11 Super Simple Ways To Add Sensory Play To Baby's Daily Routines

There's no denying that babies require a lot of care - diapering and bathing, feeding and burping, and diapering all over again. The thought of enriching your baby's day with creative play can feel exasperating. But what if I told you that there are some super simple ways to incorporate "sensory play" or sensory enrichment into those daily routines that you have to do anyway? Because I'm a child development nerd, let's get a little background information on the table before we jump into the activities:

Why Does My Baby Need Sensory Play Or Enrichment?

More and more (and more) kids are showing signs of sensory processing disorders and we're not sure why. What might look like a little "quirk" in infancy - not wanting to touch things with the hands, alarm and distress over day-to-day noises, a hyperactive gag reflex over textured food, panic over changes in position like being tipped back for a diaper change or tipped forward for Tummy Time - can manifest as a bigger issue later in childhood. 

Learn more about Sensory Processing Disorders from the Growing Hands on Kids Blog.
Learn more about Sensory Play from CanDo Kiddo

Sometimes I wonder if we keep our firstborn babies' experiences TOO soft, warm, quiet and calm. Not usually the case when you have more than one kiddo in the house. I'd love to see some data about sensory processing issues in first vs. second and third born kiddos (yes, these are the things a child development nerd wonders about when she tries to go to sleep at night). But I do think that new parents tend to shy away from the types of sensory inputs that help a newborn learn to make sense of the world through their 7 senses.

A pediatric OT explores ways to engage your infant's sensory systems. CanDo Kiddo

Baby's 7 Senses

Wait, seven? Maybe you're like most people and thought there were ony 5! The lesser known senses, in a nutshell, are the sense of movement (the vestibular sense - housed in the inner ear) and the pressure and stretch sense (the proprioceptive sense - housed in receptors within joints and muscles). That's important to keep in mind when we look at ways to enrich baby's daily sensory experience. 

Super Simple Sensory Play For Baby

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Brush Baby's Teeth

Give your baby sensory enrichment by adding it to your daily routines. CanDo Kiddo

During or after bath time, wipe baby’s mouth with a clean, damp washcloth or use an infant “toothbrush” (I love the Nuk and Nuby brushes {affiliates}) to help your baby get used to new sensations in his mouth. I’ve had a pediatrician, a dentist and a lactation consultant support this recommendation, so it’s not just a crazy OT lady recommendation.

Wash Baby's Hands

Placing baby soap directly in your little one’s palm and giving a gentle rub or rubbing baby’s hands together is the newborn equivalent to “messy play”. Use tear-free baby-safe soap in case those hands go for the face.

Switch Baby's Washcloths

Swap your super-soft baby washcloth or towel for a more bumpy adult version for washing and drying tiny hands and feet. Just that simple change in texture is a new experience for your baby’s touch receptors.

Make A Mess At Mealtimes

I can’t tell you how it makes the OT in me squirm to watch a mom spoon-feed her baby an entire meal, immediately scraping up any drips and wiping hands and face the moment they get a single drop of mess on them.  Mealtime is one of the best opportunities for your little one to explore through touch. Put a tarp or towel down on the floor, opt for a large bib or smock {affiliates} (or just strip your baby down to the diaper) and plop even stage 1 and 2 foods on your baby’s tray. 

Wear Your Baby

One of the many benefits of wearing your baby in a sling, wrap, or carrier, is all the movement sensory input your little one receives and processes. I loved our K'Tan wrap and Boba 4G carrier {affilates} for babywearing while doing housework. When worn awake as you go about your daily routines, your baby will learn to adjust head and eye position to remain upright and to look at their surroundings as they move with you. 

Brush Baby's Hair

Most babies don't have much hair or hair that requires detangling. But using a soft brush on baby's head after bathtime is a great sensory experience for your little one.

Let Baby Be Near Your Food

Give baby a rich smelling experience for her olfactory sense by keeping her nearby during your meal preparations and eating. Keep baby safely away from hot or sharp items in the kitchen, but think of ways to keep her close. In the first weeks of life, we kept our baby in arm's reach on a blanket on the dinner table as we ate and on our kitchen island as we prepared our meals. I still wear my baby during cooking tasks that don't involve the stove. 

Looking for other ways to help your baby's sensory systems develop? 
Sensory Bags for Babies
A Touching Pan of Fresh Herbs
Super Simple Sensory Play for Newborns

And if you have an older sibling in the house, be sure to check out this fabulous post from a fellow Occupational Therapist, Cindy, from Your Kids OT: Everyday Learning in Everyday Life at Home

Want more tips and activities to give your baby the healthiest start?