Baby Sensory Activities: A Guide to Promote Healthy Development

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Once the initial awe of holding that sweet bundle in your arms has passed, you may feel a great weight of responsibility settle on your shoulders to give your baby the absolute best: "What can I do to give my baby the best start in life?"

Baby sensory activities help your baby explore the world around them, improve their overall well-being, and develop their cognitive, physical, and emotional skills. For example, activities like music, tummy time, and playing with sensory toys are essential for your baby's healthy development.

In this guide, we will explore some of the best baby sensory activities you can try at home to promote your little one's healthy development for early childhood and beyond.

Why Are Sensory Activities Important for Babies?

Babies have a natural curiosity to explore the world around them---and amazingly, you don't have to teach them this! Sensory activities provide your baby with opportunities to engage their senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and even taste.

These activities help babies learn about the world while also developing their all-important physical and cognitive skills, like hand-eye coordination, pushing up, rolling over, sitting up, pulling up, grabbing, pulling, pinching, listening, smelling, tasting, and identifying textures and materials.

Sensory activities play a crucial role in brain development as well. As a baby works on grasping, pulling, and experiencing various activities, food, and sensory toys, they are building neural connections (source).

Perhaps less obvious is the role of sensory activities in helping babies grow in social health. Parents who spend lots of time holding their baby, looking them in the eye, talking to them, and playing with them encourage social connection and sensory stimulation, a combination essential to building relationships later in life (source).

In other words, sensory activities help babies build an understanding of the physical world around them and how it works!

Types of Sensory Activities for Babies

There are many different sensory activities you can try with your baby, but there is one common thread underlying them all: your baby is the doer, not the passive watcher. Your baby must be the one doing the exploring, not idly sitting by watching things happen.

For more on why this is important, read Are Montessori Toys Better for My Baby? There, we thoroughly explain sensory toys and their role in a child's early development.

Here are some of the most popular baby sensory activities you can do at home anytime.

1. Tummy Time

Tummy time is crucial for babies because it helps them develop their neck, back, and shoulder muscles. At first, a baby will only be able to lift his or her head, but with some time and practice, he or she will begin pushing up onto their hands for a better view and even roll over.

You can make tummy time more sensory by placing different textures and toys around your baby to encourage them to reach and explore. One of the easiest ways to do this is by laying your baby on a quilt with blocks of various fabric colors and textures. Placing a sensory toy or two nearby will give your baby something to move toward and grasp.

As your baby grows and becomes more able-bodied and mobile, you can prepare an area on the floor with lots of fun things for little hands to feel.

2. Sensory Bins

Sensory bins are containers filled with materials your baby can touch and explore. You can fill these bins with rice, sand, or water and add toys to encourage exploration. Baby should be able to sit up before introducing this activity.

Be mindful that the bin should be heavier than your baby because he or she may attempt to pull up or push up on the side. Also, most babies will try to explore these little bits with their mouths. You should be right beside your little one as he or she experiences small materials.

Here are a few ideas:

  • sponges in water
  • measuring cups in sand
  • glitter and water in a closed water bottle
  • marbles in a sealed bottle
  • different materials glued to a piece of cardboard
  • ice cubes in a bowl
  • frozen peas in a bowl

For babies not yet sitting up, you can fill bottles with marbles, bubbles, glitter, or rice, glue the lid back on the top, and let your baby roll it around. Another option is to fill a Ziploc bag with something interesting (frozen peas, colored dots, cornstarch and water, etc.) and let your little one squeeze and mash it.

3. Music and Singing

Babies love music and singing! Whether you play a song on your phone or sing to baby yourself, your little one will relish listening to melodies and watching you sing to them or dance.

You will also encourage your baby to listen and explore by listening to various types of music. Encourage even more giggles and connection by picking baby up and dancing together! It is such a joy when your little one bounces and dances to his or her favorite tunes.

4. Mirror Games

Place your baby in front of a well-secured mirror or hold a hand-held mirror in front of them so they can see their own reflection and interact with it. Some baby toys come with an unbreakable mirror for your baby to handle and giggle at.

You can go a step further by sitting behind your baby while naming and pointing at parts of your baby's body or naming emotions as you show them with your own face in the mirror. As they get older, you can even ask them to point to their eyes, nose, mouth, and ears or make those funny faces in the mirror.

Mirror games are excellent for helping your little one develop body awareness, see emotions, and connect with you.

5. Look at Pictures

Looking at and talking about pictures in a photo album, around the house, or in a picture book is a wonderful way to tell your little one about their family members, friends, and the world beyond the walls of your home.

Before your baby can communicate with words, facial expressions help him or her understand. Smiling, in particular, represents safety and security in a healthy family. By sharing about family and friends with your little one as you show their smiling faces in pictures, you are helping them recognize smiles and eventually foster a sense of belonging.

6. Watch Moving Objects

Watching moving objects like fan blades, leaves blowing in the breeze, or shadows on a wall is fantastic for capturing and holding your baby's attention. Focusing on movement helps your little one develop object-tracking skills visually.

Taking your baby for a walk outside or simply sitting still in the backyard allows your baby to see movement that he or she will not see inside. At first, infants cannot see very far, but a baby's eyesight is improving rapidly throughout the first year (source). There are several ways you can do this inside and outside--ensure you mix it up often!

7. Suck on Clean Toys

This seems like an odd one, but babies really like to explore by tasting everything. From sucking on fingers and pacifiers to chewing on everything while teething, sucking and chewing are important ways for babies to discover the world around them.

The trick is making sure your baby doesn't get anything harmful or tiny into his or her mouth. You can do this preemptively by preparing a play area beforehand with safe toys for chewing and slobbering on. Moonkie's silicone toys and teethers are perfect for this!

Tips for Creating a Sensory Environment for Your Baby

Creating a sensory environment for your baby is essential to promoting healthy development. Little ones with a prepared space for exploration are more likely to stay safe and learn more.

a sensory environment

Here are some tips to help you create a sensory-rich environment for your baby.

1. Use Lots of Textures

Use different textures throughout your home, especially in the areas your baby can reach. Soft blankets, hard toys, rough carpets, fluffy pillows, and smooth tables are all great textures to have around your home for your baby to feel.

Among the baby toys, having a variety of sensory toys that you rotate out now and then is a superb way to encourage your baby to explore without risking lost interest.

2. Use Distinct Colors

Various colors throughout your home will help your baby develop their visual skills. They will learn to distinguish between contrasting colors, look for desired items by color, and eventually describe what something looks like by color.

You can decorate the nursery room or play area with bright, bold colors to draw your baby's eyes from point to point. It is normal for your little one to be drawn to different colors at different stages in their development. Provide them the colors, and baby will do the rest!

3. Use a Variety of Scents

Allowing a variety of scents to waft around your home will develop your baby's sense of smell and help them associate specific smells with certain areas and food.

You can do this in numerous ways; here are just a few ideas: 

  • baby-friendly essential oils in diffusers in each room
  • baking often in the kitchen
  • washing pets now and then
  • using scented cleaning products
  • scented candles placed well above baby's reach

Whatever you choose for scenting your home, do your homework to ensure you are not filling your house with heavy chemicals that can actually harm or overwhelm your baby. Early on, your baby's favorite scent is you, so make sure that he or she has plenty of time with you as well!

4. Play Unique Sounds

Setting up items with unique sounds around your home will engage your baby's listening skills. Everything from your voice, white noise machines, music, and windchimes are all great options.

You can also add toys that make noises when your baby interacts with them. Ideally, you won't use electric toys that play on their own; instead, opt for wooden blocks, hollow shapes, and silicone baby toys that make interesting noises when clanked, stacked, or tossed.

5. Create a Safe and Comfortable Space

Creating a safe and comfortable space for your little one to explore is crucial for baby's healthy development and mommy's sanity!

Here are are few things to consider:

  • soft furniture
  • corner covers
  • outlet covers
  • rounded edges
  • a rug on hard floors
  • baby gates in doorways and stairways your baby has no business exploring
  • keep pet food and toys out of reach
  • put curtains out of reach
  • cover trash cans

There are far more ways your mischievous little one will get into trouble as time goes on. Always keep a close eye on your baby and plan ahead to keep him or her out of things you know he or she would want to explore. Exploring is not bad, but providing a safe place to explore puts mommy at ease!

Baby Sensory Toys

Baby sensory toys are designed to engage one or more of your little one's senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Touch is the most apparent sense engaged by toys, but thoughtfully designed toys can engage multiple senses while exercising your baby's hand-eye coordination, pairing skills, and spatial recognition.

Moonkie baby sensory toys

Anyone who has spent a little time watching a six-month-old explore a space, fixate on a ceiling fan, or taste anything they can grab has seen a baby use their senses to learn. Sensory learning is how little ones learn for most of their early development, so choosing toys wisely is critical for their healthy development.

There are two broad categories of baby toys to keep in mind when shopping for each stage of development: passive and active sensory toys.

Passive Sensory Toys

Passive sensory toys are typically loud and battery-operated. They entertain your baby by distracting them with lights, music, and noises. TV time is a passive sensory activity because, though it engages your little one's listening and seeing senses, it does not engage your child's active involvement.

Passive sensory toys require little to no effort from your baby to operate. They are there doing their thing, and your baby simply beholds them. Passive toys are popular for the wow factor they deliver when your little one first sees them and for how well they distract a baby, giving parents a few minutes of rest.

Active Sensory Toys

Active sensory toys do nothing without your little one's active involvement. Your baby must move, shake, push, or otherwise mess with the toy to make something happen. By doing so, your baby learns that certain actions result in specific ways.

Fostering active learning by providing your little one with engaging sensory toys helps your baby discover new things with that insatiable desire to explore and learn your little one was born with. And with his or her own ability and creativity at the helm, what a fun journey that will be!

In a Nutshell

Sensory activities are an excellent way to promote healthy development in babies. By engaging your baby's senses, you can help them explore the world around them, developing those necessary cognitive and physical skills that, in turn, lay the foundation for an overall healthy well-being.

With the activities and tips in this guide, you can create a sensory-rich environment for your baby and help them thrive.

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