Now you've read Part 1 of our sensory series (click here if you haven't) and you're feeling ready to give this a go you need some ideas. Here I've put together some ideas on sensory bases and what ages are the best for.
Big disclaimer up front, these are broad generalisations of age and development. Only *you* know your kid. Only you know when they're done mouthing and when they are able to listen to instructions.
Dying sensory bases
For my family I prefer to dye sensory bases even from a young age to introduce the idea that coloured stuff is for play, not coloured stuff is for eating. Doing this is so easy. There's many methods out there and you can google all the different methods. But the really simple option is put a bit of vinegar, a bit of food dye and your sensory bases in a zip lock bag, shake, lay out on a baking tray to dry and boom you're done. I've also used paint with this same method (minus the vinegar) to great effect but I would use food dye if you're at all concerned about mouthing.
How: Ideally a shallow pan or lid from tupperware is great at this age.
What: You can use baby cereal, water, uncooked oats. I have very small garden rocks I put in a metal cake tin my son used to like to move and make noises with. He couldn't grasp yet and I used high-supervision so wasn't concerned about mouthing. It had the added benefit of when he spewed in it I could rinse them off 😂 So that's a good idea to keep in mind if you are similarly blessed with spewy babies.
Another great way to experience sensory play with a baby is to enclose it. You can do this with a calm bottle or a ziplock bag, reusable silicone bag or even laminating bag (use a hair straightener to seal three sides, put in your sensory base and seal the last edge).
Baby Tyson enjoying his sensory bottles made with Jumbo Test Tubes.
Babies also love texture so laying them on something that makes a noise or feels interesting is a great option. Tummy time on a Sarah's Silk is a great idea, aluminium foil to hear the crinkle is another great one.
Taping sensory bags to the floor is a great way to let small children explore without mess or choking hazards.
How: This is a great time to experiment in the highchair. They are contained and the table itself helps contain the mess. Simply let them get their hands involved and touch and feel the different textures
What: Everything mentioned above is still great choices. Finger painting with coloured yogurt or rice cereal can be really fun at this age, you can do this straight on the highchair table or on a tray.
As you notice their grasping develop large uncooked pasta is a great choice for practicing. As you notice their pincer grasp developing move to smaller items like pom-poms. They would be a choking hazard so I definitely recommend high supervision and again trusting your instincts as their parent.
Water is such a good sensory play activity for small children. Easy to clean up, easy to set up and great for exploration.
What: Water is always a winner in this phase where tipping and pouring is strong. But also include dry sensory bases that pour well - rice, lentils, chickpeas are all great choices. Oobleck is a lot of fun at this age (corn flour and water). You can even mix up a looser version as "chalk paint" and do some washable paint outside.
Flower soup is a great activity with limited set up and free resources. You can even involve your child in the picking or cutting of plants and flowers!
For older toddlers this is a great time to start working on other skills like cutting with cooked spaghetti or play dough. Making pre-writing shapes in coloured salt. And even using tongs to pick up pom-poms and help strengthen those little hands.
Toddlers love tipping and pouring, never underestimate the fun of water!
How: This is when kids will often enjoy more of a narrative with their sensory play. They will enjoy washing things, making soups and potions. It's time to get your Waytoplay roads out and make some mess!
What: Washing dolls/animals/trucks in soapy water can be a lot of fun. You can even introduce some "muddy" Oobleck or paint to make them dirty first. Waytoplay with shaving cream is a fun one, we call it "snow trucks" and it's my son's favourite. Potions or soups are great. Just use some coloured water and add anything you want - glitter, fresh or dried flowers, pom-poms etc. If DIY isn't your thing we stock these great Potion Kits with everything you need all together and in cute little themes. This is usually when you're good to introduce things that are definitely not taste-safe or for mouthers like water marbles, Calming Sand, Unicorn Flurry and shaving cream.
At this older age, themed sensory trays can be really fun for little ones to learn or to explore imaginative play.
This certainly isn't an extensive list of what you can do as sensory play but it gives you some ideas and options and hopefully inspires you. As always feel free to reach out with questions or if you need any inspiration or help.
- by Jenna Milburn