Those of you with infants may be wondering when you can start with sensory experiences. First, let me say that I am by no means an expert! I do have an M.Ed but it is in secondary education, not early education. Based on my own observations with S and now with X, my personal recommendation is to start around 4 months old with some basic experiences. Once your baby can open their hand from a fist and (even if it is not refined) reach for things, I think they're ready to begin exploring their world. When S was a baby, we lived in a TEENY house and I was still pretty mess-averse, so most of our sensory experiences were outside. We'd go on walks around our neighborhood and I would help her touch various textured leaves/barks/grass/moss -- you get the idea. X was super lucky that his sister had a ball pit, and so one of his first (and to this day, still favorite) sensory experiences is in the ball pit. The large balls with the bright colors were just amazing to little 4 month old X, as I hope I captured with my really bad phone photos below.
Unfortunately most ball pit balls are not BPA free by default, and you have to pay about three times as much to get the BPA free ones, but I'd bought these off another mom and got them for just $10 even though they're the BPA free kind.
Another early favorite of X's was his sister's slinky. I'd hook one end near him and the other to a chair and he'd boing it and watch and feel the vibrations. He spent many hours investigating the slinky as a 4 month old.
Another set of bad phone photos - but by 4 months old, X could see/focus and be amused by bubbles (side note - our absolute favorite bubbles are those crazy expensive Gymboree bubbles - I swear they put magic in them because those things are amazing...and for what it's worth, we've had the same bottle for over a year now and there's still some left, so I think it's a good investment).
Textures are big, too, for the very little ones. X adores his big sister's fluffy tutu. Here he's 5 months old.
At 5 months old, we started introducing "not in the mouth". If you have just one child, you probably don't have to worry about doing this until later. Because X has a big sister who plays with a lot of things that are not edible, I knew I wanted him to learn early on to use his hands to explore instead of just his mouth so that he could join his sister in play. Here he is at 5 months old.
With my kids, every time they are able to interact in a new way with the thing we're playing with, it extends the time they are able to play. When X was around 5 months old, he wasn't able to sit by himself yet, so moving independently in the sensory pool wasn't possible, and he was just learning to use his hands to explore. Since he couldn't mouth the things in the above sensory experience, he lasted about 5 minutes. That was a good average for him until he was able to sit up and was able to, in a very coordinated manner, grasp and explore handfuls of whatever we were exploring. Once he crossed that threshold (which for him was around 8 months -- he was a VERY late sitter!), he then became able to play for 15-20 minutes with a sensory activity before wanting to switch to playing with something else. Below he's just turned 8 months old and is interacting with sister and able to grasp individual as well as large handfuls of pom poms - therefore extending his interest in the activity at hand.
It's amazing to watch as they grow, how their interactions with sensory play change. In the beginning, you will need to "teach" them how to play - show them different ways to extend the activity - but since around the age of 3, S has really taken off on her own. She now shows me ways to extend activities at least as often as I offer suggestions to her! Most of the time when I set up an activity for her, she will play for an hour or more. Additionally, since helping clean up becomes part of our play once they're toddlers, S now does most of her clean up. It's pretty awesome. Not to mention that she remembers almost all of our activities and will ask for them by name. She stopped napping when X was born, so most days she's awake for 14 hours. Being able to entertain herself and play quietly when I need time to nurse/feed/change/play with baby brother is an amazingly helpful skill.
In summary, because big sis is very active with sensory play all day long and just dotes on her baby brother and always wants him to play, X gets a lot of exposure to sensory play. He would join in smaller activities starting around 4-5 months, but became more active and a better participant once he was able to sit and grasp (which for him was LATE - around 8 months). I would say that by 8 months old, he understood "not in the mouth". It doesn't mean that he doesn't still try, but it does mean that his first instinct is (almost always, anyway) to play with hands (and feet) first. When we first did rice play with him at 9 months old, he played for 15 full minutes before he tried to sneak a taste. By the time S was a year old, she basically never tasted sensory bin/table items, and I'm hoping X is the same, so that he can join his sister in more of her activities!
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All activities here are activities I feel are safe for my own children. As your child's parents/guardians, you will need to decide what you feel is safe for your family. I always encourage contacting your child's pediatrician for guidance if you are not sure about the safety/age appropriateness of an activity. All activities on this blog are intended to be performed with adult supervision. Appropriate and reasonable caution should be used when activities call for the use of materials that could potentially be harmful, such as scissors, or items that could present a choking risk (small items), or a drowning risk (water activities), and with introducing a new food/ingredient to a child (allergies). Observe caution and safety at all times. The author and blog disclaim liability for any damage, mishap, or injury that may occur from engaging in any of these activities on this blog.