Every parent knows that babies and toddlers have a natural curiosity to engage in the world around them. Sensory play for babies and sensory play for toddlers utilizes that natural urge and helps guide them to further develop cognitive and motor skills. Sensory play for babies versus sensory play for toddlers can look different depending on age, and together we can explore those details and what they look like for your toddler or baby.
The importance of sensory play cannot be overstated. Sensory play benefits include brain development, creating stronger connections to sensory information, increased hand-eye coordination, and bonding time with caregivers as sensory play almost always includes you in some way (especially sensory play for babies). In fact, quality time spent with our kids is probably one of the best side-effects of sensory play as children thrive off of love and attention.
What is Sensory Play?
The definition of sensory play is any activity that stimulates the five senses of a child. These are touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing. Sensory play also includes any activity that makes a child move or practice balancing. That being said, the definition of sensory play can be applied to a wide variety of age-appropriate activities for both babies and toddlers. Sensory play is a concept that can be easily integrated into our everyday life and is a fun way to engage with our kids.
The Benefits of Sensory Play for Babies and Toddlers
There are lots of benefits of sensory play for babies and toddlers. Engaging the minds of our preschoolers and babies through sensory play and experiences also keeps them happy and occupied throughout the day.
Sensory development in children is probably the biggest benefit of sensory play. Sensory experiences for toddlers and babies help develop skills such as motor skills, language, scientific thinking, and problem-solving.
Sensory play for preschoolers and babies fosters creativity and encourages children to explore their world in new ways.
You can introduce your little one into the creative world of art, via painting. Check out our post on the benefits of painting.
Cognitive Development & Problem Solving
Sensory development in children is the foundation for cognitive development and problem solving, as sensory experiences engage scientific processes such as testing hypothesis (I think this will happen when I do this), experimenting with new things (what happens when I put this and this together?) and coming to conclusions (this happened when I did that!).
A simple sensory activity example are puzzles. Check out our post on the benefits of puzzles.
The benefits of sensory activities also apply to language development. As kids build new nerve connections in the brain through problem-solving and sensory play, it leads to the ability to create even more nerve connections and do more complex tasks such as language development. Learning to communicate with friends and family through sensory activities is a positive way to develop healthy social skills as well.
Developing motor skills is another benefit of sensory activities. Any activity that involves balancing or body awareness is considered sensory development for children, as those types of physical movements, teach them where their bodies are in space and increase the muscle strength necessary for coordination.
Sensory Activities for Toddlers
So now that we’ve covered the benefits of sensory activities, let’s talk about some specific sensory activity ideas you can do with your toddler. Keep in mind sensory activities for toddlers are going to look a little different than for babies.
- Sensory bags for toddlers are easy to make (just use a gallon zip-lock bag) and require little imagination to turn into a fun sensory activity.
- Sensory boards for toddlers are a great way to use up random knick-knacks around your home and put them to good use. Sensory boards for toddlers are available to buy but are also easy to make if you have some strong glue or a screw-gun and a large piece of board.
- Texture activities for toddlers can range from sensory bins to playing with shaving cream in the bathtub.
- Sensory books for toddlers are a mess-free way to get your toddler to use their hands to engage with reading.
- Rice play for toddlers can either be incorporated into a sensory bin or in the kitchen.
- Sensory play with food is probably the easiest way to incorporate sensory activities into your daily life. One of my favorite ways to do this is to have your toddler help you make an appetizer tray dinner for the whole family – that way everyone is involved and gets to enjoy a variety of little bites and talk about the different colours, tastes, and textures. Plus, this activity encourages toddler independence.
Sensory Activities for Babies
Sensory development activities for babies can be simpler versions of sensory activities for toddlers. As your baby grows, you can scale up these activities for sensory development.
- Baby-led weaning.
- Fill up a variety of different-sized empty bottles during bathtime and let them dump out the water and fill it back up again and again.
- Feel the texture of grass with feet and hands.
- Read sensory books.
- Play with sensory bags.
Sensory Toys for Toddlers
Sensory exploration for toddlers can range from activities made at home or sensory toys for toddlers. If you would rather buy a sensory toy versus make your own, there are plenty of options available online or in stores.
Sensory Toys for Babies
If you are shopping for sensory toys for babies, keep in mind they need to be simple, durable, and safe as babies tend to use their mouths to explore new textures and smells more than toddlers.