20 Sensory Activities for 0-12 Month-olds (with items you probably already have!)
Updated: May 28, 2020
My youngest child just turned six months old - already half a year! - which means she is in the "I want to try and move my body, grab at everything, and put it in my mouth" phase of her development and making sense of her world. When her siblings were little bundles of baby-rolls, I learned that you really don't need a multitude of toys to help your infant learn, play, and explore!
It is amazing just the amount of growth happens during these first year of life and all the different senses they use. Babies spend most of their play focusing and investigating, which is what sensory play is all about!
Of course, let's remember to always BE SAFE when doing sensory activities with infants!
It doesn’t matter how non-toxic or taste-safe a material/substance is, sensory play REQUIRES close supervision no matter what. Babies put everything in their mouths (which is okay ans expected!) but it does mean they have to be watched closely. Also, please don't push any sensory on your baby that makes them visibly uncomfortable. Just use your best judgement, because you know your child best!
Here are 20 simple sensory activities you can do with your baby that you can accomplish with things you probably already have around your home:
1. Water Bowl Sensory
I know it seems simple but that’s all it takes! Allow your baby to splash in the water and experience that cause and effect. You can also add in ice cubes (watch size for choking hazard), scoops, or sponges!
2. Discovery Bottles
It’s just like it sounds: find a bottle, fill it with liquid or small items if you desire, and seal it shut! For bottles, you can just do coloured water and oil, maybe do glitter water, or no water at all and see what it’s like with putting bells or pinecones in there! The possibilities are ENDLESS. Little items or toys your baby seems fascinated by? Put it in a bottle and let them go to town!
3. Sensory Bags
this one is similar to the discovery bottles, but they are able to explore more with their touch; fill a Ziploc bag with a gel-like substance (hand sanitizer, hair gel, etc.) and items of your choice, and seal it shut. I’ve done bags with mini pompoms, flowers, waterbeads, buttons, you name it!
4. Scarf Box
Using either a wipes box or a tissue box, fill it with sensory scarves and let your child’s cause and effect, and their fine motor skills get to work! No sensory scarves? Use fabric squares you have, felt, baby facecloths, cut-up pieces of an old shirt, or any other fabric-like materials.
5. Mess-Free Painting
This one also uses a Ziploc bag, but instead of filling it with liquid, you just need paint and paper! Simply place in your paper and dot some paint around inside the bag, seal it shut and give it to your baby to push, squish, and mess the paint around. Tip: tape the bag to the highchair tray, table, or whatever surface you’re using to help prevent it from just ended up in their mouth.
6. Tape the Table
This one is SO easy, anyone could do it! Rip off pieces of masking tape or painter’s tape and press them all over the table or floor in different directions (even overlapping). Once you have tons of tape everywhere, your baby can work on their pincer grasp and finger dexterity to pick at and rip off the tape! (Plus, when you’re done you have a fun, sticky tape ball haha!)
7. Ribbon Tug
This is an easy make-ahead item that was a huge hit in my infant room at daycare. Take a shoebox and cut small holes/slits into both sides so they mirror each other. Place a ribbon so it goes in one side of the box, make a knot big enough that it can’t go through the hole, and push the ribbon out the other side – do this with all the holes so you have multiple strands. The babies can tug on the ribbon and it will come out partially, but the knot will keep it from coming out all the way. The can pull and tug from both sides! Just decorate the box with nice paper or washi tape, and it’ll look beautiful on your toy shelf!
8. Contact Paper Mural
This is an activity I love to do with all ages, infants included! Stick some clear contact paper to the table (or window is also a favourite!) sticky-side out and give your infant some loose items! Some favourites include tissue paper, foam pieces, flowers from a walk, pompoms, and construction paper shapes. Whether they stick items to the paper or just enjoy feeling their hands stick on and off of it, this will spark their curiosity!
9. Cardboard Tunnel
Save those Amazon boxes from all those extra purchases, everyone! Put all your boxes together to create a tunnel your baby can crawl through and even draw on. For extra fun, you could poke holes in the roof to look like stars, or cut larger holes along the tunnel so you can poke your hand through for tunnel tickles!
10. Indoor Ball Pit
Do you have one of those inflatable kiddie pools? Why not bring it inside and fill it with balls to create your own ball pit! Don’t have any little balls? Fill it full of stuffies instead! What child wouldn’t want to jump into a pool full of all their furry little friends.
11. Touch-and Feel Board
With a little bit of effort, this one could become a staple in your play space! Cover a poster or wooden board with all different touchable sensory experiences for your baby. Between your drawers or the dollar store, you could pick up amazing things to attach such as bubble wrap, sandpaper, sequin fabric, brillo pad, old carpet/tile, etc. Think smooth, scratchy, soft, squishy, cold, hard, rough…
12. Hand Instruments
Let's not forget the sense of hearing - create some shaker bottles to use as instruments when you sing your baby’s favourite songs! Depending what you put in the bottles, the sound will change for a new auditory experience. Grab whatever bottles you have and try filling them with rice, popcorn kernels, beans, old bells from your holiday décor, rocks, shells, pasta, etc.
13. Hanging Ribbon
This one is great, especially for babies who aren’t sitting up just yet. Attach ribbons to a box (or tote or laundry basket) to allow your baby to pull, grab, and explore them! If your baby can lie down or sit inside the box, they can even experience it from a different perspective. Use whatever kind of ribbon you have at home (gift ribbon that has been slightly curled is so much fun too and adds another effect!)
14. Edible Sand
What, edible sand? Yep! For when you want to start introducing new textures and a new activity to your baby, but you’re worried about them eating sand, here it is: an edible version! It’s something you probably wouldn’t guess but would feel so silly to not think of yourself (I know I did!)…. It’s blended crackers!! I literally just put some salt crackers into a food processor, pressed the button, and was finished once there were no more chunks!
15. Taste-Safe Paint
In the same vain as the edible sand, you can feel comfortable in knowing your baby is 100% safe with no toxic paints around with one of these FOUR recipes: 1) yogurt and food colouring. 2) yogurt and brightly coloured baby purees. 3) food colouring and flour or corn starch. 4) Tapioca/vanilla pudding and food colouring. Play around with what ones make you the happiest or try them all!
16. Sensory Scarves
This is an item I find use with for all my children, but I definitely love them for my baby! Whether we tie one to her bouncer chair, put them all inside her oball to try and pull out, or play with how they change the colours we see, they are full of open-ended fun for all ages!
17. Noodle Play
This is another great taste-safe sensory! Remember when you would put your hand in a sensory ‘scare’ at Halloween and feel the slimy, gooey cooked spaghetti ‘guts’ in a bowl?! Bring that sensory to life for your baby. Cook the spaghetti noodles and give them to your child, that’s it. You could spice it up with fun colours, or adding other toys into the play.
18. Jello Dig – now, this one is both a lot of fun and a huge mess, but all the best play usually is messy! Grab a few of your babies favourite toys that won’t get wrecked, such as links, and put them into jello before you set it in the fridge. Give it to your baby and watch them squish around in the jello, feel the texture, free the toy, and possibly have a snack at the same time.
19. Sensory Walk
Now this is a fun one to watch for your baby;s reactions! Find different textures and create a pathway of “tiles” that your child can walk or crawl over (you could even attach things to old foam interlocking mats). Glue on foam shapes, pompoms, smooth stones, bubble wrap, plants, etc. Even if your baby isn’t walking yet, you could put these items under your baby while in their jolly jumper (imagine having your baby jumping on bubble wrap?! So fun!)
20. Play in Nature
I saved the easiest for last… Did you know that just laying your baby in the grass is a sensory experience? They can feel the tickle of leaves and grass on their legs, see the grass move in the wind, and explore sticks and leaves. Plus, in the winter they can experience the crunch and cold of the snow and watch the snowflakes fall from the sky. All the fun with no prep!
Remember, play is how children learn!