A little bit of the big world..in a basket
Sensory baskets provide a taster of the sensations available out in the wider world in a safe home environment. Maybe you can’t get to a pine forest today – but you can make a pine cone sensory basket for your baby.
This activity is suitable for babies who can sit up unaided, so roughly from 6 months onwards. My daughter still enjoys it now at 14 months old.
Safety note: Please take care when trying this activity with your child. These are ideas for you to adapt for your home and baby. It’s essential to consider safety when you attempt a new activity with a young child. Please choose the items you give your child carefully – for example, do not select sharp items or anything your baby might choke on. Your child’s safety is always your responsibility.
How does a treasure basket help baby development?
Giving a baby a sensory basket to explore allows them to feel and touch unfamiliar objects and explore new textures. Everyday items can be included and your baby can engage with them at their own pace and on their own terms. Baby can make choices about which items they wish to explore and which don’t interest them and how long to spend with each object.
Sometimes, as adults, we look at what babies and toddlers do with toys and think (perhaps unconsciously) that they’re doing it ‘wrong’. This is because of our life experience and the context we bring to that toy or object – a context our babies have yet to develop.
Without this context, babies may make surprising choices of what to do with items (and you need to judge the safety of those choices!) and almost always put objects in their mouths.
It’s important to choose objects that can’t hurt your child (too big to choke on, nothing sharp or pointed etc) so that you can supervise without intervening any more than you really need to.
Then, your baby can explore freely and follow their natural curiosity to build their own creativity in what they choose to do. That ability and desire to create and explore is the foundation of their lifelong learning.
Why do I need to make sensory baskets for my baby?
You don’t. There are plenty of other ways to ignite your baby’s curiosity and help them begin to explore the world. Sensory baskets are just one easy and convenient method of doing so.
What types of materials should I include in a sensory basket?
Any baby safe items that you think would interest your baby are fair game to include in a sensory treasure basket.
If you take a look at your baby’s toy box right now, you’ll probably see a lot of bright coloured plastic. Those toys, designed to be fun for babies, just all look and feel the same and must be quite confusing for a baby (or so it seems to me, at least).
To get away from the sea of plastic, I like to use natural materials for treasure baskets, thought there are some here that include plastic items.
Pine cones, wooden pots and spoons, metal items, sea shells and large seeds like coconuts are ideal to include. A collection of varied natural items would make a perfect treasure basket – and if you gather a few of each, you can rotate the contents to keep the activity fresh.
Themed sensory baskets
Each of these treasure baskets has a theme or common element for your baby to explore. Try to let them make their own choices and investigate freely without showing them what to do.
Starting a sensory basket play session
For a successful play session, make sure you:
- choose your objects carefully with safety in mind (nothing sharp, no choking hazards, nothing that your baby could consume by accident)
- are there in the room to supervise (this is NOT an out-of-sight activity)
- put away all other toys so your baby will not be distracted or overwhelmed
- have baby sitting up – place pillows behind and around them if they are likely to topple over
Pine cones treasure basket
Babies and young children love to explore the humble pine cone. Make collecting them part of the activity – especially if you have an older child to help you. Choose various sizes and states of openness for added interest.
Your child will probably mouth the cones so ensure they are clean – and check for any loose bits that your child might consume or choke on. I washed mine in boiling water and allowed to dry naturally.
Sea shell sensory basket
No two sea shells are alike so enjoy exploring their sizes and shapes with your baby. Choose a variety of types of shells and check for any loose fragments or sharp areas before you give them to your baby.
Metal treasure basket
Cold and hard, unlike wood, metal is fascinating to explore. From its cold feeling on our skin to the loud noises we can make by banging objects together, metal is a must for little explorers! Just make sure there’s nothing sharp or very heavy in the basket.
Brushes for sensory play
Brushes – especially those with wooden handles – are ideal for baby sensory baskets. Try to find a number of brushes with varied bristles – from very soft and silky to hard and rough.
Ideally, choose brushes that do not have long handles in case baby puts the handle in their mouth and gags.
Fabric / socks treasure basket
Big socks, little socks, fluffy socks, football socks! So many types to choose from and all able to be stretched and squished, put on and taken off. Give your child a wide variety – perhaps one sock from each person in the house – and let them play.
This treasure basket is a collection of building toy pieces to delight babies and toddlers. Perhaps your little one isn’t interested in laying with the building blocks yet, but they might enjoy the chance to explore individual pieces.
Metal and magnets treasure basket
If you try this idea, remember to try and let your baby do their own exploring. This means you have to resist the temptation to show them how magnets work and use them to pickup all them metal items before baby gets a chance.
Clothes pegs play
I always get a lot of ‘help’ from my little ones when I hand out the washing – but it’s not to do with the items on the line. They love pegs of all shapes and sizes and materials. Perfect for squeezing!
If you are giving your baby plastic pegs, make sure they haven’t become brittle in the sun and keep a close eye to ensure baby doesn’t trap a finger in a peg.