It might not seem like it, but babies are always learning.
As parents, it’s important for us to help them to see and experience more of the world around them through structured play.
Learning through play is an important skill that your child will continue to do their entire life. Parents often shy away from these activities because they can be messy, adding yet more stress on mum and dad. But with the right tools, any activity can be cleaned up in no time, without sacrificing your child’s early learning.
Here are a few to get you started!
1. Ice Bath Play
This is a super simple baby play activity that is perfect for a hot summer’s day when your baby is capable of sitting unassisted. All you’ll need is a bathtub filled with a small amount of baby-safe warm water and a bowl full of ice-cubes. The bigger the cubes, the more fun it will be for the baby.
Just pop the baby into the tub in a seated position and let them see the ice cubes in the water. When they try to grab them, the cubes will slip away. This is the perfect activity for improving hand-eye coordination. To make it more interactive, you could put a small amount of food dye or natural dye into the ice cubes, so they’re easier to see.
2. Edible Yoghurt Finger Paint
Finger painting is super fun, but it can be messy and all together unsafe for babies. Fear not mums! We have a great recipe for totally edible baby-safe finger paint. All you’ll need is a bit of plain yoghurt and some natural food colouring. Spoon some of the yoghurt into cups or plastic tubs and pop a drop or two of dye in each one, stirring to distribute.
Then hand it over to bubba and let them go wild on some paper, or even straight on the high chair, with their coloured creations. The paint isn’t sweet, so kids are unlikely to eat lots of it, and clean up is as easy as a wet Chux Original Superwipe. Your baby has a creative learning experience, but your house doesn’t look like an infant Jackson Pollock!
3. Sensory Slime Bags
There’s something about slime and goop that just gets little ones excited, and it starts as early as infancy. Slime bags, although they sound really gross, are actually a fantastic sensory experience for little ones. The sensation of being able to touch and manipulate the goo, as well as the engaging bright colours, make this one a guaranteed winner for learning through play.
To make them, all you’ll need is a cup of cornstarch, 1/3 cup of sugar, 4 cups of cold water, some food colouring, and the bags to put them in. Large, sealable, freezer bags are best, and you can double bag if you want. Just whisk everything together in a pot on medium eat, and continue to cook and whisk until the mix becomes thick and solid. It’s ready when it starts to look translucent. Then just let it cool, spoon it into the bags, add the colouring and mix well, seal them up, and hand them over to bubba!
4. Food Texture Play
When your baby starts on solids, there’s a lot to introduce. Parents often stick with a couple of safe foods, and babies don’t get the wide experience they need. Remember, for babies, food isn’t just about eating! Food is just another sensory experience to them, about texture and taste and colour.
So, lay out a clean space like a high chair or clean floor space that you can wipe up easily, and set out some different foods. You don’t need much of each, and lots of fruits and vegetables are a good idea. Just let your little one touch and taste and enjoy playing with their food. You might even find they’re more open to eating it later!
5. All Natural Play Dough
Buying play dough is definitely easy, but it can have nasty stuff in it that makes you think twice about giving it to babies. Still, for learning through sensory play, play dough is a really good tool. That’s where natural play dough comes in. It’s very simple to make with just 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of water, 1-2 cups of cornstarch, some food colouring, 2 tsp salt and some ziplock bags.
These ingredients will make a large ball that your little one will love. You can also double or triple the ingredients to make different colours. Just mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl, and then bring the water to a boil on medium heat. Add the food dye to the water (only a little bit!) and then pour it in with the flour. Allow to cool well and then add one cup of cornstarch. Keep mixing the dough, which will be sticky, and continue adding the rest of the cornstarch (you might not need it all) until it’s no longer stick to the touch. All done and ready to play!
6. Baby Friendly Cloud Dough
Cloud dough, like play dough, are sensory doughs that are perfect for little babies exploring the world around them. Unfortunately, most cloud dough recipes contain baby oil, which is definitely not friendly for little mouths. Instead of using baby oil, you can just mix 1 cup of rice cereal with about 3 tbs of melted coconut oil.
Once this is mixed together and properly cooled, it becomes a sensory dough that is very similar in touch and feel to commercial cloud dough. However, the benefit of this is that it is entirely baby safe and ok to eat (in small portions). Perfect for sensory play, and easy to clean up with a few wipes.
7. Safe, Edible Water Bead Play
Water beads are definitely not baby safe, and can in fact be quite dangerous. However, they’re mesmerising, and a fantastic sensory play tool for learning, so what’s a parent to do? Simple, instead of chemical-laden water beads, opt for edible and safe large tapioca pearls. These can be found in some mainstream supermarkets and asian food stores, and are a kind of tapioca jelly in the shape of a ball.
The tapioca balls are easy to prepare, and come both plain and already coloured. If you buy the plain ones, just colour them with a little bit of food dye. As these are a food item, it’s not disastrous if they’re eaten. Of course, your child shouldn’t eat too many, and you should buy pearls that your baby can easily swallow, so they aren’t a choking hazard. If you over cook them, they’ll be quite soft and very safe.