Tag Archives: sensory play

Baby Play: Sensory Bottles

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

Sensory play is very important for all ages but especially for babies. Babies are exploring concepts (like gravity and motion) and textures for the first time. Their brains are growing at exponential rates as they learn how they can manipulative the world around them.

There are so many ways to encourage sensory play in a storytime setting. I regularly use textured tiles, liquid tiles, sensory boards, sensory bags, and, more recently, sensory bottles. Unless the program is designed and advertised as play only, I avoid sensory bins (except for water play) since objects inside those bins are often choking hazards (and there isn’t enough time to clean up beans, rice, sand, or water beads from the floor between story times).

Sensory bottles allow little ones to manipulate liquids without getting wet or manipulate small objects that would be a choking hazard or dangerous if left out for free play.

My most recent set of bottles included:

  • Mixtures of oil and water with food coloring
  • Water Beads
  • Water with small plastic spoons
  • Hair gel with suspended items
  • Oil with chunks of floating glitter glue

You can also add objects to create sound bottles like:

  • Paperclips
  • Thumbtacks
  • Googly Eyes
  • Keys

How to Make

Materials: Voss water bottles (the best type of bottle), materials to fill bottles, clear packing tape

Steps:

  • Empty Voss water bottle. Carefully peel off all labels. These should come off cleanly with no leftover residue.
  • Fill bottle with desired items or mixture.
  • Wrap 2-3 layers of clear tape around bottom of cap.

Cost: $12+ (depends what you have on hand)

Time to Make: 5 minutes

Tips: Voss bottles are the way to go. These are the perfect size for small hands and the labels peel off perfectly, creating a clear, smooth surface.

You can hot glue the bottle closed as well, but babies will not try to peel off tape they can’t see. Clear packing tape around the clear bottle is essentially not visible to little ones, so they don’t try to open the bottle. We’ve never had a child successfully get into a taped bottle.

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • What happens when you shake the bottle?
  • What sound does the bottle make if you shake it?
  • What happens if you turn the bottle upside down?
  • Do the items in the bottle float?
  • What colors are in the bottle?
  • How many items are in the bottle?
  • What would you put in a bottle?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Bounce
Drip
Faint
Fast
Float
Hash

Jolt
Knock
Loud
Muffled
Pleasant
Quickly

Quiet
Rattle
Shake
Slow
Soft
Wiggle

Baby Play: Liquid Tiles

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

Sensory play is very important for all ages but especially for babies. Babies are exploring concepts (like gravity and motion) and textures for the first time. Their brains are growing at exponential rates as they learn how they can manipulative the world around them.

I’ve been using textured tiles for a while. These are liked by all and allow babies to explore different surfaces in a safe environment. The foam puzzle tiles allow for adults or kids to create a path, a large block of textured squares, or any other shape they can think of.

However, my textured tiles have been put to shame by my coworker’s amazing liquid tiles. These have gone through many iterations, and, unfortunately, are not leak-proof.

We recently purchased factory-made liquid tiles that have also been fan favorites. These have been well-loved in the last three weeks with no signs of breaking. They are especially loved by the larger kids and adults, who can safely step on these without being concerned about them breaking.

Both types of tiles have different advantages–read on to see my pros and cons of each style, plus how to make those awesome handmade liquid tiles.

DIY Liquid Tiles

This method is developed by the talented Sarah Simpson, who I would make write this post except she is at home with her own new baby at the moment.

Materials: lamination pouches (the thicker the better; example is 5 mil), iron, baby oil (4-6 oz. a tile), food coloring, various items to add into bags, duct tape

Optional: Foam Puzzle Tiles (any size, extra large in images), Industrial Hole Punch, Zip Ties

Steps:

  • Trim lamination pouch to your ideal size. If you are planning to attach it to a foam puzzle tile or other surface, measure to fit that surface while leaving some space around the edges for eventual attachment.
  • Iron three sides of the pouch shut, at least 1.5″ around each edge.
  • Insert 4-6 oz. of baby oil into the open end of the pouch.
  • Insert a mixture of other items. Consider water with food coloring, plastic bingo chips, large foam shapes, googly eyes, or tissue paper squares.
  • Remove as much air from the pouch as possible while ironing the last side closed.
  • Wrap colorful duct tape around all edges. Leave a margin of duct tape around the edges (at least 0.5″ thick) that does not have any lamination bag in between the duct tape.
  • You can stop here, unless you want to attach your bag to a tile. The tiles create a different sensory experience for babies, but, be warned, we have never had a tile last more than 3-6 months (sometimes 3-6 days) before some part starts leaking. We think the leaking has to do with the industrial holepunch in the steps below, since bags not attached to tiles have not had this issue.
  • Use an industrial hole punch to punch a hole through the duct tape towards the edge of the bag. Do your best to only punch through the extra duct tape flap you created above, NOT through duct tape and lamination pouch.
  • Use the industrial hole punch to punch a hole in the foam puzzle tile.
  • Attach your lamination pouch using zip ties.

Cost: $25+ (depends what you have on hand)

Time to Make: 15 minutes

Pros: From watching interactions, I think this bag style is better for really little ones than the purchased tiles. Babies can see the movement inside the tiles and can use their hands and body weight to move objects around.

Cons: We have never successfully made one of these tiles that has not eventually leaked. Mostly, those leaks don’t occur until after 2-3 months of regular use. These bags can also take a while to make, especially if you refresh your collection after they start to break.

Purchased Tiles

We recently purchased the Excellerations Large Liquid Tile set from Discount School Supply. While pricey ($142 for the four tiles), these are sturdy to the point of being heavy to pick up. Each tile has a different color inside, and it takes some weight (or gravity if you pick them up and lean them against a wall) to make the liquid move. Adults can stand and jump on them with no sign of any wear.

There are very similar looking tiles available from sellers on Amazon, though those generally have questionable reviews.

We have only had these for about a month, with consistent use 2-3 times a week for only about three weeks, but there is no sign of leaking or damage.

Pros: These are sturdy and require no staff time to make or setup. Cleaning is a breeze–I just use cleaning wipes on them after each story time.

Cons: They are costly. Depending the materials you have on hand, you may be able to make quite a few liquid tiles yourself for less than $10. I also don’t think these are as exciting for the babies, as it takes a lot more force to move the liquid. The adults and walking kids really like this style.

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • What do you see in the tile?
  • What does the tile feel like?
  • What colors are inside the tile?
  • Can you stomp on the tile?
  • Can you make the colors move?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Bend
Dry
Examine
Explore
Find
Flexible

Grasp
Hunt
Inspect
Investigate
Mushy
Search

Shape
Smooth
Spot
Squeeze
Squishy
Wet

Baby Play: Sensory Boards

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

Sensory boards are not new. Babies love to explore different textures, some of which they may be experiencing for the first time. Sensory boards allow little ones to explore textures in a controlled environment, including small materials that would be choking hazards if loose but are interesting to explore when secured to a flat surface. Boards can lay flat on the floor, be propped against a wall, or can be free standing depending on what they are made out of.

I have a made a few sensory boards over the last few years, with my favorite versions visible in the pictures. Some of my personal tips:

  • I like using trifold boards, as these can stand up on their own in the middle of a room. Cutting them in half horizontally makes them more accessible for the smallest babies and make them more durable.
  • Colored trifold boards were a game changer for me. Having a colored background makes the textured materials on these boards that much more appealing to small hands and eyes.
  • Always, always check everything on your board before giving it to little ones. Babies have the strongest fingernails and are determined to tear everything off of your sensory boards. Hot glue can only do so much. Keep an eye on these during play too, especially if you have anything on the board that would be a choking hazard if removed.

I also have a second style of board that I made recently for a science/stem-focused baby play program, a textured shape board. While I wish this was a colored background, the white was what I had available at the time. It focuses on shape-based exploration, especially for toddlers and older babies.

How to Make

Materials: colored trifold board, hot glue, various textured surfaces

Steps:

  • Cut colored trifold board in half horizontally, so each piece can stand on its own.
  • Use a hot glue gun to attach pieces of various textured elements. Consider cutting textured pieces into shapes.

Cost: $5+

  • Colored Trifold Board
  • Various textured surfaces:
    • Pipe Cleaners
    • Pom Poms
    • Bottle Caps
    • Felt
    • Fur
    • Foam
    • Carpet
    • Styrofoam
    • Popsicle sticks
    • Bubble wrap
    • Glitter Paper
    • Pool Noodle Pieces
    • Foil
    • Lace
    • Tulle
    • Wood Shapes
    • Ribbon

Time to Make: 15 minutes

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • Which texture is the softest?
  • Which texture is the roughest?
  • What color is that texture?
  • How does that texture feel?
  • What is this texture?
  • Which textures make a noise when you touch them?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Bumpy
Coarse
Delicate
Dry
Fine
Firm

Fuzzy
Itchy
Jagged
Light
Loose
Reflective

Rough
Sandy
Silky
Smooth
Soft
Spongy

Baby Play: Water Painting

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

Babies LOVE playing in water, and I love to provide opportunities for them to do so! However, it gets cold in Ohio and not every parent is thrilled about their little one potentially getting soaked after storytime.

Water painting creates the best of both worlds: babies get to play with water while staying dry (and practicing fine motor skills).

Each little one gets a hard surface (trays work well), a piece of construction paper, and a paint brush. Adults get a cup filled about one-third with water. Kids can dip the paintbrush in the water and paint squiggles on the paper (or whatever other surface is nearby).

How to Make

Materials: hard surface, construction paper, paintbrushes (that are only used for water play–babies will put these in their mouths), reusable cups, bucket for clean water, bucket for dirty water, paper towels

Steps:

  • Setup station with materials listed above.
  • Put construction paper on a tray.
  • Adult fills reusable cup with clean water.
  • Child “paints” as long as they like.

Cost: < $10

  • Paintbrushes (Dollar Tree)
  • Construction Paper Pack

Time to Setup: < 5 minutes

Pro-Tip: The water shows up better on lighter colored construction paper.

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • What does the water feel like?
  • What can you draw?
  • What happens to the paper when you put water on it?
  • Can you draw a circle?
  • What happens if you use less water?
  • How does the paper feel before and after you paint with water?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Damp
Dip
Draw
Drenched
Dripping
Dry

Little
Miniscule
Plain
Pour
Saturated
Soaked

Sodden
Soggy
Sopping
Textured
Torn
Wet