The Power of Sensory Play for Newborns and Infants

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Have you seen pictures of a plastic bag filled with glitter and hair gel or a rice bin on various online platforms, like Pinterest? If you answered yes to this question, then you may already be familiar with sensory play. This is especially true if you have a newborn or infant whose senses you want to stimulate, hone, and introduce to a lot of things.

In that case, you can let them experience a kind of sensory play, which lets them explore various sounds, scents, tastes, sights, and textures based on their preferences. Note, though, that this kind of sensory play is not only for toddlers. It goes over and beyond the vibrantly colored bags and bins.

Let’s delve deeper into the world of sensory play and how it can provide your newborn with huge developmental benefits in this article.

Sensory Development Stages of Newborn and Infants

Even newborns and infants are already at the stage when they need to activate their senses. In other words, you can stimulate and hone the senses of your newborn from the time you deliver him into this world.

Smell

Your child’s sense of smell starts to develop even when they are still in your womb. It develops in just eight weeks after gestation and becomes completely functional within 24 weeks. In other words, your newborn has a fully developed sense of smell when you give birth to him.

This is what your newborn will use in locating food, like formula or breast milk. Their fully developed sense of smell is also the reason why they can recognize your scent, which is a huge help in calming them down. During their life’s early stages, newborns keep on using their sense of smell to gain security and connection.

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    Touch

    Expect your baby’s sense of touch to begin during his early gestational age – around eight weeks specifically. It is this particular sense that helps your newborn connect with you as they try to look for security and warmth. It is the reason why moms are encouraged to give their babies skin-to-skin contact right after birth.

    Note, though, that even if your newborn’s sense of touch is already completely developed, you still need to stimulate it so it will evolve as he grows. You need to expose them to various textures and the different feelings associated with touching different objects.

    The grasping reflex of your baby is an instinctive reflex, which is present right from birth. It is this particular reflex, which makes your infant close his hand around your finger. This specific tactile experience is pleasant for your infant, which is why you can see him grasping your finger repeatedly.

    Taste

    Your baby’s taste buds start to develop at 8 weeks gestation. It also becomes completely functional at around 17 weeks gestation. Even while in your womb, your baby already uses their sense of taste since it is also the time when they start to swallow and taste amniotic fluid.

    Since their sense of taste is already completely developed upon birth, your newborn will most likely have a preference for taste. They may prefer savory or sweet flavors, the reason why they like breast milk.

    Expect their taste buds to keep on maturing and evolving as your infant grows. They will also start discovering the palatable nature of different flavors. As your baby starts to eat solids, it is advisable to expose them to a wide range of flavors, so their palate will become more expansive, preventing them from becoming picky with food.

    Sight

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    Your baby’s sense of sight develops later than the other senses. It is not completely mature upon birth. It begins to develop during the first trimester, around seven to nine weeks of gestation. At around thirty-one to thirty-two weeks gestation, the fetus will be responsive to bright lights.

    Note, though, that your newborn’s vision will still be fuzzy at birth. It is also possible that they can only see around the length of a ruler ahead of them. Even if your baby can’t still clearly see at birth, it will begin to get more refined eventually.

    Initially, your baby can only see those who are close to them. They can’t see color, too. After a few months, they can clearly see even those objects that are far away from them as well as colors. You can speed up this process by ensuring that their sense of sight gets constant stimulation.

    Hearing

    Your baby’s hearing begins its development at gestation and is more fine-tuned during infancy and pregnancy. Expect your baby to begin hearing your voice even while inside your womb. This is the reason why your newborn can recognize you after childbirth.

    It is for this reason that they can develop secure attachments with you. With proper and adequate stimulation, it is possible for your child’s sense of hearing to develop for several months together with the development of their language.

    Benefits of Sensory Play for Newborns and Infants

    As a parent, you will play a major role in helping your newborn develop and polish their senses. This makes sensory play very significant for them. Here are the things that sensory play can do for your newborn:

    Facilitates neural connections and cognitive development

    Sensory play aids in forming the appropriate nerve connections in your baby’s brain. At 6 to 12 months, they start honing their ability to concentrate and remove distractions.

    In around one year, they will have better focus. They also know how to engage themselves in hands-on activities that can help polish their cognitive thinking skills.

    Enhances sensory awareness crucial for motor skill development

    Sensory play also gives your child physical benefits, especially in terms of honing their gross and fine motor skills. With the help of tactile play with a focus on mixing, pouring, and building, there is a high chance for your child to hone their ability to utilize small muscle groups while coordinating their movements.

    Even simple activities can help your baby, too. One example is Play-Doh, which helps in honing his gross motor skills, further strengthening his tiny hands.

    Promotes bonding and emotional regulation

    Another thing that makes sensory play beneficial for newborns and infants is that it can help regulate their emotions. It can calm them down, which is extremely vital for children’s development.

    You can use sensory play to control and regulate your child’s arousal level, making it helpful during those times when they become a bit sluggish. It can soothe even hyperactive babies.

    In addition, sensory play promotes social interaction. Expect them to develop their social skills as they engage in sensory play with their peers or siblings. It teaches them how to communicate, troubleshoot problems, and adapt based on how others play.

    3 Recommended Toys for Sensory Play for Newborns and Infants

    To start exposing your infant to sensory play, here are some of the recommended sensory toys for them:

    Soft Texture Cloth Books

    Cloth books with soft textures are among the best sensory toys you can offer your newborn or infant. This toy features squishy and soft pages, as well as beautiful graphics that will surely attract your baby’s attention.

    In most cases, this cloth book is constructed out of fabric material and then filled with sensory elements, such as crunchy corners, bold and bright colors, as well as delicate details. Starting from the first page, you can expect it to work in stimulating your baby’s senses. It even helps your baby hone their fine motor skills and learn literacy.

    Several fabric books intended for babies also feature fun-textured elements that they can explore. This includes silky and fluffy stuff as well as other details in between. Three-dimensional additions, such as tassels, can also give your baby a more thrilling experience while honing their sensory awareness.

    High-contrast Mobiles

    Another of the most commonly recommended sensory toys for newborns and infants are high-contrast mobiles. This type of toy can give your baby visual stimulation, which is very good for their developing eyesight.

    A high-contrast baby mobile makes for a nice adornment for your baby’s crib. Aside from acting as a simple decoration, it can also nurture his development. It can harness the development of your baby while improving their ability to focus their eyes.

    In addition, the baby mobile can enhance your baby’s hand-eye coordination. Several high-contrast mobiles also act as sound machines, thereby giving your baby a calming visual as he gets to sleep.

    Rattles with Various Textures

    Give your infant the kind of tactile and auditory engagement they need with the help of rattles that have different textures. Note that rattles perform a lot of things aside from being a noise-making toy.

    With the help of a baby rattle, your child can strengthen their developmental skills, like hand-eye coordination and visual tracking. This type of toy can give your baby auditory and tactile stimulation, which can contribute to the development of their neurocognitive pathways.

    It can promote better visual development while helping them learn and understand cause and effect. As much as possible, go for a rattle with various textures and come in a size that is ideal for your baby’s small hands. It should have various surfaces where your baby can grip, giving them a really nice sensory experience.

    Conclusion

    Sensory play is indeed so powerful that it can truly support your newborn or infant’s learning and development. Introduce this type of play to your baby as early as possible and you will surely notice them growing independently and developing well.