Curious babies might be stuck indoors during lockdown, but there's no need for them to miss out. Parents will find there are just as many fascinating sensory activities for babies inside the house as there are outside. All that's needed is imagination and patience for you to bring these DIY baby sensory ideas to life. We promise you'll have as much fun making them as your baby will have toying with them so bookmark this list as it will be one to come back to later.
Treasure baskets are one of the most ingenious sensory play ideas for your babies and takes hardly any time to create. It gives babies who are just months old a chance to explore everyday items around the home which they can't yet pull from every nook and cranny. The objects in the basket should ideally be a mixture of different textures, surfaces, sizes, shapes, colours and smells, but most importantly, safe to touch.
Wicker baskets are a great texture for little hands, but use any container you have for the treasure basket. Lots of parenting websites suggest giving each treasure basket a theme so think bath accessories (loofah, bath brush, pumice stone, flannel, soap), kitchen items (baby cutlery, salt and pepper shaker, a bag of rice, fridge magnets) — and so on.
Touch is one of a baby's main senses and their skin is incredibly sensitive so any activities where they feel soft textures on their skin will make them cheerful and content. We have more than 7,000 nerve endings in each foot and it's one of the areas on your baby's body which is most sensitive to touch as well as their hands, face, mouth and stomach. Simply take a feather and run it along the soles of your baby's feet and palm of their hands, their back and belly then watch them giggle and squirm. Keep a few feathers handy for them to play with by themselves too, perhaps after you've tickled their nose.
Most teething rings are designed to double up as baby sensory toys because learning to grasp them lets kids develop their motor skills. To make a teething ring from scratch is a bit more effort, although there are kits you can buy to save time. Ribbon teethers, on the other hand, add strips of vibrant colour to sensory play as well as texture for babies to explore. One website lists 15 different types of ribbon from silk, satin, brocade, tulle and velvet that your baby could play with.
You'll Need: A set of untreated, organic wooden teethers and different ribbons of about 30 inches in length.
Wrap each ribbon through the ring and create a knot at the top so it won't unravel and your DIY sensory toy is complete. For the really crafty among you, try using longer pieces of ribbon and secure beads along the length to give your baby more play options while they self-soothe.
Disco lights are a must-feature in any sensory play ideas list. Babies can be lulled into calm or be revved up with different coloured lights. Watching colours mix and seeing how light and shadow is created becomes part of the sensory play experience and there are different ways to create this at home.
Switching off the overhead lights and turning on a disco ball can be wonderfully calming for all the family. If that's too stimulating, try using a torch to create patterns on the walls or produce your own shadow puppet theatre show. Candles will make similar illustrations on the walls too and will last a long time until they burn out or baby falls asleep — whichever comes first. If you want to push illuminated sensory play to the DIY max, try to make your own lightbox.
Our idea of time well spent making a sensory play toy is when it can be adapted to a child as they age. Sensory bottles are a whole new world in a cylinder for your little one to explore and another of the play activities that can be themed to explore different natural environments or your child's interests. Sensory bottles, also known as 'calm down jars' because of the meditative effect it has on children, can be water-based or kept dry. Everyday items and clear plastic bottles are all you need to make one.
Fill the sensory bottle with things like glitter, dyed rice, bright beads, shiny buttons, paper clips, water beads, shells, moon sand, marbles and we've even seen scrabble pieces put inside, which would be a fun toddler sensory game. An oil and water mix would make a simple lava-type effect inside the bottle but ordinary water is fine too — just be sure to use hot glue to secure the bottle lid once you're happy with it.
You may be surprised to learn that tin foil is used in sensory play, but think about how shiny and noisy it is. We completely understand why a baby would love laying and rolling on a sheet of crinkly foil. Sensory activities can be simple and this is a great example. We've seen babies on their tummies kicking the foil with their feet, which strengthens their whole body as they push up on their hands, and they'll love hearing the sound they're making. Kidadler Beth, whose baby boy is five months old, says: "He's shocked by the tin foil when he first lies on it because it's so different, but then he starts using his hands and feet to touch it. I also hold it in front of him while he's on his back and use the tin foil as a mirror. I'll scrunch some up too so he can feel it." Just be careful your baby doesn't put any in their mouth though.
Our sense of smell is more powerful than people realise but tends to be more neglected. Sensory for babies should always encourage them to use their sense of smell as best as you can so we wanted to share some aromatic ideas to support this development.
If you're already using wax melts at home, why not waft a few under your baby's nose and let their reaction show you which scents they like or loathe? Water scented with essential oils or food extracts, cordial or pureed fruit can all be frozen into ice cubes for sensory play activities and also messy play ideas for toddlers. If fruit is used, your baby can taste and play with the fruit once it's thawed out, which will use lots of senses at once. The scents could even change each month to reflect the changing seasons so to bring the outdoors in.
Have you watched any YouTube videos of babies playing with balloons tied to their wrist and ankles? We promise you, it's the cutest thing ever. Seeing how much they laugh is adorable. Of course, not every baby likes balloons, but as far as sensory play activities, this one is so easy. To engage more of the senses, you could get creative and add large buttons or beads, or chocolate buttons and sweets inside to add some noise. As long as the balloons haven't been over-inflated, they shouldn't pop.
Your little ones will be lifting their arms and legs to move the balloons so it ticks a lot of sensory boxes — coordination, strength and keeping them happy. Different colours emotionally affect babies in different ways too, but all colours will stimulate their brain. Once the balloons have been secured onto string, loosely make a bow around your baby or toddler's wrists and/or ankles and leave them to play, kick and punch.
These dehydrated plastic balls inspire lots of fantastic play ideas your baby can enjoy as they grow older. Babies will just want to sink their hands into a tub of water beads, with or without extra water, to squish and squash them. For older toddlers, you'll be able to help them understand the science of what makes them expand in the water or bounce.
Bring the multicoloured beads to life by soaking them in water for several hours until they're the size of a marble and then they're ready to play with. Store them hydrated in a sandwich bag in the fridge or dehydrate them on a tray and they'll keep for weeks. The best play ideas with water beads are to add them to a sensory bucket with other things like scoops and squeezy toys. Toddlers can fill pastry cutters with them to incorporate other learning about shapes or get messy by adding shaving foam. Keep a close eye on your baby during this one if they're at the age when everything goes into their mouth.
Auntie to four nieces and nephews, living in Birmingham. It's very easy to become a passerby in the town or city you live in, Vicky says, so instead, she makes an effort to be a tourist wherever she’s calling “home” that year. A 'yes' person and used to relocating, Vicky will try most new experiences at least once and is known to always be WhatsApping events to her friends. With so many of those friends being mums – Vicky Googles child-friendly activities far more than nights out on the town.