Getting Down and Dirty: Sensory Play with Older Babies

I’ve written posts before on the importance of sensory play, but it really just can’t be said enough!

Since E was born I’ve been making it a point to engage her in sensory activities, ranging from simple bath time wet vs. dry, ice cubes to experience cold, playing with goop (a slippery, solid yet liquid mixture of cornstarch and a small amount of water) and exploring different textures like dry cornmeal or oatmeal, and slimy, wet finger paints, both homemade and store bought.

A cookie sheet, cornstarch and water are all you need for smily goop fun!

A cookie sheet, cornstarch and water are all you need for slippery goop fun!













Now to be fair, I can’t say for sure if all of this sensory play contributes to her willingness to go anywhere and explore anything as I don’t have a control situation, but I can say that both myself, relatives and complete strangers are amazed at how easily she takes to the sand and cold water of Cape Cod beaches, and how adaptable she is to all kinds of sensory play and new places. If you’ve seen many babies at the beach, they are often unwilling to go on the sand and may even shy away from the water. She has no fear of exploring all sorts of textures, from grassy lawns to muddy flats at low tide.

If you’re little one is less than thrilled with getting messy at meal time or at play, or is shying away from new textures or sensations, here are some simple ways to add more sensory experiences into their daily routine to expand their sensory palette.

Sand Boxes and Water Tables:

You don’t have to get the top of the line ones, or even an actual sand box or water table for that matter. A shallow plastic bin or bowl will do just fine for either! No matter the size, make sure to always be supervising, you don’t want them consuming lots of sand, and babies can drown in just an inch of water.

For sand try to get the playground sand from Lowe’s or Home Depot. It’s been sanitized so you’re less likely to grow mold or other plant and fungus life in your sand box than with sand from the ground. And on that note, make sure to clean out water tables and trays regularly, babies and toddlers will put any and everything into their mouths including dirty water!

Nothing fancy needed! A bowl and some cornmeal or sand will do!

Nothing fancy needed! A bowl and some cornmeal or sand will do!













Finger Paints:

Finger paints are a great way to get little hands into slimy textures while exploring colors and their creativity!

You can make your own, or for older babies and toddlers the non-toxic varieties are OK too. Either way discouraging them from eating the paint is a good idea, whether it’s food based or not. Learning how to use art supplies is an important foundational skill and can never be taught to early!


This is my favorite recipe so far!

Self Feeding:

Yup, even meal times can be educational. Go beyond self feeding skills and give your little one finger foods of all shapes and textures to explore different tactile and oral sensations. Here are some ideas of different finger foods:

Scrambled egg yolks (stick with yolks till they’re around 1 year old as egg whites can be allergenic)

Apple sauce or hummus for dipping (beware of Tahini in hummus, sesame can cause an allergic reaction as we learned here! If you’re little one does have an allergy to sesame try this recipe for your own homemade hummus)

Cream cheese on lightly toasted bread



Chicken nuggets (try this homemade version!)

Quinoa or Cous Cous

Pasta with sauce

Encourage Their Brave Explorations:

Try not to get in the habit of expecting your little one to not like getting messy, or playing in the sand or water. They’re using your responses as a gauge of each and every situation they’re in, so act as though it’s all in good fun and you might be surprised to all of a sudden see them happily playing covered in goop or engrossed in play in the sandbox.

Don’t be discouraged if they shy away repeatedly from their least favorite activities. Keep offering them up along with their tried and true favorites. The more sensory play, the more brain development, so play on!

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