Babies are fascinated with their world – and why shouldn’t they be, after almost 40 weeks of life in a dark, damp womb? Right from the moment they are born, babies are busy taking in all the sights and sounds, tastes and textures, that this world has to offer. In short, babies are using all of their senses to make sense of life.
It comes as no surprise, then, that experts highly recommend sensory play for babies. Children learn best and retain the most information when they engage their senses, and learn meaning through their experiences.
You may be wondering – my child can’t really follow instructions yet, so how can I engage him in hands-on activities? Here are a few activities that you can try at home, with minimal preparation required. Don’t worry that your child might not know what to do. We suggest that you leave it to him to explore the medium he has been given, and that you only step in to offer a demo if he seems totally lost.
Putty in my hands
Homemade play dough is easy to make and can be stored for a couple of weeks in a cool, dry and airtight place. Experiment with different consistencies of dough, till you find one that is easy for your child to manipulate and mold. Add some food colouring for variety. Best of all, since all the ingredients are edible, you don’t need to worry about your child poisoning himself by ingesting some dough!
Rub a dub dub
Once our babies can stand, we often “graduate” them to being showered out of the tub. But that precious tub has much more mileage than you think! Haul it out of your storeroom, give it a good wash, and let your child enjoy the pleasures of being immersed in some warm water with a generous dollop of bubble bath. Add different kinds of objects for your child to interact with – some which will float (plastic spoon, straw, rubber ducky), and some which will sink (pebble, mirror). Do be sure to supervise any form of water play, however, because as little as three inches of water is considered sufficiently hazardous to babies and young children.
Bring some sand home from the beach, or from Grandma’s garden! (Of course, you’ll need to sift through the sand to filter out any debris or shells beforehand.) Fill a large box a couple inches deep in the sand, and throw in a couple of cups, bowls and spoons – anything, really, that your child can use to play with the sand. Scooping and pouring are two very useful skills your child can learn through such sand play. If you are worried about hygiene, you can buy a pack (or more) of manmade sand instead. (Google “Kinetic sand”) Whether natural or man-made, sand is definitely not edible, so supervise your baby closely so he doesn’t ingest even a little sand.
Hide a variety of everyday-objects in a big pail or container of rice, for your child to unearth. Have a mix of sizes and shapes, textures and colours. Some examples: plastic ladles, bottle cap, empty medicine bottle, bright squares of felt, a keychain, sponge and a baby sock!
Eat what you paint
Finger painting is often a hot favourite with little ones, and you can make it an extra sensory experience by preparing edible and colourful paints that your child can both paint with and lick off. Think orange juice (orange), spinach water (green), blueberry juice (blue), cranberry juice (magenta) and beetroot juice (red). It’s advisable to make your own, as the store-bought variety tends to be diluted, so colours aren’t as vibrant and the liquid is less viscous. Of course, you’ll need to have a cordoned off area for painting, so you don’t get the whole house in a sticky mess! Also, do use several layers of paper as the base of the art work, because juices will tend to seep through much faster.
By Dorothea Chow