Sensory development (babies)

Sensory development (babies)

Ask mums the clearest memory they have of giving birth and – apart from the pain – most will say it’s those precious moments when they got to hold their little bundle of joy for the first time. In those wondrous seconds when you have skin-to-skin contact with baby, you begin to realise that baby is comforted by being close to you, your voice, your scent and your warmth. This is the first step in the development of your child’s senses.

Good to know about your baby’s sensory development

Sensory development begins in the womb and continues well into the toddler years. Newborns are ready to enjoy what is new as well as what is familiar. They pay more attention to new stimuli, especially those coming from the human world.

The ability to see, hear, taste, smell and touch are some of the most important learning tools for your baby. Touch is essential for your baby: Infants won’t thrive without hugs, pats, and kisses.

Everything goes into baby’s mouth. Babies “feel” not only with their hands and fingers but with their mouths as well. That’s why at around four months your baby will put practically anything he can get his hands on into his mouth. It can seem a little gross, but it’s all in the pursuit of knowledge!

Between two and five months a baby will begin to focus on objects up to 10 feet away, though he still can’t make out fine details. At five months he’s developing hand-eye coordination. Have you noticed how he looks at an object and then tries to reach for it?

A newborn remembers sounds from the womb, such as your voice and songs he has heard – you could have a little Rihanna fan on your hands!

By three months your baby may attempt to copy sounds he hears, such as “ahhhh,” and “ehhhh”, by cooing. At five months the thrill of hearing his own voice and your responses may turn him into a little chatterbox.

Claphandies PlayTips to help your baby’s sensory development

Play’s a breeze

Place baby on a soft blanket on his tummy. Billow a light scarf in the air above him and say, “Feel the wind!” Let the scarf gently fall on his back and then slowly pull it off him. If he likes this activity, try it again but lying on his back this time. The feel of the scarf builds your baby’s tactile and body awareness.

What’s that smell?

There are always little gasps of excitement when we take out our lavender bags in PlayLabs – and that’s just from the mums! During this activity we allow the babies to smell the bags and we make sure they don’t try to taste them! A lovely aroma lingers in the room after this play and the scent helps to keep us all nice and calm.

Give your baby the chance to smell a variety of scents. Here are some examples of safe household items and objects to place underneath his nose: Coffee, ripe fruit, herbs, aromatic flavourings and seasonings (vanilla extract, cinnamon, paprika) crayons, baby shampoo, leather shoes and flowers. And when they are older – 18 months – or more you can play the guess that smell game.


Let your baby feel lots of different things – Grandma’s face, the windows, soft towels etc. In the bath give baby a wet sponge and encourage him to squeeze it dry and then refill it and repeat.

Gather several pieces of material with different textures. Hold baby upright (with hands under baby’s arms) with his feet touching one of the fabrics. Try a few different fabrics to see which textures he prefers. Sensory games like this enhance your baby’s tactile awareness and body awareness.

Cut 3×3 inch squares of fabrics (such as lace) and papers (such as sandpaper) with different colours and textures. Glue each square onto a sturdy piece of paper or posterboard. Let baby touch each card and explore the texture with his hands. Does he want to hold the cards himself? Reaching and grasping behaviors show you that baby is now beginning to act on his desires.

Bags of fun

In PlayLabs we use tactile bags which contain a collection of wooden objects and feathers to be explored. With the younger babies mum or dad helps them feel the objects.

You can use scarves to play peekaboo allowing baby to experience the sense of gentle touch of the fabric, hearing the sounds and stimulating their vision with the changing light.

Treasure Basket Play

One of the best sensory development games is Heuristic Play aka Treasure Basket Play. See our separate blog post here.

Reference: ‘Your baby’s developing senses’ by Nancy Rones

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