes, or both! Train Up A Child had fun putting colored ice in their play pool.
- Add some bubbles to your water. Plain Vanilla Mom did a fun Bubble Pool with her 9 month old. (I’ve given Lewis small containers of bubbles to play with, but he does try to eat them.)
Dry Materials: Dry materials are great because they can be saved and re-used over and over, minimizing waste.
- Oatmeal. Lewis had fun exploring some oatmeal while I was baking cookies one day.
- Dry Rice. This won’t hurt baby if they put a bit in their mouth, but it is not good to eat a lot. I haven’t felt comfortable giving it to Lewis yet because I know he is very oral with his materials. Play Create Explore put together a bin with rice and dry noodles.
- Cheerios. Once baby begins eating Cheerios as a snack, why not give them a bin full to run their hands through?
- Cornmeal. Train Up a Child shares some cornmeal play in this post on baby sensory play.
- Salt. (Most babies will take one or two tastes and decide they don’t like it.)
- Large dry pasta. Plain Vanilla Mom used large pasta shells for a first sensory bin.
- Dried out used coffee grounds. (This is what Lewis is exploring in the picture at the top.) I first saw this idea on Creative With Kids.
Cooked Materials: Many of the sensory materials that you would use with an older child an be cooked to make them soft and safe for baby. Using leftovers from dinner is a great option, especially if your family is not good about eating up leftovers.
- Cooked Pasta. Pasta is great because it comes in so many different fun shapes. Add some color or any kind of gooey sauce to add another element of interest. You can even use it in a tub of water. Growing a Jeweled Rose did a great sensory bath with colored spaghetti and alphabet letters. Larger toys could be added in for a younger baby.
- Cooked rice.
- Cooked or canned beans. Learn with Play at home had fun squishing and snacking on baked beans.
- Cooked vegetables or fruits pureed. Or just use some jarred baby food! Hands On As We Grow shared about some fun messy play with jarred peach baby food.
- Cooked fruits or vegetables cut in small pieces.
- Mashed potatoes.
Gooey Things: You can give baby a big bin full and let them squish their hands through. Or use just a small amount, maybe with some food color added and allow them to “paint” with it. Some of these aren’t exactly healthy, but eating a bit while playing isn’t going to hurt baby.
- Jello. You can make it healthier by using plain gelatin and making your own flavors using fruit juice. Train Up a Child made a rainbow Jello bin with lots of colors.
- Yogurt. Fun and healthy. Train Up a Child adds another sensory element by including dried spices for “Yogurt Spice Painting.”
- Whipped cream. Play At Home Mom posted about a body-parts game using colored Cool Whip with baby.
Fresh Produce: These are fun and healthy if baby eats them, but not as cost effective as many of the other options. Be smart about what you are giving baby, and don’t throw away money on expensive fruits and veggies. Buy things on sale. Look for the cheapest option. Use something you already have on hand that is past its prime.
- Melon balls. This great idea is from Play At Home Mom.
- Shredded vegetables, such as carrots. I did this with Lewis and he had fun exploring (and throwing!) the shredded carrots.
- Banana, cut or mashed up.
- Pumpkin guts in the fall.
- Cooked sweet potato.
- Corn kernels, fresh or cooked. (Not dried.)
Recipes: There are a lot of fun sensory materials that you can make using ingredients from your kitchen.
- Baby-safe paint. There are a lot of recipes out there for edible paint, including this one from Train Up a Child.
- Play dough. Read about using play dough with infants on Play At Home Mom. There are tons of recipes for homemade play dough all over the web. It is easy to make your own and know exactly what you are giving baby.
- Oobleck. Train Up a Child wrote about oobleck play with both babies and older children.
- If you are making bread, pie crust, etc. give a small piece to baby for them to squish and explore. (Obviously don’t share cookie dough or anything with raw eggs in it. Also watch out for honey with babies under a year old.) I recently posted about experimenting with playing with a different kind of dough with Lewis.
- Use Kool-Aid powder with a little water for some fun sensory painting. Growing a Jeweled Rose did this with paintbrushes, but a younger child would have fun just smearing with their hands.
- Cloud dough. Learn with Play at home shared a cloud dough recipe. Use cooking oil in place of the baby oil and it is fully safe for baby.
Add-Ins and Variations: Remember that all of this is just suggestions. Play around with your materials and try out new combinations.
- Try freezing a material. Baby will have fun exploring the changing texture as it thaws. The Imagination Tree had fun with frozen Jello. (They added sparkles which obviously should be left out for a baby.)
- Add food coloring.
- Add some ice cubes. Play will change as the cubes melt into the other material.
- Mix two materials from different categories. You could put one material in each end of a bin or in two bins side by side, and let them become mixed as baby plays and explores. Yogurt and cooked rice. Oatmeal and flour. Applesauce and cornstarch. If you are mixing two things that also means you would need a smaller amount of each, which is great if you are using leftovers.
What kind of sensory play have you enjoyed with your baby or young toddler? Did this post help inspire you to try some new materials?
We’ve all used play dough as a child, or given it to our own children to play with. That soft squishy dough is perfect for cutting, molding, squishing, rolling, squeezing. There are tons of recipes out there, and of course the store bought version, and all have a very similar very familiar texture (and saltiness!)
I’ve been thinking about the origins of play dough, and other types of dough. There is bread dough, cookie dough, etc. Play dough is obviously not a dough meant to make food. The results would not be delicious were you to cook it. On the other hand, those “food” type doughs each have their own fun squishy textures. Why don’t you ever read about a lump of bread dough as a sensory play material for kids? Or pie crust dough? That would be more mold-able than bread dough.
I recently posted about making “cloud dough” for Lewis. This mixture of flour and oil is quite crumbly but can be somewhat formed or packed into containers. I’ve also heard it called “moon sand” as the texture is a bit like damp beach sand. We played with it twice and he did enjoy squishing it, putting it on his feet, and of course throwing it. But the second time his play was much shorter and I could tell he was getting bored of it. That kid has a short attention span. I didn’t want to just throw it out as it is still “good” but I didn’t really want to store it somewhere for weeks/months either. So I decided to do a little experiment with it. I added 1/4 c water slowly to the dough and mixed it in bit by bit. As I expected it turned out a bit like pie crust dough, but I decided to continue squishing it and mixing it which made it form together more. It was sort of sticky at first but the more I squished it the more firm and smooth it became and less sticky. It also was quite stretchable.
I gave it to Lewis and he had fun squishing and pulling it for a little while.
I wasn’t sure how messy it would be, but it actually wasn’t messy at all. The only “messy” factor was that it was a bit greasy since I made it with the cloud dough which has a lot of oil in it. Our hands and the floor got slightly oily but that was it.
Lewis tried to taste it several times but each time he spat it out and made a face. The play didn’t last super long and his main reaction seemed to be “What do you expect me to do with this? It clearly is not good for eating, so why are you giving me this? I’m going to go find some of my real toys.”
He does have a pretty short attention span sometimes, and is very oral. He’s usually not too interested in just exploring with his hands, but I’m hoping the more sensory play and different materials I continue to introduce to him, the more he will become interested and begin exploring and playing in different ways. I saved the dough in a baggy in the fridge so we can try playing with it again tomorrow, and we can see how different it is when it is cold.
They have been working on re-doing some of the walkways in front of the buildings in our apartment complex the past couple weeks. Lewis and I have been enjoying seeing some of the construction vehicles and men working when we go for our daily walks. We’ve seen a “digger,” dump truck, pick-up trucks, mini bulldozer type thingy, and a concrete mixer. Hmm. I think I need to brush up on my construction vehicles if I’m going to be Mommy to a little boy!
Yesterday they started work in front of our building. They only did a small section of our walkway as most of it is still in good condition. I am fine with this as I’d rather not be trapped inside with dirt/wet concrete immediately outside our door. We watched out the window as they used the digger to rip up the old sidewalk yesterday. Today they built a frame and filled it with concrete. Lewis enjoyed watching the trucks and men working, but his favorite thing is the traffic cones they left to mark the area!
Seriously, how cute is this?
In the past week Lewis has been gaining more and more confidence in himself and his ability to stand without support. At first if Chris or I let go of him he would only continue standing if there was something in his hands that was distracting him, and he’d plop down after about 10-15 seconds, or even sooner. He’s getting to the point now where he will willingly let go of his support to stand on his own, and a few times he’s stood for close to a minute before going down to the floor or grabbing back out for something to hold onto.
Over the weekend he has been doing especially well with this, and he even dared to take a step forward a few times! So far it has been tiny little steps or just a half a step and then he stands still again or topples forward, but it is still exciting. It seems he needs a strong motivator to get him to step forward most of the time. He did it once while playing with Daddy, another time to get closer to the vacuum cleaner which he loves and is one of his favorite “toys” to inspect/play with, and a third time I saw him do it was when he was trying to steal my string cheese (and yes, I let him take it and share some bites.) Clearly this child has his priorities straight of the things that matter in life.
Since he has been doing so awesome with his standing I decided to get a little video of him today. He surprised me by taking one of his tiny steps forward!
I am so proud of him, and I can tell he is proud of himself every time he stands a little longer and shows himself how strong he is.