Most babies and toddlers do not need much encouragement to explore the world, but as parents we can provide objects and experiences that inspire them to use their senses in a different way.

These eight ideas are simple and fun, and will ignite curiosity in babies and young toddlers alike:

1. Treasure basket

A treasure basket is simply a collection of interesting items, from your home or nature, gathered together in a basket to encourage your baby to explore.

Treasure baskets are especially great for non-mobile babies who are so eager to explore, but unable to reach new objects on their own. Older babies and even toddlers love treasure baskets too though, as long as the objects catch their interest.


The items should be large enough and safe enough that baby can explore on his own without adult interference.

Some ideas for sensory treasure baskets include a basket of different types of brushes, a basket of fall leaves, a basket of different blue household items, a basket of non-breakable Christmas ornaments or holiday ribbons and bows, and a basket of interesting kitchen utensils.

2. Easy homemade shakers

You can certainly use store bought shakers and rattles to let baby explore sound, but making your own is so easy and it allows you to easily switch out the contents to change the sound when baby is bored. All you need is a few spice jars (I just save my clear glass Penzeys jars when they’re empty) and something to fill them with. Some options are grains, beans, corn kernels, and jingle bells.

Another great thing about making your own shakers is that they have a uniform look, which helps to isolate the differences in sound as the focus of the toy.

3. Food exploration

Eating is definitely a sensory experience for little ones. You can take it a step further though by making sensory bins with edible contents. If you have a baby who puts everything in his mouth (?‍), this is a great way to make sensory exploration safe.

Fill a bin with flour and let your baby explore its funny texture and see how it floats through the air. Let her feel how it changes if you add some water.

Fill a bin with cooked spaghetti and watch your little one squish it around. This is a good activity to do in the backyard, for obvious reasons.

4. Finger painting

Another messy, but fun sensory experience is finger painting. With washable, non-toxic paints, a baby could explore finger painting as soon as she’s sitting up, though she might enjoy it more when she’s a bit older.

5. Kinetic sand

Have you played with kinetic sand? Like its playground counterpart, but moldable, it can be pretty mesmerizing, even for adults. It turns out you can make a homemade version that is entirely edible, just in case baby wants to explore it with all five senses.

6. Clay

Play-Doh is great, but clay is even better. Clay is excellent for the development of the hand muscles because it is harder to squish and shape. It is also much more interesting to the senses as it has a unique smell and is cool to the touch.

Play-Doh can be great for young toddlers, but when their little hands are strong enough, give natural clay a try!

7. Herb smelling + tasting

Many babies and toddlers want to taste the leaves they find outside, so why not give them a chance? Gather 3-5 different types of herbs on a small tray and silently model how to smell and taste the leaves. Then let your baby explore! If you do this regularly, it can be fun to point out which herbs are in the food your baby is eating too.

8. Experiencing the seasons

The best sensorial experience for children is simply spending time outside. The sounds of nature and the feeling of the wind on their faces simply cannot be replicated. While winter months may mean shorter outdoor playtimes, try to let your child experience all of nature’s seasons.

Let him play in the rain. Let him smell the pine trees in the cold winter air. His senses, and his curiosity, will come alive.

For babies and toddlers, almost everything is a sensory experience. They explore the world by touch (and taste!) and are constantly fascinated by new sights, sounds and smells. These eight activities are just an entertaining and easy way to give them something new to explore and join in on the fun.

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.


The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.

As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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I was blissfully asleep on the couch while my little one was occupied elsewhere with toys, books and my partner. She got bored with what they were doing, escaped from his watch and, sensing my absence, set about looking for me. Finding me on the couch, nose-level, she peeled back my one available eyelid, singing, "Mama? Mama? ...You there? Wake UP!"

Sound familiar? Nothing limits sleep more than parenthood. And nothing is more sought after as a parent than a nap, if not a good night's rest.

But Mother Nature practically guarantees that you are likely to be woken up by a toddler—they're hardwired to find you (and get your attention) when you're "away."


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