We’ve 16 fun, educational activities you can do at home with your babies, toddlers and young children to encourage sensory development.
Hold your baby in your arms in a dark room and point out different objects with the torch. Is there a stuffed animal on the shelf? Shine the light on it and say, “I see your teddy bear!” Leave the torch on and shine it around the room to help your baby track the light with their eyes.
With a baby at home, you’re probably hearing babbles all day long. What are some of the most common sounds you hear? Look for sounds your child repeats often and find natural ways to repeat them to help your child build a foundation for language. Let’s take “ba,” for example. Simply repeat “ba, ba, ba” back to your child, pausing to allow them to respond in kind. This begins the give and take of a conversation. Other ideas include: sing “Bah, Bah, Black Sheep,” roll a ball around, point to different bottles in the kitchen, or emphasize the bye when saying “bye-bye.”
Materials: empty clear plastic bottles, rice, beans, small stones, feathers, other small household items, masking tape
Fill each bottle with a different material and sellotape the cap on tightly. Supervise closely and help your baby roll, shake, and tap the bottles to explore the different sounds each material makes in the bottle. Older children can help make their own sensory bottles with supervision.
Materials: anything available that can generate a sound
An anytime, anywhere activity. Use available objects to make sounds — from tapping a pen on your water bottle to snapping your fingers. Say, “What’s making that sound? Is it my fingers?” and, “What sounds can you make?”
Materials: a mirror, your child’s toys
If you have a mirror that’s easy to move, set it up on a table or the floor. Sit in front of it with your child and give her toys to play with. First, see what she does and give her time to explore on her own. Then, join her play and talk about what you can see in the mirror.
Materials: carpet square, rug, rubber mat, contact paper, bubble wrap, soft fabric, etc.
Put the materials on the floor and allow your baby to sit, crawl, or roll around on them. Talk about their textures and the sensations they are created. Say, “The rug is rough on your hands,” “The bubble wrap pops when you crawl on it,” and “The fleece is smooth and warm.” Your baby’s sense of touch will develop and they will begin to make connections between words and feelings.
Materials: basket, fur, silk, velvet, fleece, canvas bag, linen, wool, etc.
Create a basket of materials with varying colours and textures. First, allow your child to explore the materials and see what they do. Then join in and talk about the objects — ask, “Which one is soft? Which one is rough?” If they like one more then you can comment, “You like the soft fur, don’t you? Do you want to see what it feels like on your arm?” Talk about attributes. Say, “The smooth silk is pink” and “Is the bag scratchy?” Exploring different materials will help them learn to describe things and associate objects with words.
Materials: paint brush, large cup or bucket, water
Head outside with your toddler and show them how to “paint” the house, fence, sidewalk, driveway, and stairs with water. Boost critical thinking skills by noting whether the “paint” changes the colour of the surface. Test whether location and temperature make a difference (sunny vs. shady and warm vs. cool). If it’s a hot day, watch the marks get lighter and lighter as the water dries up.
Materials: keys, cancelled credit cards, small toys, a paint brush, old purse or tote bag
Collect small items (stay away from choking hazards) in an old purse or tote bag. Give the purse or bag to your child and have her open it and discover each “treasure.” Allow your child time to dump and fill, moving the objects in and out the bag. See what else they do. After they explore, join in by saying things like, “Tell me what you can do with the keys,” “What can you do with the card?” and “How does that pink object feel on your hand? On your face?”
Materials: 4 cups sand, 2 cups cornflour, 1 cup water, bowl or tray, smock or cover-up
Beware this activity is great fun but can get messy! Make sure your child covers up with a smock, apron, or old t-shirt before starting. Have your child use their hands to mix the sand and cornflour in the bowl. Give them time to feel the two textures, then slowly pour the water in as they’re mixing and moving the materials around until everything is combined. Ask, “What does it feel like?” Give them time to play with the moon sand and figure out what it can do.
Materials: plastic watering cans, cups, beach toys
Bath time can be scary and intimidating for toddlers…are you looking for a way to make it more fun? Add toys into the mix! Your child can use a watering can, cups, and beach toys to play with the water and soapy suds. He can fill the toys up with water and pour it out — even on himself. This can be a great way to wash away soap and shampoo, too.
Materials: empty tall jar or can with lid (jam, coffee jars or Pringles), paper, scissors, round object eg. golf or small ball (stay away from choking hazards).
Help your child fit the paper into the can so that it lines the inside (you may have to cut it). Then, drop some paint into the can, along with the round object. Put the lid on and seal it with tape. Ask your child, “How can you make the ball move inside the can?” Get them to shake, roll, swirl, drop, and throw (softly and carefully) the can. When they’re done, open it up and take the paper out to see the designs!
Materials: paper plates, markers or paint, stapler, small objects (rice, beans, stones, or the like)
Do you have leftover paper plates from a birthday party or picnic? Use them to make tambourines! Have your child colour, paint, or draw designs on the underside of two plates. Then, turn the plates over to face each other (designed sides facing out) and help your child start to staple them together. Once they’re almost attached, help your child put small objects inside (keep in mind that different materials make different sounds). Staple the plates closed, and then work together to make sounds, rhythms, and patterns. This will help you introduce both music and math concepts. Have everyone in the family make a tambourine, and then put on a concert or march in a parade together!
Materials: pie plate, whole milk (about a cup, at room temperature), food colouring, liquid soap
Have your child pour the milk into the pie plate. Then, ask them to choose a bottle of food colouring and squeeze a few drops into the milk. Set the stage for scientific thinking by asking, “What do you think will happen when we add the soap?” Then, put one drop of liquid soap into the milk and watch the colours explode! Ask things like, “What happened to the colours?” and “Do you see any new colours?”
Materials: a trip to the beach/lake (when allowed), pail or bucket, plastic bottle, super glue, permanent marker, label
Explore the beach with your child and have them collect shells, small pieces of wood, pebbles, and rocks in a pail or bucket (try to stay away from perishable living plants). Say things like, “How many shells do we need?” and “Which items will fit in the bottle?” Then, head back to your towel or spot on the beach and sit down together. Have your child put the objects they found into the plastic bottle, along with sand and water. Once your child is done filling the bottle, seal the top with super glue (keep it out of your child’s reach until it’s dry). Use the label to add the location and date. Encourage your child to observe the items in the bottle and get an up-close look at them.
Materials: apron or play clothes, seashells, tub of soapy water, scrubbing brush or old tooth brush, towel, sponge, paper, pen
Your child might get wet while doing this activity, so help them put on an apron or play clothes before you get started. Set up a tub of soapy water close to your child and give them a scrubbing brush and seashells. Then, clean the shells together and talk about all the different colours, shapes, and sizes. Once they’re all clean, work with your child to make a chart that shows their attributes and research their names at www.seashells.org.