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  • Babies Learn Through Play: 5 Multisensory And Low-Cost Activities (0-12 Months)

    Play is vital in the first three years of your baby.
    by Bianca Bello-Sarmenta .
Babies Learn Through Play: 5 Multisensory And Low-Cost Activities (0-12 Months)
PHOTO BY courtesy of Bianca Bello-Sarmenta
  • You’re probably reading this because you agree or have a strong intuition that play is more than just a frivolous reward after work, especially for kids. And science is on your side — play is indeed the best way for children to learn and grow up well.

    Various experts say play is needed for our kids to thrive, so much so that the American Academy of Pediatrics officially urged doctors to include play in their prescription pads. That means play is as essential as sleep, nutrition, and vitamins for children to develop optimally.

    Play is vital in the first three years as it supports the brain development that is speedily happening. Infants, though still learning language and movement, are already playing and learning since day one by observing and theorizing about the world.

    Multisensory, low-cost, easy-prep play

    Of course, play options have been limited by being on lockdown. As a teacher and a mom, I understand how frustrating it can be. Don’t worry, though, because our homes are actually a treasure trove of play opportunities for our babies!

    The following are multisensory, low-cost, easy-prep activities that my baby happily engaged in repeatedly during the first year.

    Kitchen Band

    Materials: Plastic/metal mixing bowls, measuring cups, or spoons


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    For younger babies, tap the bowls while singing along to their favorite song. Of course, you can introduce different genres, too.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Bianca Bello-Sarmenta

    For older babies, let them explore the instruments, then you can tap them with them while singing. Label what they are doing, as well as the kinds of sounds they are producing (e.g., “You are tapping the bowl softly”).

    Benefits: This enhances gross, fine motor, and listening skills, as well as introduces vocabulary (e.g., name of objects, loud vs. quiet, action words, beat patterns like fast vs. slow).

    Listening games

    Materials: Audio recordings, picture print-outs of the objects/people/animals that made the sounds


    For younger babies, you can record your voice as well as that of a family member (and later on your baby’s voice, too). You can say hello, sing a song/rhyme, or talk to them. Give them time to listen before saying who it is.

    For older babies, you can modify this by asking them to get or point at the family member’s picture. Then, add challenges like taping it to a wall or putting it farther for them to practice movement.


    • Enhances language skills (listening, talking, following instructions)
    • Enhances the mathematical skill of matching, visual tracking, gross/fine motor skills (pointing, grasping, giving an object, crawling, walking)
    • Fosters an infant’s relationship with his parents and caregivers and allows him to get to know his name and voice, too

    Fruit exploration

    Materials: Fruits of varying sizes, playmat, pot, water, paintbrush, paper


    Introduce this activity when your baby is starting to be more curious about food. For example, parents can put a piece of fruit on the mat and lead a baby to touch and observe the fruit. Older babies can also smell and taste it!

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    As a bonus, you can boil the leftover fruit and fruit peels to turn these into taste-safe paint that your baby can explore on paper.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Bianca Bello-Sarmenta

    Benefits: This multisensorial activity is such a great learning opportunity to develop language and cognition. They can learn about the shape, smell, size, color, texture, taste, and movement by experiencing fruit.

    This activity also helps older babies know where the fruit comes from and may encourage them to be more adventurous during mealtimes.

    Bottle/canister play

    Materials: Transparent bottles or canisters, water, food coloring, big loose parts (e.g., fuzzy wire, popsicle sticks, big balls, cloth/ribbons, etc.)


    Put different objects or colored water inside bottles for younger infants to safely observe and move.

    You can also give them various objects to either take out or put inside, like popsicle sticks.

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    Older babies can practice more movements by carrying or rolling weighted bottles (just put heavier objects and seal the cap).
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Bianca Bello-Sarmenta

    Benefits: This develops gross and fine motor skills, especially eye-hand coordination, spatial awareness, and balance. It can also introduce concepts (inside/outside, up/down, near/far) or verbs (shake, roll, carry, put down, etc.)

    Messy Play

    Materials: Water, plastic bin, fruit peels, a towel, bath toys, a sponge, food coloring, cups, bowls


    Put water, toys, a sponge, and cups in a bin. You can also add orange or lemon peels for that added sensory treat. For older babies, you can vary the color using food coloring or change the kind of material (e.g., cooked noodles, yogurt, crushed cereals, crushed jello). 

    Benefits: Messy play stimulates the senses and offers more possibilities for developing physical, language, cognitive, and socio-emotional skills. This can also introduce concepts (e.g., wet/dry, warm/cold, full/empty) and verbs (e.g., scoop, spill, pour, etc.).

    Lastly, here are some tips for playing with infants.

    Trust your baby and let them lead the play

    Just be present, observe, and play responsive instead of insisting on a particular objective.

    A lot of infancy is more about material exploration

    Much of the focus would be on labeling the object, properties about the objects, and introducing functional words (e.g., eating, crawling, walking, rolled). These are the building blocks of academic work, which will come much, much later.

    Repetition is key to learning

    You want to avoid churning out one kind of activity after another. Repeating the activities above and taking the time to leisurely explore with them is the brain- and heart-building. You can just change up an element during each play session.


    Look at things with a beginner’s eye

    Your baby is a first-timer on Earth — everything must look so awe-inspiring in their eyes! For play to be fun, try to look at it from their perspective, too. Who knows, you might learn a thing or two. Happy playing!

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    Teacher Bianca (@reggioinspired_ph on Instagram)  is a cum laude graduate of psychology from Ateneo de Manila University and earned her master’s degree in Developmental Psychology. She was also a former preschool teacher and directress of an international preschool. Her favorite job to date is being a Mama to a toddler.

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