How To Make Sensory Toys For Babies & Toddlers
Ok, so we have all heard of this thing called a “Sensory Basket” or "Treasure Basket", popularised by Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and influential educator back in the early 1900’s.
But, what is it? How will it help my baby? and how do I make one??
Well, the really cool thing about all sensory play is that it provides children with the kind of mental and sensory stimulation that activates the development of the brain, at the same time as providing richly satisfying experiences! Sensory play builds nerve connections in the brain's pathways, which enhances your bub's ability to complete more complex learning tasks. It has been shown to support language development, cognitive growth, fine motor skills, problem solving skills, and social interaction.
The best thing about a sensory bag for babies is that it gives your little one an opportunity to explore, experiment and make choices at their own pace.
So what is it?
A sensory basket is essentially a basket filled with a range of items that your little one can explore using all their senses. The Montessori ethos is based on the proven fact that children learn through understanding and doing, rather than being told. Montessori emphasised that the brain is developed by the discoveries of the hand. As the fine motor movements of the fingers touch an object, this information is sent to the developing brain.
The idea of playing with everyday items is not new, but a sensory basket gives your little one an opportunity to explore, experiment and make choices in their own time. Best of all, each time you mix up the contents of the basket, you provide a whole new world ripe for discovery. It is an ideal experience for babies from sitting age to about 18 months.
How to make one
Make up a collection of safe items that your baby can investigate using their five senses—things that they can rustle and rattle, shake, chew and smell.
And simply arrange them in the shallow bamboo basket so that your baby can see and access each item as they explore.
Try this simple recipe to get started
- Select a sensory base
- Add some objects
- Add one or more "garnishes"
Sensory base ideas: Rice puffs, raw lentils, rice or quinoa (or any uncooked grain small enough to not be a choking hazard)
Objects: Add some objects that have different shapes, weights, textures and temperatures. Objects made from natural materials, such as wood, metal, wool, cotton, silk, etc, can be a good starting point because they tend to have different properties, whereas plastic toys tend to feel, taste and smell very much the same.
Sensory garnish: Citrus rind or dried citrus slices, dried lavender, dried rose petals, dried herbs & spices (e.g. a cinnamon stick), eucalyptus leaves, autumn leaves, fresh herbs (such as mint or rosemary), pine cones, pine needles, seed pods, edible flowers.
How to Play
Change the contents every time you offer sensory toys to your little one, providing an entirely fresh invitation to play and stimulating your baby’s sense of wonder!
What you choose will heavily depend on your baby's age and tendencies. Be very selective and choose items that won't be sharp or harmful if mouthed. The objects should be large enough not to be swallowed, and the sensory base should be fine enough to not be a choking hazard.
Then place up to 15 items in the basket and hand it over for your little one to freely explore (under your watchful eye, of course)!
A few tips:
Your Sensory Basket should not be left out 24/7 for your baby to play with. This is because they will inevitably become bored and disinterested in the items.
Try to set aside some time each day for your baby to explore the basket, as you actively supervise from the side lines. Try to do this at a time when your baby is alert, well fed and happy. Creating space in your day to provide a stable and safe environment for your child to explore their ever-expanding world is a benefit to all in your family.
Set up an environment that is calm, comfortable, inviting and free from distraction (and put your phone in another room). You might like to set the basket down on your baby's playmat, or a soft blanket on the floor.
You don't need to show your baby how to do things or guide the play in any way, as there is no right or wrong way for a baby to explore the materials you provide. Your role is to just sit by and be attentive, responsive and unobtrusive. Even if it looks like your baby isn't doing much, they may actually be processing, learning to trust their own judgement, or developing confidence and concentration.
Once you see signs of your baby becoming disinterested, pack the basket away and move onto something else.
It really is this simple.
Our kids absolutely loved playing with the various sensory baskets we created for them and it really did give us some time to sit back, relax and watch play happen. It was also a fantastic way to introduce independent play from a young age (under our watchful eye, of course).