Sensory activities for babies open the world up to our kids while they're still happily stationary. Maybe even more important, it begins to familiarize them to their own bodies. Every new day delivers a fresh overload of sights, sounds, and sensations.
Bonus: Sensory games give us something fun to do with our little ones beyond tummy time! We've rounded up a dozen of our favorite sensory activities that you can create right at home. DIY sensory toys nurture a basic understanding of the people, places, and stuff that populate their lives, along with the motor and communication skills that they'll need to interact with the world. There will be new things for baby to touch, smell, see, and figure out. Watch as your little one giggles her way through these micro-discoveries.
Everything featured here can be crafted from simple, recycled materials and stuff found within reach around the house or a couple of clicks on Amazon. Read on for sensory fun, and check out our Boredom Busters Guide for more all-ages crafts, recipes, and rainy day fun.
Once your baby has figured out how to grasp, dump a large bag or two of uncooked rice into a modest-size bin and watch the good times roll. And roll. Tiny hands sifting through dry rice never gets old, for you or for them. Bury a small toy (not too small!) and encourage them to dig it out. Once they get that down, help them fill up a small measuring cup and pour it into another. Do it yourself: Busy Toddler.
Sensory bags taped to the wall are great way to encourage babies to sit up. Photo courtesy of Mama.Papa.Bubba
If you've heard of sensory play before this post, you likely heard about it through sensory bags, and that's because there are literally countless variations. All of them effective. On a basic level, they enable babies to squeeze, feel, and pound without fear of anything breaking. With a strip of painter's tape, they also become useful tools in training your baby to sit up on her own. Do it yourself: Mama.Papa.Bubba.
The beauty here is that the toy grows—literally—with your baby. Start with small, 10-ounce bottles and work your way up to, say, a 59-ounce orange juice bottle. You can fill either size up with almost anything. Think not just in terms of the visual but the noises the contents make, too, as well as the weight. Each aspect heightens a different sense. Do it yourself: Plain Vanilla Mom.
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Let your child splash and play indoors or outdoors with this simple yet engaging water tray. Photo courtesy of Pink Oatmeal
Baby Water Play
About as easy as it gets. Fill a baking sheet with just enough water and tub toys to splash around and watch his face light up. All the while, he's moving objects around on his own and being totally comfortable with hanging out on his tummy. Of course, he should be pretty much there already. Hold off if your baby's still working on holding his head up. Do it yourself: Pink Oatmeal.
Like the bags, this is an easy way to satiate that inherent baby desire to smoosh things, anything, with their little fingers. The icing on the cupcake: You end up with a keepsake or nursery decoration after several fruitful and surprisingly contained minutes. A little leakage is to be expected, but a Jackson Pollock undertaking, this is not. Do it yourself: Adore Cherish Love.
Scent jars develop the sense of smell, which facilitates memory learning. Photo courtesy of Mama's Happy Hive
Smelling activities are hard to come by, for whatever reason. Yet, they're no less important than playing to any of the other senses. In fact, developing a sense of smell is tied to facilitating learning through memories. So, while he's sniffing away at those lemon wedges, he's also beginning to make the connection to lemons as something he eats, or will soon enough. Do it yourself: Mama's Happy Hive.
Fiber Optic Cave
Fact: Babies love boxes. Once they're crawling, they're like magnets. Good for banging on, good for climbing. This one's good for simply sitting in. It's that mesmerizing. If yours isn't mobile yet, pad the floor with a blanket and lay her inside. Same effect. Twinkling Christmas lights work too, but the fiber optic lights are ideal because they sway with the slightest movement. Do it yourself: The Imagination Tree.
Your little one can rescue their lovies from the spider's web while developing coordination and agility. Photo courtesy of The Train Driver's Wife
Spider's Web Discovery Basket
Weave a spool of string through a laundry basket and you've got a vehicle for some deeply engrossing coordination practice and his first real agility test. It's one thing trying to slip his hand through to reach a toy at the bottom of the basket, another altogether trying to maneuver the toy out. But, he'll get it and he'll get better with every attempt. Do it yourself: The Train Driver's Wife.
In those early months, when your baby's still struggling to find her sweet spot during tummy time, any activity that engages him while she's on her back feels like a gift. This one plants the seeds for grasping. As she tugs and swats the ribbons, she'll also start to track their movement with his eyes. Not much longer and she'll be watching you, too. Do it yourself: Little Lifelong Learners.
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Sensory boards are great for all babies and toddlers to develop fine motor skills and explore texture. Photo courtesy of Fun at Home with Kids
Fill your sensory board with buttons, switches, drawer handles—you know, the kinds of things you're constantly tugging his little hands away from around the house. Here, he can flip and flick them until his heart's content and his curiosity's satisfied. Variation is important. Install a couple of things he'll figure out right away and a few more he'll need to practice with. Do it yourself: Fun at Home with Kids.
A great exercise in cause and effect. Pluck a rubberband and feel it vibrate. Listen to it hum. It may be chaos early on—little hands thumping down on all the rubberbands at once—but even that can be fun. Give it a little time, and as they begin to understand that the rubberbands sing too, their strumming will become a little more deliberate. Do it yourself: Laughing Kids Learn.
Babies love books, and touch-and-feel versions are a great way to let your baby experience textures. Photo courtesy of How Sweet it Is
Once your baby's crawling, she's going to start feeling her way around and never look back. Until then, you're going to need to bring the world to her, and a texture book is an easy way to do that. Even better, wherever you and she go, the book can come along--car rides, play dates. It may not seem like much, but you're laying the foundation for his perception of her environment. Do it yourself: How Sweet It Is.
Top photo of a sensory board courtesy of Fun at Home with Kids