Early Brain Development and Sensory Play with your baby

From the moment your baby is born, they are beginning to use their senses to learn about and understand their new world. All humans learn best when they engage their senses. Consider what a certain smell or taste can do to remind you of a special time.
Sensory play is any play that stimulates their senses: taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing, body awareness (proprioception) and balance. These activities allow the child to explore, create, investigate through play.
Many of the best sensory activities for your baby or toddler include play opportunities with a range of senses. Below, we have some ideas for babies and toddlers although the list can be endless. Once you have found something your little one loves, put a little twist on it and do it again another day. 
Baby with play dough

Sensory Play for Babies

  • Sensory bottles - fill an old bottle with bits and pieces like dried pasta, rice, glitter or liquids. Watch your little one enjoy exploring the sounds and watching the small parts move around. 
  • Ribbons - hang ribbons in all different colours from your baby's play gym or even an old cardboard box. Babies will enjoy watching, tugging, wriggling and playing with the ribbons.
  • Coloured Spaghetti - cook spaghetti as usual and then place it in different ziplock bags with some food colouring and a little water. then, run the spaghetti under cold water and place in a container. Your little one will enjoy touching, smelling, playing and looking at all the colours. It's also taste safe if they have a little nibble!
  • Playdough - play dough is calming and can feel quite strange for baby! They will enjoy patting, touching and even smelling the dough. Home made play dough is great for babies as you can make some that are naturally coloured and scented too!
  • Finger Paint - using homemade soap paint or another taste-safe paint means baby can get in on the painting fun too! You will be amazed at what they create, and will enjoy having their first piece of artwork to hang on the fridge.

Sensory Tray for a Toddler

Sensory Play for Toddlers

While anything you do with baby, you can of course do with a toddler, here are some that are not really baby suitable but that toddlers and young children will love. Sensory trays are perfect for toddlers and help to contain the mess. A bit of training and close monitoring can be required to ensure they learn to play with it inside the tub, rather than all over the floor, and especially if your little one is likely to put small parts in their mouth. Once you have something in your sensory tray, you may wish to add things such as bowls or cups, toy cars or trucks, toy animals, or even stones, leaves and gum nuts found outside. 
Some sensory tray ideas include:
  • Sand - use a large container or tray and fill with a few cups of sand. 
  • Rice - colour your rice by placing raw uncooked rice into ziplock bags. with a few drops of food colouring and a tablespoon of vinegar. Leave the rice to dry out on trays. You may then wish to use with just one or two colours or with a rainbow of colours to choose from.
  • Dirt - dig up a small amount of dirt and watch them have so much fun digging, getting dirty and seeing what happens when they add water!
  • Shaving cream - squeeze some shaving cream into a tray and watch them trace patterns or covering all of their plastic toys in it!
  • Spaghetti - above we explain how to make coloured spaghetti for a taste-safe sensory tray.
  • Dried beans, lentils or chickpeas - fill a tray with these and they will enjoy scooping, scraping and even dropping them into bowls to hear the noise it makes.
  • Coloured water - do not underestimate how fun simple coloured water can be. Pouring, tipping and splashing is great fun and a small amount of dishwashing liquid will ensure a few bubbles can be made too. (Make sure you only put a few centimetres of water in the bottom of the tray and supervise them while playing. Young children can drown in even a bucket of water.)
  • Jelly - make some jelly in a tray about 2-3cms deep. Once set, chop up into cubes and they will have a taste-safe sensory tray.

Other fun sensory activities with toddlers include slime, playdough or salt dough, painting or even popping bubble wrap. Have fun searching the hashtag #sensoryplaytray on instagram for some fun ideas!

Coloured Rice Tray

Providing opportunities for your baby or child to use their senses to explore and play is crucial to their early brain development and encourages the formation of new nerve neurological connections and pathways in your baby’s brain.  Sensory play supports their langauage development, cognitive growth, the strengthening of their gross and fine motor skills as well as their problem solving skills. Apart from all that, many babies and toddlers find it very calming. That’s a lot of upside to some fun and simple play. 


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