Not-So-Messy Sensory Fun

A common question that comes up in TAPS group is, “What should I be doing with my baby all day long?” Usually I answer this question with a smile and say, “You’re already doing it!”

You’re talking to your baby, showing your baby how to be calm and helping them take in all of the sights, sounds, textures, tastes and smells that are a new experience for your little one both inside and outside of your home. The world is a huge sensory experience!

Check out these 5 easy ways you can incorporate sensory play into your baby’s daily rhythm at home.

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1) Garden Experience:

Go outside. Ask your baby “What do you hear? What do you see?” And observe their reactions. Did a bird chirp? Did the wind blow against baby’s face? Is baby curious about how grass, dirt, and bark feel? Describe what is going on around you. Follow your baby’s eyes and describe what she is looking at. Carry her to a tree and let her feel the leaves, the bark, and twigs. Does she like it? Does she crinkle up her face and turn away from it? Let her sit in the grass after the dew has dried and spend time feeling it. Is it scratchy? Or smooth? Show her something far away to engage her eye sight - is there a bird in the sky or up in a tree? Is someone walking across the street? Tell her about it and give her time to respond. This kind of back and forth conversation combined with the sensory experience of the outdoor world is the perfect way to stimulate your baby’s senses while calmly introducing them to the natural world. Your conversation will also build vocabulary!

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2) Get Cooking:

Do you like to cook or bake? Involve your baby! while your preparing your meal, get out the spices and waft them underneath your baby’s nose. Do this a few times and observe his response. Smelling all different types of spices! Does his face change? Doe he lean in to some and turn away from others? Tell your baby about the spices, saying “This one tastes spicy!” or “This one is mommy’s favorite!” Water is usually calming for babies, so a little bit of water in the sink or a bowl and a towel underneath on the floor can be entertaining for a long time while you accomplish tasks in the kitchen. Narrate your cooking experiences and show your baby all of the different tools and ingredients you’re using. The more your talk to your baby about what you’re doing, the more you’re building his vocabulary! When your child is a little older, let them help you wash the dishes, stir in a bowl or scramble your eggs. Salad spinners were one of my favorite tools as a child because I could use the tool really vigorously and not worry about breaking it - and it was also really fun to watch the bowl spin after I got it running. Remember that the kitchen can also be a danger zone, so monitor and hold your child when you bring them in to smell the smells and help with stirring.

3) Clean Paint:

Playing with paint doesn’t have to be messy! For your babies, put some paint in a zip lock bag and let them squeeze it and pat it. The squishy sounds and textures and especially interesting to toddlers. Tape a bag with paint in it to a window and let your 9 - 18 month old practice using their pointing motion to tap dots in the paint and then watch as the paint fills in the dots again.

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4) Finger paint with Food:

Caveat - this one is actually messy. When you do art with your little ones, remember that the PROCESS is more important that the PRODUCT and food is so much fun to paint with! Dipping fingers or Puffs tapped into a small amount of pureed food, jelly, or yogurt and then dotted on paper or a high chair tray is a fun way to show your baby cause and effect and let them experiment with their fine motor skills. Once your child develops a pincer action with their forefinger and thumb, picking up a puff or a cheerio and dropping it is super fun! You can do this dry as well! I suggest using purees, jelly, or yogurt rather than paint because babies under a year just love putting things in their mouth and this makes meal time fun. Using a smearable food and letting them finger paint with it lets them experiment and takes the pressure off you to keep it out of their mouth. Do this during meal time and accomplish two things at once! This is also a no-pressure way to introduce new tastes to your baby.

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5) Household Objects:

Rainy days can be fun with sensory experiences too! Take your baby on a tour of your house. Point to objects and describe them to her. Observe where her eyes are looking and tell her about the things that she is interested in. Let her touch the walls, the carpet, the floor, a book, a toy, a pet and describe how it feels. What in your house makes noise? Does your refrigerator make hissing sounds when it makes ice? Does the air conditioner or heater blow air from a vent? Explore all of the textures in your house and see what interests your baby.

Most importantly, take this time to get to know your baby. Is your baby sensitive to light? Do loud sounds make him tense? Do certain textures make him squirm? If your baby gets fussy while you’re playing, he may be telling you he’s tired or is ready for a change. Respond to your baby’s cues and you will be well on your way to building a loving, trust based relationship with your child..

Have fun!