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Baby hitting pots with a wooden spoon

Babies learn using all their senses. Their developing brain absorbs information about the world through:

  • Seeing
  • Hearing
  • Smelling
  • Feeling
  • Tasting

Anything you can do to expand the things you do together to include the senses will really stimulate your baby.

Make your own sensory games

Playing and learning can happen in lots of different ways so you don’t have to always get out standard toys if you would like to play with your baby and show them new things. Babies will often have more fun playing with the wrapping paper and gift box than the toy inside, because all their senses are stimulated by the textures, colours, sounds, etc of these materials.

Just look around your house for things they can explore – such as a bowl full of large dried (or cooked) pasta shells and a wooden spoon. Your baby will love to push their hands into the bowl of pasta, to stir it, to drop it, mess it up. There will be lots of sensory feelings going on. It’s really good for your baby to have opportunities to explore and play with you in this way.

Finger paints are another good way to do this. Yogurt is like a natural, edible finger paint that you can let your baby play with in their high chair once they’ve started solids at around six months.

Make your own treasure box for the senses

From about the age your baby can sit up and pick things out of a box you can make up a treasure box. They will enjoy it well into toddler-age and you can change the contents of the box over time and expose them to lots of exciting items.

You can make up a treasure box very cheaply – for example, a little wicker basket or a cardboard box. You can then make up a collection that your baby can investigate using their five senses – things that they can rustle, rattle, shake, chew and smell.

A treasure box is a lovely collection of natural things and items from around the home. It’s great to have a collection of safe, real things for a baby to investigate and play with that aren’t conventional toys but have all the same wonderful learning possibilities. It’s nice for them to have items that they can pick up and hold and taste and experiment with. Children will sit for ages and explore all these different things and take them out and put them back in.

What should I put in my baby’s treasure box or sensory box?

Common sense needs to prevail here – there should be nothing toxic or dangerous (eg. sharp or a choking hazard) in the box. You also should never leave your baby unattended with their treasure box as these are real things, not baby toys.

Ideas for your baby’s treasure box:

Natural items

  • Seashells
  • Pine cones
  • Smooth pebbles
  • Driftwood

Domestic items

  • Wooden spoons
  • Whisk
  • Metal linked measuring spoons
  • CD

Smells

  • Lemon
  • Orange
  • Lavender bags in muslin
  • Large fresh bay leaf or mint leaf

Sounds

  • Double strip of Velcro for them to pull apart
  • Homemade rattles made from small plastic bottles filled with rice and lentils
  • Bell
  • Egg shakers or mini maracas

Textures

  • Different materials; shiny, leather, tweeds, furry, etc
  • Velvet jewellery bag
  • Knitted sock or glove that they can put their arm in
  • Loofah or sponge
  • A short piece of soft ribbon (not long enough to get stuck around your baby’s neck)

Other classic sensory items to introduce to your baby

  • Pots and pans and wooden spoons
  • Plastic cups, egg cups and a mini watering can (while sitting in the bath)
  • Sandpits, soil, pebbles, mud and puddles in the garden
  • Animals (giving them the opportunity to stroke them without either hurting the other)
  • Running water from a hose or lukewarm water from a tap, flowing into a bubbly washing-up bowl

It’s great to know that the simplest and cheapest way to play with your baby can be the most engrossing and really promote their learning and development. You can change the items in your baby’s treasure box regularly to keep it special.

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