SENSE-ABLE BABYTM                                                                                                                               

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                                                                     PLAY & DAILY ROUTINES

Play is important for the development of every child. Play can occur with toys as well as during interactions with other people. Although play is something that can occur on the floor for a designated amount of time with particular toys that are deemed good for making the child smarter, it is also something that can occur throughout the day during simple interactions with another person. Playing "peek-a-boo" with a baby while he is seated in a grocery cart while shopping is play, just as singing "Pat-a-Cake" to the baby as he sits on your lap clapping to the words is play. Signals that a baby may give you to let you know he is ready to play are:
  • Looks at your face
  • Reaches out to you
  • Smiles and/or a bright face
  • Babbles
  • Smooth movements as opposed to extraneuous or jerky movements of arms and legs

There are many good books out there on how to play with your baby. The following are a few good books on play in which sensory processing is not the focus:
  • GymboreeR The Parents Guide to Play by Dr. Wendy S. Masi and Dr. Roni Cohen Leiderman
  • Games Babies Play: From Birth to Twelve Months by Vicki Lansky
  • Baby Play & Learn: 160 games and Learning Activities for the First Three Years by Penny Warner

In the section below are some ideas on play and how sensory processing can be fostered during various play events. Following that are some ideas on how to improve sensory processing during daily routines. Some of these ideas are a combination of play with a particular daily routine.


When a baby is lying down with his tummy on the floor or surface, it is termed "tummy time". Tummy time is important for the development of motor skills and the touch, visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive senses. Some babies may not like tummy time, so it is our job to make it fun for them or at least tolerable. Babies who are not placed in tummy time are not as likely to roll, crawl, or walk at an age-expected time. Although some babies may skip the rolling and/or crawling stage, tummy time is still important. This is a position in which babies learn to hold their head up against gravity as well as use their hands to reach out for nearby objects.
Although parents are encouraged to place their babies on their back for sleeping, it is important that the baby is not just placed on his back for playtime; this might also contribute to a "flat" head. Here are some ideas for facilitating tummy time:

  • Place the baby on a soft, comfortable blanket on his tummy on the floor with fun toys placed to the front and each side of him 
  • Lie down in front of the baby and talk or sing to him, as often a distraction will allow him to maintain this position longer
  • Put a shatter-proof mirror to the front of him as a visual distraction
  • Place the baby to play on his tummy at least 1-2 times a day if not more, as doing it infrequently will not help improve his tolerance
  • Lay the baby on his tummy over one of your legs, since a leg is contoured and not flat like the floor or a bed, this may be more tolerable. Bouncing the leg or rocking it gently side-to-side may help lengthen the time he will stay on his tummy.
  • Use a "tummy time" mat that has attached toys to gain the baby's attention
  • Lay him over a "U"/ horseshoe shaped pillow on his tummy
  • Lay the baby over your chest as you are reclined in a chair or lying flat on a surface

POSITIONING DEVICES: Limit the time the baby spends in a bouncy seat, bouncer, or other positioning devices. Standing devices such as bouncers are not meant for younger babies (below 6 months of age) nor are they meant to use for a prolonged amount of time (over 15 minute increments). Walkers are controversial and adult supervision must be used if the baby is to be placed in one; be aware that babies are not likely to walk any sooner if using a walker and are at an increased risk of injury such as when pulling down items from shelves, pulling electrical cords, or falling down steps/stairs. Encouraging movements such as sitting on the floor and cruising (sideways steps) along furniture is more beneficial for gross motor development than positioning devices. In addition, the shape of a baby's head may be altered if left in too many devices (bouncer seat, car seat, etc.) especially when also sleeping for long bouts of time on his back. 

A sensory diet is a plan to provide extra opportunities of sensory input regulary throughout the day. Below are activities from each of the sensory systems that can be included in the sensory diet of a baby. Remember not to over-whelm the baby with too many activities and be sure to read his signals of being over-stimulated (listed on "alertness & crying" page). The sensory diet should vary and be balanced as this promotes learning and interaction with the world through the senses.


Ideas to encourage the visual sense include:

  • Using brightly colored toys or toys with moving parts attracts the baby 
  • Place toys around the room in baskets, containers, or bags. Older babies might enjoy searching through containers with lids to find out what items are hidden or through open containers such as clear see-through plastic pitchers or bowls with toys placed in them
  • Read simple books and point out the pictures to him
  • Blow bubbles then encourage reaching out to pop them
  • When talking to a young baby during play be aware that they see faces best at a distance of 8-12 inches away
  • Lay him under a play gym with toys that dangle from an over-head arch, with toys on each side of him

Ideas to encourage the movement senses (vestibular and proprioception) include:

  • Wear a sling and place the baby in it, which lets him feel your movements
  • Lap play in which the baby is seated on your lap while you bounce him gently. This is a good time to sing and talk to him
  • Stroller and/or wagon rides
  • Have the baby be a passenger on a bike pedalled by an adult
  • Indoor and outdoor infant swings
  • Hold the baby in a face down position and pretend to fly him around the room as if he is an airplane
  • Bounce him gently or rock him side-to-side on a large exercise ball while he is either seated upright or lying on his tummy, or while seated on the adult's lap as they bounce. For a baby who is over-responsive to movement in certain directions, hold him closer to you 
  • Use a durable blanket as a swing: lay the baby on the blanket on a surface then pick up both ends of the blanket and rock your arms in a side-to-side motion or an up/down motion
  • Have him push around an inverted empty laundry basket for walking practice and proprioceptive (AKA "heavy work") input
  • For an older baby: crawl through a fabric tunnel or through an activity center that has a tunnel or gate included 
  • For an older baby: sit on a ride-on toy such as a low-lying rocking horse or four-wheeled "car"
  • For an older baby, help him walk by holding his hands lower as opposed to over his head
  • For an older baby, let him stand at an activity table or at furniture with toys/objects placed at his chest or eye level

Ideas to encourage the tactile (touch) sense include:

  • Toys with textured fabrics
  • Fabric books
  • Infant massage or lotion rubs
  • Songs or Rhymes with motions that encourage touching body parts such as "Head, Shoulders, Knees, & Toes" or "This Little Piggy"
  • Encourage the baby to play with his toes and/or clap his hands
  • Help him bang two toys together in front of him (side-to-side motion) or on a table (up/down motion)
  • Water play: bathtub, swimming pool, or water table
  • Toys with buttons to poke, dials to turn, holes to insert shapes/blocks, and balls to pound
  • Play gyms with overhead dangling toys to kick at with the feet or swipe at with the hands
  • For babies who are over-responsive to touch it is beneficial to perform activities with resistance (AKA "heavy work"): pushing large wheeled toys, pulling rolling toys, crawling over an adult's leg or up the staircase while supervised, and pulling up on furniture 

Ideas to encourage the auditory (hearing) sense include:

  • Musical toys
  • Toys with buttons that when activated make noises, animal sounds, or play music
  • Sing songs: easy repetitive sounding songs may be enjoyable for the baby such as "Wheels on the Bus" or "Twinkle Little Star" 
  • Read simple books

Let the baby play with and touch his food before eating it and don't worry about being messy

Baby proof your home by putting fragile figurines or dangerous objects out of reach, cover electrical outlets, close off cabinet doors, and use baby gates when necessary, yet let the baby freely explore within a safe environment.  When choosing toys for the baby to play with, remember to make sure items are too big to swallow, non-toxic, and free of sharp edges. 





  • If the baby is having difficulties latching on to the bottle, then try a different nipple while paying close attention to material (rubber or silicone) and flow rate 
  • Babies with a poor latch-on to the breast may benefit from some oral motor preparation first such as sucking on a finger or a pacifier to "warm up" the muscles. Also, if the child latches on well, then pulls away or coughs, then the breast milk may initially be coming out too fast for that child, and in that case hand expressing some milk prior to the feeding may be beneficial. This may also help with a baby with low muscle tone and a mom with a slow "let down" in order for the baby not to give up and quit too soon. Breastfeeding questions should be aimed at a breastfeeding educator (such as at WIC offices or La Leche League) or a certified lactation consultant
  • Limit the amount of positional changes while burping the baby. Also, it disorganizes some babies too much to stop half way during a feed to burp, so in that case wait until the end of the feeding.
  • Attach toys on a plastic ring on the side of the high-chair for play, this way the toy doesn't fall on the floor if it is dropped out of his hands
  • Offer the same food on at least 10 different occasions before thinking that the baby does not like that flavor/texture of puree or table food. Often, babies will dislike a food on the first try, but then the next time they may do better or at least play with the food with their hands
  • Learning the signals that a young baby may send you when he is hungry can prevent him from getting too upset.  Some of those signals may include: 
    • Sucking motion of his lips and tongue
    • Bringing his hand to his mouth and possibly sucking on fingers or thumb
    • Making small sounds
    • Extraneous body movements


  • Implement strategies that are calming from the "alertness & crying" page to help the baby to wind down and fall asleep. Some ideas include playing "white noise" in the background and dimming the lights
  • Put the baby to sleep when he is drowsy and showing signs of sleepiness such as rubbing his eyes, heavy eyes, or cuddling.  See section on sleep/wake states on "alertness & crying" page. When babies get enough sleep, they may be less likely to over-respond to sensations.
  • If the baby has difficulties staying asleep and also has difficulties separating from mom, then begin to work on small times of separation during waking hours such as placing the baby in a high-chair with toys on the tray while he is facing mom washing dishes at the sink. Another idea for the baby staying asleep is when he goes into a light sleep or is drowsy, let him cry a bit and then go back into a deep sleep by leaving him alone; this means don't immediately pick up the baby from his crib every time he makes a noise
  • Make sure the baby has had lots of movement opportunities during the day so that he is tired enough for a nap or nighttime sleep. But don't over-stimulate him too much or he may not be able to fall asleep easily. Providing many movement opportunities may also lessen  head-banging on the crib or wall
  • Provide a comfort item such as a toy or pacifier. Can also teach the baby to suck his fingers to soothe self
  • Use cotton sheets and bedding as polyester tends to be more bothersome for babies who over-respond to touch


  • When touching the baby, touch him firmly to decrease the sensitive response he has to the cleaning cloth on his bottom or to the shirt pulled over his head
  • Provide a toy or overhead mobile as a distractor during a diaper change
  • Talk and sing with him while dressing him or changing his diaper. When he babbles, then make a noise back to him, and try to continue this back-and-forth pattern as this is a communication skill needed for conversations later in life
  • Use a cover with soft fabric on the changing table mat
  • Use a baby wipe warmer
  • For over-responsiveness to touch, make sure the clothing is not scratchy (e.g. lace or collars) or too tight (elastic or closed feet in sleepers). Also, use shirts without tags or socks without seams


  • Make sure the water temperature is warm, and not too cold or hot
  • Wash with a soft cloth and provide medium-to-firm touch
  • Minimize the bubbles with a child who is over-responsive to touch
  • Provide fun toys for him to manipulate
  • Lotion rubs and/or infant massage after the bath


  • Hold the fingers firmly when trimming nails
  • For babies over-responsive to touch, consider not placing hair gadgets or hats on their heads
  • Before the baby has teeth, massage his gums with your finger or a bristled rubber finger glove. This may especially feel good when he is in pain due to teething
  • As soon as the baby gets teeth, begin brushing them with a soft bristle baby toothbrush at least once a day
  • When washing their face, approach them from the front so they can see the cloth before it touches them and apply medium-to-firm pressure


  • Provide small toys for the baby to hold, shake, or manipulate
  • Use an over-head arch with dangling toys that attach to the car seat
  • Since babies under one year old should be in a rear facing car seat, then place a mirror to the front of them on the back of the car's seat so you can see them and they can possibly see you
  • Play soft, soothing music


  • Take finger food snacks for the child to feed himself in order to stay busy such as in his stroller at the shopping mall or in the cart at the grocery store
  • Take small toys to preoccupy the baby
  • If noises and faces over-whelm the baby, place a blanket over the carseat or stroller with an opening for air
  • For newborns or young babies, swaddle them in a receiving or special swaddle blanket
  • Take along his pacifier (AKA binky) or favorite comfort toy (AKA lovie)
  • Shop at times of the day that aren't as busy
  • Stop shopping and go home for the baby's nap if he can't fall asleep in public
  • Choose a quieter restaurant, a booth, quiet corner, or eat at a less busy time of day for a baby who tends to prefer a quiet atmosphere
  • Choose a "kid-friendly" restaurant for a louder baby so that other customers don't mind the noise of a baby
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