Babies love to explore with their highly tuned senses. Not only is sensory play critical for their developing brains, but it can be deeply rewarding for you to watch quietly as your baby discovers new textures, learns about cause and effect, and figurse out what makes the world go round. Try these easy DIY ideas (many use household items you may already have!) to stimulate your baby’s senses and engage their need for exploration.

The Sweet Sound of Velcro

What is more satisfying than the sound of Velcro coming apart? The wise folks at Mama Pappa Bubba discovered their little one’s fascination with Velcro and share lots of creative ways to use it to engage your curious toddler. Velcro can be used on its own, so kids can learn about how it sticks together and comes apart, or with different materials (think shoelaces, stuffed animals, socks) so they can figure out what sticks and what doesn’t. This is a no-mess activity, making it a great choice for days when you just can’t clean up another spill.

 

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Jiggling Jello

Hands On As We Grow has a brilliant spin on the snack-time favorite by suggesting that you insert small toys (or beans or rice or beads) into the Jello, let it set, and then let your little one study how objects are suspended inside and dig into it to see what they can extract. Since Jello is edible, it's okay if curiosity gets the best of your babe and they take a nibble. But it can get messy, so you might want to lay down a towel or tray, or take this project outside or into the tub to minimize clean up.

Sponge Bombs

Weather warming up? These sponge bombs are fun for kids of all ages. Your littlest explorer will be fascinated by the shape, color and textures of the sponges, and how they absorb and release water, while older kids can play catch, surprise friends with an unexpected shower, or score baskets. These can also be enjoyed in the bath or in your kitchen (perhaps with cookie sheets or towels to contain the water). Find out how to make them at Inner Child Fun

Cotton Ball Bonanza

Want to take a quick shower? Let your child entertain themselves with a container of water and some cotton balls. As with most sensory play, however, simpler is often better when it comes to engaging little minds. Kids can explore how cotton balls absorb water, how the water comes out when you squeeze them, and how dry cotton balls stick together and come apart. This easy, inexpensive idea comes from Fun at Home with Kids.

Super Seeds

Also from our friends at Fun at Home with Kids is this edible, safe-for-little-mouths activity that uses basil seeds instead of the more common water beads. These seeds absorb water, resulting in a squishy, jelly-like consistency, and can be dyed any color you like. From there, your little one can scoop, pour, fill, empty, press, swirl and more, all without you worrying about her swallowing any.

Toddler Tunnel

The folks at Toddler Approved are onto something with this simple yet brilliant idea to attach ribbons of varying lengths, widths, and textures to an old box and letting your little one to crawl in and out, feel the ribbons passing over their body, drag the box around, and play peek-a-boo with it. This creation can be left out and re-used or re-purposed, given it extra longevity and entertainment value.

Cool Painting Trick

On a warm day, try out this idea from Domestic Mommyhood: painting with colored ice cubes. Using ice trays from your freezer, liquid watercolor and tap water, make ice cubes and then head outside with some big sheets of white paper and watch kids use them like crayons to make their own masterpiece. Holding onto slippery ice cubes is a great way for little fingers to practice their grip strength, and we love that any mess from this activity is left outside.

Wonderful, Colorful Water Beads

Pop by any preschool classroom and you’re likely to find kids and parents equally enamored with water beads. Something about their squishy texture just screams “play with me!” However, because they aren’t edible, sharing them with young children means getting creative. Meri Cherry has the great idea to fill Ziplock bags with these beads, seal ‘em up with duct tape, and let your little one squish, mush and roll to their heart’s content (under your supervision, of course).

Welcome to the Coffee Shop

This coffee shop activity from Happy Hooligans combines two of our favorite things: imaginative play and sensory exploration. With just a few ingredients, including sand, water, dish soap and coffee cups, your toddler can set up a play coffee shop and explore mixing ingredients in different proportions and take turns serving your family, all while learning about cause and effect, textures, and the basics of running their own restaurant.

A Rainbow of Exploration

Fill a container of any size and shape with almost any assortment of objects and voila! Instant entertainment for your little one. Little Bins for Little Hands tells you all you need to know to make one (or several bins) using items already in your home. Consider raiding the pantry for beans, rice or cereal; head to the kitchen for measuring cups, spoons and whisks; duck into the yard for flowers, grass, pinecones and rocks; or hit up your closet for bracelets, shoelaces, old keys and buttons.

Rice, Rice, Baby

One of our favorite bloggers, Fun at Home with Kids, came up with a fun (and super-easy) idea for rice play. Why rice? It makes a neat swishy sound and is safer than sand for babies who put everything (and we mean everything!) in their mouths. Just add a tray and some wooden toys and your tot will be occupied for a good chunk of time.

Spectacular Spaghetti

What’s colorful, slimy and completely fascinating? Cooked spaghetti. Spice it up with a bit of color, throw in some alphabet shapes and you have an afternoon of sensory play for wandering toes, exploring mouths and bright eyes. It's another great idea from Anna at The Imagination Tree.

photo: Jen Haas

It's in the Bag

These baby sensory bags are so cool, older kids will want to have a go. They're made using Ziplock bags and hair gel. Fill 'em with all kinds of items, from hair bands to buttons, so baby will have interesting things to squish and push. Tip from blogger Jen, a.k.a Plain Vanilla Mom: Seal the bag with duct tape to keep contents contained.

photo: Amanda Rueter

Splish, Splash!

All children love water play. For younger kids, dribble a little water on a cooking sheet, add a couple balls, and watch baby explore the wet space. Get more on this from the mama at Dirt and Boogers.

Pinterest for Babies

Make a cool "pin" board in a flash. Just grab the hot glue and some kid-friendly scraps you may have lying around the house for an eclectic collection of textures and colors. Check out Laughing Kids Learn for a fab DIY guide.

 

Make It Rain

Rain sticks take take some time and work to create, but this is a musical instrument that will keep kids engaged for a long time. The Imagination Tree has the DIY, which involves putting nails into a cardboard tube and then filling it with small items (rice, lentils, barley) to make interesting sounds. Use one item per tube so each will make a different sound, just perfect for an impromptu jam session.

Star Light, Star Bright

Fill a jar with twinkle lights for your child's own personal light show! Watch them roll it, bang on it, even gnaw on the jar. Just make sure that top is on tightly. Dayna and the gang at Lemon Lime Adventures can show you how it’s done.

 

Rolling in the Dough

Soft and shimmery, light and flaky, this baby-safe cloud dough is made with just two ingredients (whole-grain rice cereal and coconut oil) and is safe for wee ones to get in their hands, hair and even mouths. Head to the Lemon Lime Adventures blog for supermom Dayna's recipe for cloud dough.

How do you make fun sensory play for baby? Let us know in the comments!

— Elizabeth Carr & Gabby Cullen