Even before your baby is born, he/she is developing a sense of the world on the outside through the use of heightened senses. Every time you speak, sing, or listen to music you are stimulating those senses, so keep it up! Once they are born, babies use their senses to further explore the world around them and often rely on primal instincts to make sense of everything. Older babies will use all of their senses in quite a sophisticated manner, to taste, smell, listen, touch and watch all that is happening in their environment. To a baby, you are their greatest form of entertainment, so talk as much as you can and involve your baby in all aspects of life. Spend time communicating with your baby and relish those precious moments together.
Toddlers also rely on their senses, often in different and more mature ways. A toddler is naturally curious of many things in the world around them and is often keen to explore a lot more than we feel he is ready for! All types of play are vital for a child’s development and understanding of the world, but sensory play is possibly more so. By indulging your toddler’s senses in a fun and stimulating way, you are boosting language and communication, nurturing fine and gross motor skills and helping your child to learn concentration and other skills necessary for life. Sensory play is a wonderful way to help your toddler to develop and learn about many concepts and ideas, and if you allow yourself to get involved it’s a fantastic way to strengthen your bond an learn a little more about your child too.
Not sure where to start? Think of the senses and the things that your toddler is already interested in. One of the best places to start is through taste.
TASTE From around the age of six months, your child has been indulging the senses through tasting new foods and exploring their textures in the mouth. There is no reason why you can’t develop this further through play, and often food is a wonderful place to start. Some ideas to try:
HELP IN THE KITCHEN Let your child help you in the kitchen when you are cooking or baking. Strict supervision is needed where utensils may be sharp or things may be hot, but use the opportunity to teach these concepts too. Let your child explore a range of ingredients with his hands and mouth and talk about the different flavours on offer.
SAMPLE FRUIT Give your child small samples of different coloured fruits and vegetables and talk about the tastes. This is a great way to enhance your knowledge of new foods that your toddler will enjoy at mealtimes too.
INGREDIENT PLAY Set out a wipe clean cloth on the floor and let your child explore freely with pots, cups, spoons and other utensils. Use cooked pasta, jelly, fruit, grated cheese, spaghetti, etc. Play pretend kitchens and help your toddler to use their imagination too.
TOUCH Toddlers love to explore a range of textures and there are so many ways that you can encourage this. In everyday activities, talk to your child about the way that various objects feel, eg: soft, hard, scratchy etc. Introduce new words to your toddler, and how these textures make him feel. Some fantastic activities which explore texture include:
PAINTING Use different sized brushes, sponges and other materials to paint. Of course, using the hands is a wonderful sensory experience too, and you can also experiment with different types of paint too. Add sand, flour or cornflour for a different texture that can be explored.
MAKE GLOOP! This is a wonderful material to play with, but be warned that it can be messy! Mix cornflour with water and help your toddler to explore the different textures that are created. Adding food colouring adds to the sensory experience too.
USE WATER This is a fantastic material for sensory play and there are many concepts that can be taught here. What is waterproof? What floats and what sinks? How much water can this cup hold? What happens when we add bubbles/ice cubes/food colouring/ glitter. Add toys to the washing up bowl, or invest in a water table for future play sessions.
SAND EXPLORATION The texture of sand is a great one for toddlers to explore, especially when it is dry, and you add water. Mix it with glue to make a sticky paste that can dry onto paper and let your toddler explore that texture too.
HEARING You’ve probably already noticed that your toddler responds well to music, singing and melodies. Bringing musical instruments into the play can help to enhance auditory skills, and singing songs together improves language and communication and builds on your toddler’s vocabulary too. Extend the play with these activities:
MAKE YOUR OWN INSTRUMENTS Fill empty plastic bottles with different sized beads, rainbow rice, or dried pasta. Encourage your toddler to shake along with the music.
SING SONGS WITH ACTION This is a great activity to accompany toddler massage too.
START A BAND Collect items from the kitchen to make different sounds - pots, pan, sieves, spoons etc.
HARNESS WIND POWER Hang wind chimes of varying sizes around the room to gently tinkle in the breeze.
SMELL The sense of smell can be extremely powerful and often we associate memories or moods to certain smells. Introducing new aromas to your toddler can be a wonderfully subtle way to enhance sensory play. Some ideas include:
BATHTIME Adding a few drops of scented oil or peppermint/ vanilla essence to the bath or water tray at play time.
SCENTED RICE Adding a few drops of orange oil or cinnamon to dried rice for sensory play.
AROMA ICE Adding scents to ice cubes and inviting your toddler to explore ways that he/ she can melt the ice.
SIGHT The next time that you are out and about with your toddler, try to see the world through their eyes for a moment. You’ll soon see that there are so many visual sensations and it’s easy to bring that into the play too. Add splashes of colour where you can and talk to your toddler about the effects that it has. Some ideas include:
RAINBOW DOUGH Make rainbow playdough using bright food colouring.
RICE PLAY Dye dried rice different colours with food colouring and let your toddler use it in their play- this is a wonderful material to explore textures and sounds with too.
PAINTING Mix paints to make new colours.
GO EXPLORING Look at photographs and pictures - take your toddler to an art gallery!
READ Samantha is founder of mummaloveorganics.com. Find gorgeous natural products and information about babycare and health on her website.
EXPLORE Find a toddler sensory class near you at babysensory.com.