Sensory Play Ideas for Babies

Sensory bins are great tools to help your baby develop his senses, but you don’t have to be a Pinterest mom to make play time fun. What everyday experiences are good for this? And what household items can you use for sensory play?

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Episode Transcript

Natalie Gross 0:07
If you've ever been on Pinterest and search for ideas of things to do with your baby mothers, no doubt you've seen bins full of rice pom pom balls or colorful spaghetti noodles. All of these are tools that can be used to not only entertain your baby but also help him develop his senses. But guess what? You don't have to be a Pinterest mom to give your baby some sensory playtime. Everyday experiences are good for that too. Find out more on this episode of Newbies. Hi, everyone. Welcome to Newbies. Newbies is your online on the go support group guiding new mothers through their baby's first year. I'm Natalie gross mom to a four year old boy and a baby girl. And we've got a great show today talking about sensory play. But first, I want to tell you where you can find out more about our show, head on over to If you haven't already there, you can subscribe to our weekly newsletter that will keep you updated on all of the episodes we've released each week on all of our podcasts, not just newbies, but we have other great podcasts as well for different stages of parenting. Another great way to stay updated is to hit that subscribe button and your favorite podcast app. And if you're looking for a way to get even more involved, we have a membership club called Mighty moms that is totally free to join. And that's where we chat more about the topics that we're discussing here on the show. You'll also learn about our recordings in advance so maybe you can join us live to share your own motherhood experiences. Today on the podcast, I will be joined by our featured expert Sarah Chesworth a little bit later but first up, I'm talking with moms, Liz Munyon and Morgan Wilson about their own experiences with sensory play. So, mamas please tell us a little bit about you and your family as we get started. Liz, Why don't you go first?

Liz Munyon 2:16
Yeah, no problem. So my name is Liz. I am a mom to an almost eight month old little boy who is starting to get into anything and everything that he possibly can.

Natalie Gross 2:29
Thanks so much for being here. Morgan, what about you?

Morgan Wilson 2:31
Yeah, hey, thanks for having me. I am Morgan Wilson. My husband and I live in West Texas with our 17 month old son, Brecon, and our three dogs. I'm a stay at home mama and wife and a full time content creator as well.

Natalie Gross 2:45
It's so great to have you both. So what have been your experiences with sensory play with your babies? Do you have dedicated sensory bins? Or are you just conscious of incorporating everyday sensory experiences? So tell me about that.

Morgan Wilson 2:59
My experience basically is kind of like a mixture between ideas from my college experience, because I was going to be a child life specialist before becoming a mom. So I have a psych degree with an emphasis on child development. And then I also get Pinterest ideas, and then also just kind of let him explore the world and daily experiences on his own too.

Liz Munyon 3:22
We also do a mix of both here at home, I was a early childhood teacher for four years, so a few years ago. So a lot of things that I incorporate that are specifically sensory been ideas are things that I did in my classroom with my with my kids, I worked a lot with 10 month to about 16 month old. So some of the things I'm not he's not quite there yet, but we're on our way. And then I also do have some designated spaces in our house that are for specifically like messy sensory play things. And then I've made some homemade, like sensory bottle shakers, things like that. And I've set them up like strategically around the living room to kind of draws attention to them and also to you know, keep them away from places that I don't necessarily want him to get into yet. And then we do also, you know, of course, be incorporated naturally especially when we got outside, we'll take a lot of stroller rides, and we'll talk about what he sees here smells as we walk, things like that. And then just in general, if he gets a hold something in the house, I let him explore it safely, as much as he can. And then just kind of, you know, give him some leeway there and not try to take it away from him right away.

Natalie Gross 4:41
Yeah, those are great. So when did you sort of consciously incorporate this into your baby's playtime?

Morgan Wilson 4:49
For me with Brecon, it kind of just depends on like, what his developmental stage like that he's in. I started incorporating it basically as soon as we got home from the hospital. I'm just because I believe from the day that they're born, everything that they're touching, feeling, etc. They're 100% learning from so I started incorporating sensory play as early as possible.

Liz Munyon 5:13
Same here, we started pretty early, he had received some little like crinkle papers, things like that for gifts when he came home, we used a lot of those little touch and feel books. I brought in nature items from outside or I bought those little pumpkins at the store things like that brought in leaves in did the little black and white pictures basically as soon as soon as he seemed showed any interest whatsoever. Um, he was a very sleepy child, the first couple of months, it was more so just difficult to keep him awake to actually look at anything or explore anything until about month three or four.

Natalie Gross 5:52
So I imagine these have changed as your babies have gotten older. So what kinds of things have you gravitated towards, in this age where your babies are now?

Morgan Wilson 5:59
For me, I'm incorporating a lot of like, I have these mini tongs for Brecon to help him, you know, with his grasp. So I'm helping him learn how to pick up say, like pom poms with the mini tongs and putting them in, you know, his dump truck and letting him dump them out there. So just things like that, and like scoops anything that he can grasp and play with kind of with that. Okay.

Natalie Gross 6:26
And Liz that almost eight months, what is your son doing now?

Liz Munyon 6:29
He is getting more so into just anything that he can shove in his mouth. So I tried to do a lot of tasty, tasty, safe sensory play for him. So anything that I'm comfortable if he ends up eating some of it, that I'm completely fine with that also anything that he can get dirty with. He loves anything where he gets super messy. So I know I've been trying to incorporate more stuff where he can really get into the get into things and having a safe space for him to actually explore that stuff.

Natalie Gross 7:04
We're definitely going to talk about that a little bit later on in the show because that's a frustration that I have. And you know what I've talked to other moms I've heard that from too. It's like they're putting everything in their mouth or it's so messy. So I want to get your tips for that certainly but first, we are going to take a quick break and then after that I am going to be talking with our featured guest Sarah Chesworth. Stay tuned!

Natalie Gross 7:32
Welcome back. Today on Newbies, we are continuing our discussion on sensory play. Our featured guest is Sarah Chesworth. She is a former kindergarten and first grade teacher and is also a blogger published author and content creator. Currently she puts her degree in early childhood education to work at home with her own two little girls while also continuing to share educational content for busy parents and teachers on her website. Sarah, welcome to Newbies.

Sarah Chesworth 7:55
Hi, Natalie. Hi, Morgan. Hi, Liz, thank you so much for having me.

Natalie Gross 7:59
Absolutely. I'm so glad you're here. So let's talk about how sensory experiences are linked to children's development. This is probably a bit obvious, but I do think it's worth discussing.

Sarah Chesworth 8:10
Sure. So we know that babies start learning about the world using their five senses pretty much from day one. So even if you aren't exclusively thinking about sensory experiences, your baby is already having them. And these experiences help them make connections in the brain. They also are going to encourage play curiosity exploration of the world as well as strengthen those motor skills, give them opportunities for critical thinking, problem solving plus fostering independent play, which is something I think all parents look forward to down the road.

Natalie Gross 8:44
Well, I'd love to hear your ideas for sensory play for babies. Let's go through the first year, like what might be appropriate for a three month old baby versus a 10 or 11 month old baby.

Sarah Chesworth 8:54
So I think any parent can attest to how crazy fast babies change and develop during that first year. So their sensory play activities and what they're able to engage with is definitely going to change too. And let's start with talking about babies and that zero to six month range. For babies that age, I think sensory books are such a great choice. Babies love hearing the sound of your voice and being close to you to share a book. So you're getting those reading benefits. Plus, you can help your baby feel the different textures in the book and talk about those things. At this age of bubbles. And just looking at lights are also great, easy activities that don't require, you know, any preparation necessarily, and just being outside and talking about nature and the things that you're seeing. Then, usually once your child is able to sit up more on their own, maybe around six months or so, you can usually start introducing different types of sensory experiences. This is usually a fun age to maybe start thinking about putting together a small bin of materials to play with or maybe even and try out some water play. And incorporating these fun sensory activities are also going to encourage your child's growth in motor skill development as well.

Natalie Gross 10:10
Well, I don't want every mom listening to think she suddenly has to become a Pinterest Mom, I'm certainly not. So what are some every day sensory experiences are things you probably already have in your house that you can do with your babies?

Sarah Chesworth 10:22
So you definitely do not have to be a Pinterest mom to give your little ones meaningful sensory experiences. I kind of think about a lot of things in motherhood like this, like Halloween. So if my daughter wanted to be a princess, she could be a princess with a paper crown that I could just make really quick. Or she could be a princess with this gorgeous costume and high heels and clip on earrings. And it may change Halloween to Halloween, right? Like there are going to be some times where maybe I do want to go all out and make this great thing. And then there's other times where we need as simple as it gets. So since your experiences are kind of the same way, there's so many different ways that you can make them work for you and for your family. One great thing about babies is everything is already new and exciting to them, including all of the things in your house, I think your kitchen is a great place to start. Just pull out pots and pans with a wooden spoon. I feel like that's a classic sensory activity that parents have been doing forever, but probably never really thought about it being a sensory activity. Also, if you're like me, you probably have a lot of Amazon deliveries coming to your house. So save those cardboard boxes if there's you know, packing materials included in them that are safe for your baby to play with. Those are also great things to encourage sensory play. Music is another great one too, I don't want to say you know what I'm gonna say the thing that starts with an A and ends with an A. But she can play a whole bunch of great sounds that your baby will enjoy. You know, sounds from nature, even just simple nursery rhymes, things like that are a great sensory activity, you can clap the beat together with your baby, maybe give them a scarf or something else to wave around. sensory play really can be that simple. It doesn't have to be this, you know, dyed rice bin? It can be but it doesn't have to be.

Natalie Gross 12:23
What about things outside? How can we be thinking about sensory play when we're going outside with our babies?

Liz Munyon 12:29
So outside is actually probably my favorite place to do sensory play. Maybe it's because I live in Texas, but it's hot so much of the year. And we do have pretty nice weather. So even just taking a plastic tub outside and gathering things that you see can be a sensory experience or filling it with water and playing with different toys is fun, too. Sarah, what's your personal favorite sensory activity to do with babies. So I just touched on this a little bit, but I really love waterplay I think the options are so there's just so many of them. They're absolutely endless. You can add ice to it and encourage your little end to explore temperature. You could add a washcloth and help them clean plastic toys. You can add other plastic materials and explore sinking and floating. You could add cups for pouring practice, there's so many options. And you can also do it in your bathtub. So if you do live somewhere where you know the weather isn't always great, or you just need something to break up the day, you can do these types of things in the bathtub as well.

Natalie Gross 13:35
Thanks so much for sharing this information. We are going to take another quick break and then bring back our moms Liz and Morgan into the conversation.

Natalie Gross 13:50
Welcome back, everyone. Listen, Morgan, any thoughts on what we've just heard from Sarah?

Morgan Wilson 13:55
Yeah, Sarah is so knowledgeable and did a great job explaining how sensory is linked to kids development, they truly do go from one stage to another and every child develops differently. But they all go through these learning stages in order to bring them to the next. So it's important to recognize that and give your child opportunities to grow through what they're experiencing at the stage of development they're in.

Liz Munyon 14:18
Yeah, I greatly agree with what she was talking about with the nature and getting them outside as much as possible. I know where I live. Here in Michigan, the weather right now has been extremely unpredictable. So we've at least been trying to even if we can't get him outside, we've been trying to bring the outside indoors. So when we have had the chance to get outside, I've been trying to collect things while we go on our walks to put into little sensory bins for him or into the sensory bottles or things for him to be able like she mentioned the water play just moving that to the tub if needed, which for some reason I didn't think of that until she mentioned it. So definitely we'll start incorporating that as well. But just making sure that we're using the resources that we already have and not having to spend a ton of money to provide our children with sensory experiences.

Natalie Gross 15:15
Okay, as we sort of touched on before, one thing I personally struggled with when trying to do these sensory bins in the past is all the mess. And like I said, I've heard this from other moms as well, like, rice gets everywhere, where the baby wants to put everything in their mouth, like my son, I made edible playdough. And I was so excited. And we were gonna do little things with it. And he just straight up ate it. I was so frustrated. So how do you just kind of like push through this and are there things you'd suggest avoiding in your sensory bin because of this?

Morgan Wilson 15:45
So the mess always gets me I thrive on a clean house, but I just have to remind myself that it can be cleaned up. And if it's super messy to maybe do it outside for an easier cleanup, or if they're putting it in their mouth, a lot to make sure that whatever you're you're putting in the bins is safe for them to eat or drink. And also just knowing that it doesn't have to go on for a long time children learn quickly. And if you think that they aren't understanding fully or if they're getting frustrated, that's also okay. And it doesn't have to last for too long.

Liz Munyon 16:19
Yeah, specifically in regards to mess. I was kind of where everybody else was back. When I first started teaching though, I always have been okay and tolerated mess when it comes to kids because I understand that they're learning and things aren't always going to be super clean. But once I started working in early childhood, I had a co worker who basically changed my perspective with just like one line, which was you know, what is 10 minutes of cleanup compared to everything you're learning in this moment. And so from that point on, I've basically learned to completely embrace the mess. So to help with like mitigating some of that, I do have like a plastic coated tablecloth that I'll lay out on the floor of our living room with the bin like directly centered. Always make sure to have towels wipes within reach. And if I'm really concerned about ruining their his clothes, I'll strip them down to his diaper before starting. But for the most part, I've just really tried to embrace everything. And like I said, Right now he is putting absolutely everything in his mouth. So I'm gravitating toward anything that's considered a taste safe, sensory play, which if you Google that, like so many things come up. But I mean, like, like, was previously mentioned, waterplay is always usually pretty safe for them. Anything with food or oats, I blended Cheerios the other day and let him go to town with that we've done the noodles before the ice. And I am always sure that I'm right there supervising the whole time just in case there's something that he gets in his mouth or that I'm not super comfortable with. But taste is such a big part of their sensory exploration at this age that I try not to discourage him from putting things in his mouth.

Sarah Chesworth 18:14
Liz and Morgan, I feel like y'all are experts, y'all have so many great ideas and such an awesome background to share. A few things I feel like my girls are foreign to now. So in some ways, I feel like we're kind of to the next phase of sensory play. But thinking back to when they were little, we also really focused on taste safe activities. I think one of my favorite ones that I ever did with either of them was just cutting up fruit. So I just sliced up lemons, oranges, limes, those types of things. And I put them in a shallow bin of water and we took it outside and that entertain them for you know, a long time and baby and baby minutes. So yeah, taste safe activities are also helpful just because they don't you know, you're not freaking out about everything that they put in their mouth. And in the beginning, I also made the mistake of choosing a bin that was too small for the activity that I wanted to do. So I always try to set up some parameters or at least give them like a physical space that I want the activity to stay in. And sometimes I'll put a beach towel underneath the bin, but I do try to choose a bin that's a little bit bigger, because then they have room to move the objects and actually play inside of the bin. Whereas if I would go with a smaller bin, naturally those things are going to come out just because they don't have the space needed to manipulate the objects. Also, as your child gets older, and the more you do these activities, they're going to kind of learn your expectations with them and that makes it a lot easier. You know, so I think setting the foundation when they're young is really going to pay off as they get a little bit older. I also always encourage parents to keep an eye out for what's happening in the community. The town we used to live in had an event at the public library. Once a month, they called it baby palooza. And it was like an hour two on Friday afternoons. And anybody in the community with a baby was welcome to come. And they just set up sensory activity and play and toys and stuff in this big room. So you just got to show up with your baby. So definitely keep an eye out for things like that happening. Or you can do this with another mom, friend, too, who might be interested in the same thing, hey, I'll set an activity up for the kids to play this week. Maybe the other mom can do something the following week. And that's a great way to to kind of take some of the stress and pressure off of yourself to provide this you know, great activity all the time.

Natalie Gross 20:56
Those are such great ideas, mamas. Thank you. You've encouraged me to push through. As we wrap let's create an ideal sensory bin. I want to pick your brains a little bit, what one or two things would each of you put in it. And let's think specifically, I know Sarah, you said your girls a little bit older. But let's think specifically babies in the first year.

Sarah Chesworth 21:17
So I love Cheerios, I have done like Liz mentioned where you crush them up and kind of make a fine powder, almost like a sand. But I've also just boarded them straight out of the box into a bin and just added different materials that I have in the kitchen. Even just like plastic plates, paper plates, spoons, measuring cups, all of that is awesome and will keep them entertained for a long time.

Liz Munyon 21:44
I was kind of gonna go with the same thing, something that they can dig in, that's also safe for them to taste. I know we did just the instant oats a few weeks ago. And I hid some of his little plastic toys and rings throughout it for him to find and then kind of gave him some scoops and some spoons and things like that to try to look for them and explore. He's not quite to the point where he understands how to actually dig for the stuff, but he did enjoy finding it and then watching me re hide them, things like that. So basically anything where they can get into it. And then you give them the tools to manipulate it in to help find the objects. Because I know at this point, he is starting to be able to find little things that are only partially obscured from his view. So that's been super helpful in kind of developing that skill for him too.

Morgan Wilson 22:42
Yeah, so Brecon really loves to put stuff in cups, and like scoops and stuff like that, and just dump them out over and over and over again. So I like to put scoops, and like maybe tiny shovels and stuff like that, for him to be able to manipulate and dump stuff out of and put it in because it keeps him entertained for quite a long time.

Natalie Gross 23:07
All right, Sarah, as our featured guests, do you have any last thoughts?

Sarah Chesworth 23:11
You know, at the end of the day, it does not matter what activity you choose to do with your child, what matters is that you're spending time with them. And naturally, you're going to do these things with your child anyway, you're going to talk to them, you're going to help them make sense of the world around them, you're going to expose them to different things. So really, and truly, I think parents need to take the pressure off of themselves. Everything does not have to be this Picture Perfect activity. If you do want to put together something. First look around your house, you can put together tons of things just based on the materials that you already have. And then also just make a quick trip to the dollar spot or the dollar store. We find so many things they are that are affordable and cheap. And it does feel fun sometimes to put something special together. You know, based on what season but really and truly, you're doing a great job and don't put this pressure on yourself. Make it fun.

Natalie Gross 24:07
Well, thank you so much to all of you, Sarah, Liz and Morgan for joining me today. listeners. You can find out more about Sarah at Sarah Also check out new mommy where we have all of our podcasts episodes plus videos and more.

Natalie Gross 24:32
That wraps up our show for today. We appreciate you listening to Newbies. Don't forget to check out our sister shows Preggie Pals for expecting parents, Parent Savers for moms and dads with toddlers, the Boob Group for moms who get breast milk to their babies and Twin Talks for parents of multiples. Thanks for listening to Newbies, your go to source for new moms and new babies.

Unknown Speaker 24:57
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