It’s not the norm out there right now. With a coronavirus epidemic at our feet and social distancing well and truly put in place, it’s not surprising if you’re feeling a little on edge about being confined to the four walls of your home. Luckily for our tiny tots, they are none the wiser, and are full steam ahead with making a mess on our living room floor. Just as they do every day.
It has however sent many of us into frazzled panic, thinking, “What should I do with the baby today?!”
These activities are perfect for keeping your baby happy and engaged in purposeful sensory play – no matter what’s going on in the outside word.
But first, what’s sensory play?
Put simply, sensory play is an activity that stimulates your child’s five senses (touch, sound, sight, smell, taste) as well as the lesser-known two, balance and movement. Behind the scenes, your baby’s brain is building new nerve connections that aid in its ability to complete more complex tasks. Sensory play activities encourage fine and gross motor skills, hand and eye coordination, cognitive and language development and much more.
Although that sounds a little complicated, sensory activities can be simple. Here are some easy baby play activities you can do at home using household materials.
Please note: The following activities should all be done under constant parental supervision to avoid the risk of choking
1. Cloud dough
Combine 2 cups of flour and 1/4 cup vegetable oil until it is mouldable like damp sand. Place in a heavy dish and add some of your baby’s favourite toys, a carrot to munch on and some scoops. Other great objects to include are bright popsicle sticks and silverbeet leaves.
2. Trapped pasta
Place a couple of cups of uncooked pasta – penne is a great choice – in a plastic tub and stretch rubber bands across the top. The more rubber bands, the trickier the puzzle becomes. Pasta is an easy size for little hands to grasp. A lot of hand-eye coordination is called upon in this activity as your baby reaches between rubber bands, wriggles their fingers to grasp the pasta and tries to pull each piece out of the tub.
3. Chia seed goo
Not only is this sensory tray taste-safe, it’s also very healthy! Chia seeds are packed with protein and when left overnight to soak, they create the most wonderful slimy texture for baby play. Mix 2-3 tablespoons of chia seeds with 2 cups of water. You can add some food colouring too and leave overnight to expand. Do this activity outside or on a waterproof mat to keep the enthusiastic play (and mess!) contained.
4. Gelatin squish
Combine gelatin powder with hot water and food dye following the instructions on the box of gelatin. I add at least 1-2 extra teaspoons of gelatin to the mixture to make sure it sets firmly. Line a dish with baking paper and pour in liquid. Leave overnight to set. When it’s ready, cut the gelatin slice into squares. Let baby enjoy the cool, jelly texture.
5. Mirror boxes
This is a lovely activity for the babies who love to look at their reflection. Cover some small empty boxes with silver cellophane – the shiny texture will engage your little one. To add a sound element, you could place some chickpeas in each box to create a rattle effect.
6. Sticky felt peel
To make this activity, you need a sheet of contact paper, some double-sided tape, an empty frame and pieces of felt. Using the double-sided tape, secure the non-stick side of contact paper to the inside your frame. Peel off contact backing so the sticky side is facing out, and add the felt pieces to the sticky face.
This activity encourages your baby to peel and stick felt pieces using their pincer grip – the thumb and forefinger – which will help the developing hand muscles.
This activity can also be done vertically if your baby is up to standing, just tape contact to your wall.
7. No-mess baby painting
You’ll need a canvas or thick cardboard, a couple of tubes of acrylic paint and bubble wrap for this activity. Squeeze some paint on top of the cardboard and cover with bubble wrap, taping it at the back to keep it secure. Let baby squish and mix the bright colours beneath the bubbly plastic. For tiny ones, you can set them up in a large plastic tub or high chair to support their sitting. Once your little artist is finished, remove the bubble wrap and leave the canvas to dry. The kaleidoscope of colour created is just gorgeous!
This post was written by Georgie Doherty, a qualified art teacher, educator and mum and founder of Mini Monet Art School, a brand-new sensory program designed to help mums engage with their babies through art and play. Georgie is also mum to Eve, born with a rare genetic condition called Interstitial Lung Disease and severe Pulmonary Hypertension. She is an advocate for lung research and awareness.