The benefits of sensory play for babies and toddlers are numerous. An important part of early childhood development, sensory play encourages brain and language development, fine and gross motor skills, cognitive growth and social interaction, to name a few. Babies and toddlers use their senses (touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, moving and hearing) to explore and try to make sense of the world around them, and getting outside in the summertime is a great way to help your little one make new discoveries while getting some fresh air at the same time.
From splashing around at a water table to grabbing bubbles and playing Peekaboo, these sensory play activities for babies and toddlers will start their development off right while providing you with another chance to bond with your new little one.
We've broken down the best summer sensory activities for ages 0-3. Enjoy exploring with sensory play activities this summer!
Best summer sensory activities for babies 0-6 months
- Most summer sensory activities in baby's first few months will involve finding a shady spot outside to lay on a blanket with your baby. While there:
- Practice tummy time (I love the sensory bags that Joyful Bunny created to help encourage baby while on their stomach)
- Play Peekaboo
- Sing songs with baby to help enhance their listening skills
- Bring a rattle for baby to try and hold
- Lay next to baby, pointing to different things in nature. Tell baby what you are observing in the world around you.
Best summer sensory activities for babies 6-12 months
- Once again, a blanket in a shady spot is a wonderful way for babies 6-12 months to engage in a few sensory activities. I really like Zero to Three's activity suggestions, especially this one: "Place baby on a soft blanket on her tummy. Billow a light scarf in the air above her and say, "Feel the wind!" Let the scarf gently fall on her back and then slowly pull it off her. If she likes this activity, try it again but lying on her back this time. The feel of the scarf builds your baby's tactile and body awareness."
- While reading at any age is always a great idea, babies at 6 months and older are starting to understand that "pictures represent objects, and may start to show that they like certain pictures, pages, or even entire stories better than others. Your baby will respond while you read, grabbing for the book and making sounds," according to Kids Health. Bring out the board books!
- Blowing bubbles will be completely mesmerizing (rather, you blow and your baby watches the bubbles and tries to grab them).
Best summer sensory activities for 1 yr olds
- Try cooling off with a water table, which is a wonderful way to engage in sensory water play for babies. Water tables (or sensory tables) provide babies and toddlers a relatively mess-free way to splash, scoop, pour and explore and set up easily in the backyard or on the patio. Beyond teaching valuable skills like hand-eye coordination and STEM learning, they're also a great way to entertain multiple kids at once, offering an opportunity to work on social skills like sharing and taking turns.
- Making edible baby sand and letting your little one feel (and taste!) the consistency is a fun sensory activity for babies. And because it's a little on the messy side, it's best for outside!
- More messy food play ideas include: cooking spaghetti, letting it cool so your little one can feel its squishiness, and a Jello "excavation" dig, another squishy activity.
Best summer sensory activities for 2 yr olds
- While water tables will still be an amazing source of sensory activity, give a 2 yr old anything to scoop, pour and measure and they will be thrilled to explore. And because they're generally messy, it's perfect for outdoors! Ideas include:
- Flour and water mixing
- A visit to the beach with sand toys or a sand box at the playground/in your backyard (either one you buy or the edible sand mentioned above)
- Finger painting is a great sensory activity for toddlers. Simply choose your safe edible finger paint (vanilla yogurt mixed with food coloring, how genius is that?) and grab a big sheet of paper for your toddler to create art.
Best summer sensory activities for 3 yr olds
- 2 words: sensory tubs. From dried beans and rice to big foam alphabet letters, there are some great ideas on the No Time for Flashcards website, which was created by a preschool teacher.
- Water play will still be a hit with your 3 yr old, and if a water table isn't a possibility, you can make your own by using a simple plastic bin. Water accessories to enhance sensory play include sponges, cups and scoops, ice, balloons for filling up with water, soap and favorite plastic toys from the bath tub.
- Explore movement by going for a swing!