I gave my one year old coffee when she didn’t fall asleep for her nap the other day.
Ok, to be fair I didn’t have her drink it. She was a crabby tired girl who wouldn’t fall asleep, and it seemed like some coffee sensory play might be just the thing to catch her attention.
Playing with coffee grounds was perfect for capturing her attention.
Can babies play with small objects?
We often think gritty or small objects are strictly off-limits for babies and toddlers, but with good supervision, our little ones can enjoy sensory exploration in some unexpected ways.
Here Are Five Interesting Sensory Play Options for Your Baby or Toddler:
(I feel this is obvious, but please use common sense and only do what you’re comfortable with and are able to supervise well at the time.)
- Coffee– when I accidentally spilled some ground coffee, my one year old made a beeline towards the pile of grounds. I scooped them into a bin for her to let her explore this aromatic gritty substance. Coffee ground sensory play is aromatic and tactile. It’s also possible for it to be nicely visually satisfying to make marks in on a light surface because it contrasts so nicely when little baby fingers drag lines through it. I did have to hover in order to keep her from licking her fingers and becoming buzzy-the-baby.
- Salt– I have a salt try that my preschooler has used to practice writing his name in. My littlest likes to swish fingers through salt too, and I don’t feel like I have to worry about tastes with this sensory ingredient. Yes, I still keep an eye on her, but one taste exploration seems to have been enough to convince my daughter to stick with feeling, not eating.
- Sand– I’m not saying your baby won’t wind up ingesting a few grains, but you may be surprised how little actually goes in the mouth. Faced with the expanse of sand in our sandbox, the biggest interest my almost-toddler has is the feel of scraping her fingers and toes through it. I stay nearby to reduce the chance of sand in the eyes. Plastic cups provide another aspect of sand play for pouring and scooping.
- Beans– another “Mama has to hover” activity, but SO worth it for the glee your little one will get from sitting in a pile of round, clickety, slippery beans. We have our beans in a large plastic bin so my youngest can sit right in the element. I use a scoop to pour beans over her feet and hands and even down her back- so exciting. In a similar idea, I’ve heard of making a big bin of pony beads for a carefully supervised baby to play in.
- Legos– WHAT?! Yes- one of the big thrills in my one year old’s life is getting to sit next to the open Lego bin and just push around and feel all those interesting plastic blocks that her brothers play with. Once again, I have to sit right by her to keep them from being eaten, but it’s really fun to see how excited she gets; lots of shrieking and baby babbling happens by the Lego bin. You can also water based lego sensory play for a twist on this idea.
Sensory Adventures for Babies
While it’s important to exercise caution and always supervise these activities, the delight and wonder in your child’s eyes make it worth it.
These sensory experiences not only capture your baby’s attention, they also encourage fine motor skills and curiosity. Babies are soaking up information from their surroundings. Sensory play fosters a sense of wonder and curiosity in infants. They learn cause-and-effect relationships and develop problem-solving skills as they explore.
Not only that, their sensory explorations give you a chance to ooh and ahh over their discoveries and watch the funny faces they make as they find out more about their world. So, don’t be afraid to explore and experiment with different textures and materials. Just pay attention and enjoy the sensory adventure.
About the Author
Alissa is a resilience coach, cartoonist, and advocate for ‘connection, not perfection’. She’s dedicated to helping others find a sense of safety and belonging inside themselves so they can heal, connect, and build authentic, joyful lives.