Sensory play is critical for babies’ developing brains, and you’ll enjoy watching as your child discovers new textures and learns about cause and effect, all while having tons of fun. Try these easy DIY ideas (many use household items you already have, like baby safe paint!) to stimulate baby’s senses and satisfy their need for exploration.
Bubbles! Grab your hand mixer, dish soap, water and food coloring to make this foamy soap that will entrance your child. Spoon it into a tray or low plastic bowl and add plastic animals or bath toys for even more fun. If you can't play outside, lay down a large towel underneath or put your tray in the bathtub for minimal mess. This good, clean fun doubles as an easy way to clean some kid toys. Get the recipe at Little Bins for Little Hands.
Hands On As We Grow has an anthropological spin on the snack-time favorite by suggesting you insert small toys (or beans, rice or beads) into the Jell-o, 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. Your child will probably smell the fruity Jell-o, but if they take a nibble, watch closely for any choking hazards. 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.
The Sweet Sound of Velcro
The family at Mama.Papa.Bubba discovered their little one’s fascination with VELCRO and share lots of creative ways to use it to engage your curious kid. 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.
On warm days, these sponge bombs are fun for kids of all ages. Your littlest explorer will be fascinated by the shape, color and texture 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.
Bubbles & Blocks
And speaking of bubbles.... Mama.Papa.Bubba put them together with DUPLO bricks for an easy way to keep kids entertained for a long time. Lay down a towel or plastic tablecloth, and fill a plastic container with blocks, soapy water (use baby wash or dish soap) and a dish brush or sponges. Then watch as your child explores the bricks, splashes the water, plays with the bubbles and picks up the scrubber to get those bricks clean.
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, 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.
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 a choking hazard.
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 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 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 resealable 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 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. Raid 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.
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.
It's in the Bag
These baby sensory bags are so cool, older kids will want to have a go. They're made using resealable 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.
All children love water play. To entrance younger kids, you just need to 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 the 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 shares the instructions, which involve putting nails into a cardboard tube and filling it with small items (like rice, lentils and 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 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.
—Elizabeth Carr & Gabby Cullen