20 Sensory & Messy Play Activities for Babies

According to psychologist Jean Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development in children, the first stage is the sensorimotor stage (source). This is perhaps the most important in the development of children, and during this period you want to make sure that your baby has everything they need to have solid sensory experiences with baby learning games.

And what better way to secure those sensory experiences than getting messy during playtime? Too many parents have discouraged their babies to do so while dreading the cleaning-up process. Studies show that it’s bad for the child to have their senses of touch restricted – so go on and apply these fun activities to do at home for your babies, and watch their faces light up with joy.

10 Best Sensory Activities for Babies

If you’re someone who is experienced with being around newborns and infants, you would know just how important it is to stimulate children’s sensory experiences. According to the most credible psychological studies, sensory inputs are the first form of stimuli that the child learns to accept externally. 

Simply, you want your babies to learn through feeling things in their environment. Through a few sensory activities that you can introduce with materials lying around your house, you’ll see your kid’s curiosity and excitement soar. Most of these activities for babies do not require external toys, so you can just DIY your way to fun with these activities to do with babies!

1. Balloon Kicking

Balloon Kicking

An activity that spells out bonding time like no other, try balloon kicking as a sensory activity for your infant. Blow up some helium balloons, tie them to a string or a ribbon, and release them near your children. Demonstrate kicking the balloons yourself so your infant joins in, ensuring a playtime activity that requires minimal effort and does wonders for the child’s physical development. 

Simple sensory play for babies such as this can improve coordination between your child’s legs and eyes, and exercise the calf muscles required for kicking the balloon. Since balloons bob around in the air, your baby will be naturally inclined to kick it while laying down. 

2. Newspaper Scrunch

Newspaper Scrunch

Raise your hand if you have heaps of old newspapers in your house that you’re hoarding for no reason. Here’s what you can do with those piles – hand them to your baby and watch them scrunch them all up, bit by bit. 

This is an excellent sensory activity and can also be introduced by stuff lying around in your house – less pricey toys for your baby, and more DIYs for more fun. This scrunching activity can improve your child’s gripping skills, thus overall improving their fine motor skills: picking, holding, twisting, applying force through certain fingers, etc. 

3. Baby Activity Centre

A popular purchase with new parents, baby activity centers are an excellent way for sensory stimulation for your child. Usually, a seater that is surrounded by lots of interactive toys for your child, you will have to pry away your little one from this – they’ll just love it too much. Choose from the wide selection of versatile activity centers to keep your child’s sensory experiences alert and active.

4. Baby Jumperoo

Baby Jumperoo for Babies

If you’re out of DIY ideas to keep your baby occupied, you could always invest in a baby Jumperoo. Essentially a playpen for your baby, the Jumperoo ensures that all your baby’s toys are only an arm’s reach away. They’ll be surrounded by toys that will keep them occupied, all whilst ensuring maximum mobility for your little one. 

Yes, the Jumperoo is a system that encourages your child to jump, swivel, and groove. It also tests their visual coordination and pincer grip skills, so you might want to look further into a Jumperoo if you want to work on your baby’s physical strength and movement. 

5. Testing Out Textures

This activity is the best so far to introduce new tactile sensations to your child. Lay down several objects with varying textures in front of your child and let them fully explore the difference in sensory experiences here. You can use items such as sandpaper, wool, a piece of clothing, wood – and any other items you can think of that have interesting textures, you have complete freedom here. 

Be careful with this one, though – children below the age of 1 have a tendency to want to taste everything they interact with, so you can replace these objects with textured, edible objects instead!

6. Sensory Baskets

Sensory Baskets

A baby development activity for the whole family, a sensory basket can be filled with materials that you might find lying around your house. Since your little ones can’t exactly texture-train themselves through plastic toys, help them out by making a sensory basket for them. Fill a wooden/jute basket with all sorts of textures – they can be textiles of various fabrics, things you may find in nature that have various scents, or utensils you may find in the kitchen.

These items not only stimulate their tactile senses but also satisfies their olfactory and audiovisual curiosities. So observe your little one as they gleefully poke and prod at their own, personalized activity for babies.

7. Exploring Temperatures

Baby Explore Temperatures

This is a surprisingly brilliant way of letting your baby explore temperatures for different items on their own. An easy way for this is to fill two identical bottles with warm and cold water and offer them to your child to explore. Since the visual cues are the same, your child will learn to disassociate temperatures and objects through this exploration. 

It is also a fun activity for them since they will be thoroughly confused by the change in temperatures between the bottles and try to investigate. You can also try the same by helping your child dip their index finger into a small bowl containing cold water, then one containing warm water. 

8. String Along

String Along

There are so many ways this can be introduced to your baby to play. All these ways have one common goal: working on that good old pincer grip and cause-and-effect for your baby’s cognitive association.

You can either tie one end of a large piece of string to an object with a large hole in the middle and teach your baby to put similar objects through the string. This works on hand-eye coordination and depth perception as well, as your baby will need to gauge where the hole in the object is. 

Another method is tying the piece of string to an object and instructing your little one to pull it closer to them. This can be repeated a few more times, till they understand the concept of pulling items closer to them by their hands.

9. Bubble Pool

Bubble Pool

A fun and supervised baby activity that your baby can partake in any time of the day, you can come up with this with just two things: bubble bath and water. You can either run a bubble bath for your baby or mix it in a smaller container till it foams. Bubbles and foam are endlessly fascinating for little ones, who try to poke and pop them whenever they see them. 

It is also a unique sensory texture for your baby to come into contact with and increases their tactile awareness. Introduce your baby to the world of bubble baths!

10. Making Music

It’s time to bring out the little musician in your child with a few DIY instruments! You can make a makeshift guitar with a few rubber bands and a shoebox, old-school style. You can also stretch a balloon onto the open end of a container so that your child is happily drumming away. 

The best thing about this activity is that you can have as much fun making these little instruments for your baby. Striking the rubber bands and hearing the sounds out of them teach your little one cause-and-effect and strengthen their audiovisual cognitive abilities. 

10 Best Messy Play Ideas for Babies

Chances are, you’re a concerned parent that takes your baby’s hygiene extremely seriously. Well, what if we told you that you should let your kids engage in messy playtime? Trust us, we have a reason to think so. Renowned child psychologists have acknowledged the importance of letting your children be messy – especially during playtime. 

Children below the age of 1 have a tendency of exploring their environments with all of their limbs and sensory organs. It is crucial for the child’s sensory development to ensure that they get maximum interaction with all objects around them. Here are some safe, fun, and messy play ideas for 1 year olds:

1. Whipped Cream

Baby Playing with Whipped Cream

Adults and children alike are fascinated with whipped cream. Watch your kids transform into little chefs with this messy play idea. As the name suggests, you’re gonna need whipped cream – lots of it. A cheaper alternative to dozens of whipped cream cans can be the ready-to-make whipped cream mixture. 

You can present your face to your baby to use as a canvas with the whipped cream, guaranteeing fun for your little one and laughs for the whole family. And once again, since it’s edible, there’s no cause for worry if your child tastes and swallows it. 

2. Playing with Jelly

Jello Treasure Hunt for Babies

Simple as this one sounds, there are so many ways you can customize jelly play for your baby’s messy play ideas. Get your hands on some easily available ready-to-make jelly, and put them in fun little molds that would captivate your children. Small animals, patterns, shapes, the possibilities are endless. 

This messy activity for your baby helps their fine motor skills as they squish it all together. You can even introduce them to Jello Treasure Hunt, where your little one has to dig small objects out of thick layers of jelly. This, once again, tests depth perception. Amazingly, this activity makes for an excellent dessert for your little ones as well. 

3. Spaghetti/Pasta Play

Spaghetti Pasta Play

This is a messy activity for babies that is as fun as it is delicious! As the name suggests, that’s all you have to do: boil some pasta (preferably spaghetti) and let your little one go ham with it! You can even add some food coloring and some garnish to make it extra fun. 

Your child’s fine motor skills for gripping and grabbing will be tested plenty with this one. And as with all food play, you never have to worry about your child unwittingly putting the spaghetti into their mouth. So grab those pots and pans and engage in some tasty playtime with your little one.

4. Edible Painting

Baby Playing with Edible Painting

What if we told you there was a way for your little one to channel their creative juices AND stay safe while doing so? Edible painting is the answer, through and through. There are so many exciting ways to make edible paint; perhaps the easiest one is yogurt and food coloring. 

Make your edible paints in different containers and hand them to your baby over a large sheet of paper – let their imagination run wild! And no cause for panic even if they do decide to put it in their mouths. You can also step in to help your little one out with their artistic process! For the paint, you can also use cornflour, sugar and cornstarch, or baby food.

5. Rice Play

The grainy texture of rice makes it an excellent alternative to sand. By using simple ingredients like uncooked rice, vinegar, and some containers – you can make homemade sand for your little one to play treasure hunt with. And for that extra spice, you could always add food coloring and scents to your small batches of rice and then mix and match! 

You can group different colors of rice into patterns together and “bury” fun little treasures like mini marshmallows or candy. You can even throw in a toy shovel or two to give your baby the authentic, messy treasure-hunting experience.

6. Cloud Dough

Cloud dough

Yet another alternative to sand can be the much more realistic cloud dough. This wonderful substance feels and looks exactly like sand – and you can make this at home with some flour and vegetable oil. Or if you want to make it even more taste-friendly for your little one, you can take some milk powder and combine it with some baby formula. 

Your baby will be sure to be confounded at this interesting texture, and work on those fine motor skills as they sit and make their own sand sculptures with cloud dough. You could even make an indoor beach day out of it!

7. Chocolate Mud

A similar idea to the cloud dough, chocolate mud is the next big thing for sensory play activities for your babies. Gather some cornflour, flour, and cocoa – mix it all up with water and watch it turn into a muddy paradise. 

Gone are the days when you’d have to rush to stop your little ones from playing in the mud – give them some completely healthy, edible, and non-toxic chocolate mud to make their day. It’s time to let them get messy without any repercussions and work on those grabs and grips at the same time. 

8. Non-toxic Bath Crayons

Non-Toxic Bath Crayons

Do you have an infant on your hands that just doesn’t like to participate in bath time? Don’t worry, we might have a solution with that one. These easy, non-toxic and artsy bath crayons will keep your baby occupied in creating their masterpiece – so much so that they won’t even notice when they’re soaped up and washed down. 

What you need is just some melt-and-pour soap, silicone mold in the shape of “crayons”, and some food dye. Melt your soap into your molds and streak them with food coloring – and you’ve got yourself some tools for your little Picasso to use in the bath. These are easy to clean, so you never have to worry about scrubbing your bathroom.  

9. Gloopy Goo

Remember that slime trend on social media that had the entire world in its grip? Well, you can recreate some of that gloopy effect to satisfy your child’s curiosity at home. Mix some cornflour and water and some food coloring – and get some nasty gloopy goo at your disposal that your child will be fascinated by for hours. All sorts of tactile sensations are tested with this messy play idea for babies.

10. Oobleck

Oobleck

We’re going to be combining two messy activities in one here. Remember the edible painting and the gloopy goo fun ideas? Well, oobleck is similar – and you can make it by mixing cornstarch and water. It is a new-Newtonian substance, and has a liquid and solid texture all at once! Confused as to what that means? 

Well, whip up a batch of oobleck and add some fun food coloring to it. Spread out a large cookie sheet and offer the oobleck to your little one. It’s distinctly slimy and so, so fun to play with! They can stretch and knead it, and create their very own rainbow oobleck art onto the cookie sheet, 

Our Advice

Every single one of the activities on this list has a sensory and physical benefit for your little one. If you’re some who is apprehensive about these novel ideas for playtime, don’t worry – we understand the concern. However, we’d encourage you to try to incorporate even one of these activities into your designated playtime with your child. We guarantee you, it has far-reaching benefits and is completely safe. 

Not only this, it gives you an opportunity to bond as a family while coming up with the prep for these activities. In fact, since many of these ideas use materials that you already have at home, you can give them a try right away. So go on and satisfy your little one’s curious streak with these baby learning games!

Laura is a trained primary teacher who takes a profound liking in interacting with and bringing out the best in children. She is also an ISSA certified pediatrician with an extensive practice of over 12 years. Laura comprehends the needs of infants and now compresses her expertise into writing thorough parenting guides to aid new parents.

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