Babies are born prepared to experience their world around them. Our babies can hear their mothers’ hearts beating, their fathers’ voices, or the music on the radio. After being born, they mouth, chew, and nibble on objects as there are more nerve-ending in their mouth than any other place on their body. Toddlers learn about their foods by mashing, pouring, or squishing it through their fingers, which support their understanding of texture. They intensely look at highly contrasting colours in a painting or book. By using their senses, our little ones are familiarizing themselves with their world and comforting themselves. All of this comes naturally to them!
Our children’s brains develop because of these sensory experiences. Therefore, we want to support them by providing them with opportunities to activity use their senses. Below are a number of ways you can encourage your baby's/toddler's sensory development.
Play Eclectic Music
I like to think we listen to an eclectic range of music in our home. But, I was recently surprised when Eleanor went nuts rocking out to “Cut Me Some Slack,” performed by Paul McCartney and Nirvana at the 12-12-12 Hurricane Sandy benefit. Now, we’ve started listening to more alternative music.
Bake/Cook with your Baby
Since I’m at home with Eleanor all day, I spend a lot of my time cooking with her. We turn many meals into an experience where I allow her to feel, smell and taste the ingredients.
Play with “Goop,” Playdough, Shaving Cream and Other Tacile Materials
“Goop” is magical! It’s a mixture of cornstarch and water that acts as a liquid and solid. Eleanor is amused with how this material reacts to her touch. Playdough is another staple “ingredient” in our home. We made pumpkin pie playdough at Thanksgiving and it’s kept in our refrigerator this whole time. I substituted ginger and clover for the pumpkin pie spice. I’m looking forward to trying glow-in-the-dark playdough next! And, bathtime is more fun when we paint the tub with a mixture of shaving cream and food colouring.
Create a sensory blanket, “I Spy” bags/bottles, or sensory balloons
Eleanor, like most little ones, is enamoured with anything she can manipulate with her hands. She was very fond of the colours and textures of the sensory blanket used during our last Intellidance Babies class (the sensory play class). The Sewing Dork has a tutorial on how to make a small sensory blanket, or you can purchase one from Undercover Works at the Strathcona Farmers Market.
And, you can read my recent blog post on sensory balloons here.
Create a Ball Pit
This is another idea I learned about from Jessica, the owner of Intellidance. Fill an inflatable pool or playpen with a set of 100 “replacement” balls that can be purchased at Toys R’ Us for about $15-$20 and you have hours of entertainment with your baby! Can't find balls? Buy pool noodles on clearance at the end of summer season and cut them into smaller pieces to replace the balls.
Rip paper into strips
Rip paper? I know what you’re thinking. How can this be a sensory activity? But, seriously, if you haven’t tried this with your baby before, you should. The sound of the paper ripping is acoustically-pleasing. Visually, babies enjoy seeing something large diminish. And, when you’re done you can fill your ball pit with the paper for a different sensory activity than the balls. Still don’t believe me, check out this video! The baby’s giggles will warm your heart.
Read touchy-feely books
Usborne Children’s Books has a collection of touchy-feely books called, “That’s Not My...” It’s a huge collection, so you can choose your baby’s favourite animal, vehicle, mythical creature, etc. We have “That’s Not My Penguin.” Eleanor loves rubbing her fingers along the penguin’s velvety wings and stroking its silky head with her cheek.
Visit the Art Gallery of Alberta
Babies love the contrasting colours displayed in art, and the Alberta Art Gallary (AGA) is great place to take them. Children under 6 are free; strollers are permitted, though if it’s busy they may ask you to leave them in the coat-check; and they have Tours for Tots for 3-5 year olds on Wednesdays from 10-11am, which is free with admission. The AGA also offers free admission on the last Thursday of every month from 6-9pm thanks to Servus Credit Union; you’ll definitely want to wear your baby on these nights as it can get busy! Not local to Edmonton? Check out your local Art Gallary for special events and children's programs.
Babies are delighted by bubbles! By the end of my Intellidance Tykes sessions, most of the wee ones in the room are shouting, “bubbles, bubbles” when they see the bubbles float across the room. At a very early age, bubbles can support your baby’s vision development. Later, it will support her fine motor skills as she tries to pop the floating bubbles.
Whatever sensory activity you do, use language to support their learning. “The cornstarch goop is sticky.” “I like listening to the slow music.” “Look how vibrant the colours are.” “Observe how the cake is rising in the oven.”
Benefits of Sensory Play
Sensory play allows babies to make sense of their world around them. It helps them to develop personal preferences (e.g., “I enjoy hip-hop to country music.”), which will support them in communicating their likes/dislikes and establishing their self-identity. They strengthen their fine motor skills by explore different materials and their gross motor skills by moving through space. Sensory play supports babies’ social development through turn-taking, problem solving, and cooperation. Lastly, sensory play is fun and engaging for the whole family!