Sensory play for Babies

looking at mobile

It’s exciting to see a baby emerge from the shell of sleepiness and into the world of awareness; a transition that becomes more obvious as she mimics a smile, tracks movement above her head, or is surprised by sounds.

One of our family’s favorite activities for tactile awareness is to gently billow and twirl a colorful scarf above and over the baby’s head, bringing huge waves of joy to her face that we can only interpret as awe. I like silk scarves for their translucent flowing quality, but lightweight cotton works nicely too.

This stuffed bee, with its plush body and crinkly wings, is the first object my older daughter grasped independently. Gaining knowledge through the sense of touch. Soft and squeeky. Tension and texture. I noticed she was especially fascinated by the crinkly wings, which led to this next experiment…

Exploring the sounds and textures of a plastic bag. I know, I know, plastic bags are absolutely not toys, and she was closely supervised throughout! If you try this at home, please use your best judgement. While she was captivated by this bag, even I could see that it was an inappropriate make-the-baby-happy-toy, and I stitched up one of these:

It’s a little plastic bag pillow: two pieces of fabric stitched over and around two pieces of heavy, crinkly plastic. Cute, safe, and noisy!

I found a noisy, crinkly bag. Chip, cracker, and baby wipes bags are usually really good for this sort of thing. Test different bags to find a sound you like, or make a few of these to play with different sounds.

Hand it to your child and see what they think of it. In reality, my daughter was more captivated by the plastic bag, but this still got a lot of use. An easy no-sew alternative is to wrap a bandana or square of fabric around a ball of wax paper or plastic, and tie it off with a yarn. Cut loose ends short, and keep an eye on your child at all times. If you’re up for sewing, you could also follow this ball/wax paper method, and then stitch it off for a more permanent toy. Related baby bonding activities can be found here.

What sensory activities does/did your baby enjoy?

Squeezing Paint

Back Camera

I set N up with some paint pots and a large sheet of paper — our favorite way to paint big as of late. After smearing some paint around and taking a few stabs at mixing colors, she asked me for more purple paint. The paint pot wasn’t empty, and the real story ended up being that she wanted to SQUEEZE more paint into the paint pot. Of course she did! Toddlers adore squeezing, as we’ve noted with glue bottles, water bottles, and glitter glue. So I handed her the bottle, and the following drip and splatter-fest took place.

At a later point I encouraged her to walk through the paint to make footprints, which unfortunately led to a messy paint disaster that included falling into a big slippery puddle of paint. This led to laughing and commotion, but since my hands were then full with towels and buckets of water, I’ll spare you the image and leave the result to your imagination.

The timing was perfect because I just ordered a set of Nancy Paint Bottles, and they arrived late in yesterday’s mail. After N went to bed I filled them with paint, ready for morning squeezing experiments!

Wow! It makes green!

The splatters that came out of the almost empty bottles were rewarding in their own way. This isn’t the most economical way to use paint with a squeeze-happy toddler, but as she gets older I’m sure she’ll become more judicious with the paint pouring. I also envision other squeeze bottle experiments with glue, flour mixtures, and liquid watercolors.

What kind of squeeze bottle experiments have you had in your home or school? Do you have any other ideas for materials that could be squeezed?

More Art Projects for Toddlers

12 Simple Art Projects for Toddlers | TinkerLab.com
For more toddler art projects, you may enjoy the easy-to-set-up activities that use mainly everyday materials in 12 Simple Art Projects for Toddlers.

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Flour and Water

table from above

We recently attended a back-to-school event at my daughter’s preschool, where her teacher shared a funny and inspiring story that involved a messy flour and water sensory activity. With my ears on the alert for fun and thoughtful creativity-builders, I knew immediately that this was something we had to try. It’s unbelievably simple and requires no art supplies…all you need is flour and water. It’s so straightforward, in fact, that I’m almost embarrassed it wasn’t already part of my repertoire. Strip your kids down and get ready for some messy flour fun. This activity is all about activating the senses, and will entertain your toddler or preschooler for a good long time. Guaranteed.

Before you get started, be prepared for a bit of mess, although nothing too cray-cray since it’s just flour and water. I set us up in the kitchen and placed the materials on a low table covered in oil cloth.

Our materials included a large mixing bowl, three little bowls, and a spoon. Two of the little bowls were half-full of flour, and the third was three quarters full of warm water. The large bowl was empty. Without giving her any directions, I merely placed the materials in front of my daughter and encouraged her exploration with comments such as “you’re dumping the flour in the large mixing bowl” and “what does the dough feel like in your hands?”

Pouring water with a spoon.

My daughter started by pouring all of the flour into the large bowl and mixing it dry. After playing with it for a bit, she requested more flour. I gave her two more bowls, one white and one wheat, and we talked about the differences for a moment before the scooping resumed.  After moving all of the flour into the large bowl, she scooped it all back up with her spoon and divided most of it up into the little bowls until they overflowed. At this point the water was still untouched, which really surprised me as I imagined she’d hastily dump the water in the large bowl in one big pour. Instead, she gently poured the water, spoonful by spoonful, into a small bowl of flour and mixed it in. And she was very careful to keep her hands clean throughout! No surprise there, as my child is obsessed with napkins and tidiness.

Hand mixing.

But as the activity escalated, one hand finally succumbed to hand mixing, and then the fun really began. She had a running commentary throughout the process that was fun to witness. I sounded something like this, “Now I’m mixing it with my hand. It’s like dough. I’m pouring more water in. I’m making bread dough. Can we make this in the bread maker?”

At the end of it all, she asked for a mid-day bath, and my trusty assistant/Mother-in-Law and I were more than happy to oblige.

More sensory ideas

  • Fill a tub with beans, rice, or sand. Offer your child small bowls and scoopers for filling and dumping.
  • Play with shaving cream.
  • Mix corn starch and water. What a strange feeling!
  • Play with ice cubes in a warm bath.
  • Shine a flashlight or experiment with a glow stick in a dark room.
  • Blow out candles.

Wonderful Whiteboarding

n at stanford 2 erasing

If you’ve been following me, you probably know that I love introducing my daughter to a variety of media.  When I went on maternity leave a couple years ago, this little dry erase board came home from the office with me, and it’s now a spot where N can freely draw while we brew our morning coffee and heat up oatmeal. We also have the Ikea easel, which has a dry erase board on one side, and this moves freely between N’s bedroom and the living room.

Creative Connection

Dry erase drawing is great because it’s temporary, easily wipes up when a drawing is complete, and the pen moves across the smooth whiteboard surface in a fashion so different from markers.  Watching my daughter draw in this medium, I see that her ideas flow freely, one idea emerges into another, and when she’s done, a simple swipe of the eraser allows her to begin all over again.  It’s like brainstorming at the toddler level!  Plus, on a large scale, drawing on a white board is a lot like drawing on a wall — without the cleaning nightmare associated with all of that.

(Photo: Fast Company)

Related to this, my husband, Scott, happens to co-direct the Environments Collaborative (i.e. he designs the interior spaces) in the incredibly creative Stanford Institute of Design, where dry-erase boards hang freely in place of walls (see photo above). They even have an entire room (called the White Room – surprise, surprise!) dedicated to whiteboard-style brainstorming.  My daughter BEGS me to visit her dad at work, and while I know it’s because she has a huge heart for her dad’s affection, I assume that part of this longing must also have something to do with the endless supply of post-its and sea of whiteboards that stretch from one end of the building to the other.

Drawing at the d. School

Cleaning up our mess. so we’ll get invited back!

Making it happen

Drawing with dry-erase markers was introduced in our house when my daughter was about 18 months, but it didn’t really become a favorite activity until she was almost two and could easily open and close the markers and erase her markings without assistance.  While whiteboarding on a big canvas can be tons of fun, you don’t need wall-to-wall dry erase boards to make this happen.  In fact, just the other day I picked up a $2 board that’s about 12″ x 16″ in the school supply section of Target that will be perfect for dry-erasing on-the-go.  For the more ambitious-minded, there’s a company called IdeaPaint that sells a paint product that can turn virtually any surface into a whiteboard. Here’s a little inspiration from their website:

And finally, it will take a bit of hunting, but you can also find nontoxic dry-erase markers, such as these from Expo. Have fun drawing on this glassy surface, and please share your whiteboard drawing/brainstorming/creating/exploring tales!