5 Sensory Activities For Infants That Are Fun & Engaging

You’ve probably heard many times that sensory activities for infants are an essential part of their development—but you may not know exactly what sensory activities are.. or why they’re so important.

Babies learn about the world around them through exploration, and sensory play provides them with opportunities to explore their environment, learn new skills, and develop their senses. Sensory play for babies involves the use of materials and activities to help your infant learn through their sense of touch, sight, smell, sound, and taste: feeling textured materials like sand or water, exploring various scents and flavors, banging objects together to make noise, and creating art with different colors and textures.

While sensory play is fun for your baby, it’s also so much more. While engaging in infant sensory activities, your baby is developing important cognitive, physical, and social skills, including:   

  • Building neural connections and developing their brains
  • Improving their fine and gross motor skills
  • Learning about cause and effect
  • Developing their language and communication skills
  • Engaging in social interactions with other children and adults, which helps to build social skills and emotional development.

Because sensory play is such an important aspect of early childhood development, you should provide your baby with opportunities to engage in lots of different sensory play. We’ve rounded up five of our favorite playtime sensory ideas for infants.

Tummy Time Sensory Play: Best for Babies 1-3 Months Old

Your baby needs daily tummy time to develop their neck, shoulder, and back muscles—muscles that are essential for them to reach motor milestones like crawling and sitting up. Add baby sensory activities to your baby’s daily tummy time by laying your baby on a soft, textured mat then scattering colorful small toys and mirrors within their reach. Make sure you choose a variety of colorful toys—including some that crinkle, rattle, or make another sound—for your baby to explore with their hands and mouth.

Messy Play with Edible Sensory Materials: Best for Babies 1-12 Months Old

Sure, you already know that babies make messes. But did you know that messy play—whether it’s smearing food all over their high chair or splashing in their water cup—isn’t just fun, it helps your baby explore and understand the world around them? When your baby smashes a banana or rubs peas into their hair, they’re not just making a mess: they’re developing their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, learning about cause and effect, and problem solving.

You can encourage your baby to explore the world of messy play by providing a variety of edible “toys” with different textures—spoon a dollop of cooked oatmeal, mashed fruits or vegetables and yogurt on their high chair tray for them to squish, taste and smear all over the tray and (let’s be realistic!) on themselves. And hint to caregivers: do yourself a favor and try to schedule messy play activities right before bathtime!

Sensory Board or Wall: Best for Babies 6 Months and Older

There are lots of toys out there that claim they are essential for your child’s sensory development, but one of the best toys is one you can make yourself: a sensory board or wall decorated with objects of different sizes, textures, and colors. These are great sensory activities for infants 6-12 months because they engage your baby’s sense of touch, hearing, and sight.

As your baby touches, pulls, and explores the different items on the board, they hone their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, learn how to differentiate between different textures and materials, and start to understand more about the world around them.

Music and Movement: Best for Babies 1 Month and Older

There’s a reason why babies and music go together: parents know instinctively that humming, singing, and swaying is a way to calm a fussy newborn. But music and moving isn’t just comforting: dancing and singing develops your baby’s language, social, and fine motor skills, makes them aware of their body and how it moves, and even teaches them how to self soothe. It’s also a fun and easy way for you to connect with your baby and have fun, so break out the playlist for a baby dance party every evening!

And don’t limit your baby to just listening to music. Encourage them to make their own music, too, and explore their world through sound: let them bang on a pot with a wooden spoon, shake an egg shaker, or jingle some bells.  

Outdoor Sensory Exploration: Best for Babies 6 Months and Older

Getting some fresh air is good no matter how old you are—but outdoor sensory activities for 6 month olds and up are particularly beneficial for sensory development in infants. The great outdoors is filled with new things for your baby to explore and stimulate their senses: let them do tummy time or crawl around in the grass, splash in water, pick up smooth rocks and crinkly leaves, feel rain on their face, or watch the sun. This type of play engages your baby through sight, smell, and sound, promotes sensory development, helps their sense of touch and fine motor skills, and can get them started on a lifelong love of nature.

Get Started with Sensory Play Today

Sensory play is a fun and engaging way to nurture your child’s curiosity about the world around them and promotes the development of important skills your baby needs to grow and thrive. Take time every day to engage in some type of sensory play to challenge your baby in a fun and positive way. And be sure to keep it safe: Make sure you always have an eye on your baby and that the sensory materials you choose for their interactions are safe and appropriate.