Do you and your baby or toddler enjoy a bit of sensory play? Unfortunately, it can't be beach weather ALL year round, but I've found with my daughter that a bit of beach and ocean-themed sensory play is the next best thing! It's screen free, has endless benefits to their gross and fine motor skill development, creativity, concentration and more, and is a fantastic way for little minds to fall head over heels in love with our ocean.
Sure there are countless baby sensory toys on the market (check out our eco-friendly baby sensory books here for an example), but by far the most sustainable way to engage baby in some sensory play is to make the most of what nature provides, and what you already have at home.
So, in honour of World Oceans Day (celebrated in 2022 on June 8th), we wanted to inspire you and your little water baby with some baby sensory play ideas with a bit of an ocean theme.
What are the benefits of getting involved in some baby sensory play?
I'll cut to the ocean-themed sensory play ideas in a minute, but let's hold up a second and talk about how amazing sensory play is for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers. When it comes to building enquiring young minds, sensory play is where it's at, and the science backs me up.
1. Baby sensory play is the ultimate brain-builder:
Yup, it's true. Baby sensory play has been proven to help maximise the brain's neural pathways. These little brain connections literally help things 'click' better for babies and toddlers, building a solid foundation for even more complex learning in the future.
2. Sensory play builds creativity
This kind of open-ended play let's your child explore on their terms - interacting in whichever way their little mind invites them to. You'd be amazed how what looks like a carefully painted egg box to you becomes a submarine, or a space-ship, or a bus for those duplo pieces they've studiously ignored the past few months... And every time our children get positive feedback for using their creativity to explore their surroundings, and emotions, their self-esteem grows. So word to the wise, Mama: this is one time it really pays to 'celebrate' a little messy play!
3. But baby sensory play can also build you a little Einstein
OK, perhaps the slightest oversell... but whilst bubs is playing with all those little bits and bobs they are actually learning some pretty cool maths and science skills. Things like sorting, matching and pattern recognition, texture play, how materials interact (this floats, that sinks) and even beginning to grasp the basics of things like gravity (oh, that sand runs through my fingers and always drops onto the floor).
And don't even get me started on the benefits of sensory play in terms of adaptability and problem solving. Like, OK, that shell doesn't fit in here, but if I turn it THIS way.... you get the picture. Your little one will surprise you with just how smart they are if you only sit back a little and let them figure it out on their own next play time.
4. Baby sensory play builds fine and gross motor skills
In plain terms, they get good at the big movements, and the little ones too. Whilst touching, rolling, exploring and yes, messing it all up, your little brainbox is exercising their various small muscles (mostly in their hands) and becoming more adept and precise. Plus, each time they throw, splash, stamp or jump around your sensory play-scape, they're getting more co-ordinated in their bigger movements and muscle groups too.
5. Sensory play is great for mood regulation
Try it for yourself if you don't believe me. Our little ones find tactile play incredibly soothing. And the joy of open-ended play is watching them lose themselves in their own little world and play-scapes. I promise you this will calm them and regulate the dreaded temper tantrums better than a spell in front of Netflix ever could. Children who find themselves stressed, anxious or tense can lose themselves, and step away from their worries, whilst they're absorbed in play.
Ocean-themed sensory play ideas for babies and toddlers:
Right, back to World Oceans Day! I hope you'll agree, baby sensory play sounds ace and it's something worth every parent enjoying with their little one. But how to get started? No, you don't have to shell out heaps of money on special baby sensory classes, or expensive baby sensory toys. The reason I love sensory play most of all is that it can be so eco-friendly. Nature is abundant in sensory tools, and some of the best 'invitations to play' can be created from just what you already have knocking about at home!
Exploring the ocean through the medium of sensory play is an amazing way to help even the smallest of babies and toddlers grow up with a healthy respect for our marine environment. And best of all, the sensory play ideas shared below don't involve big, scary, crashing waves, or getting wet and cold. These ocean-themed baby sensory play ideas help your little one fall under the ocean's play from the safety and security of their own home.
Recycle and play: Ocean-Themed Baby Sensory Ideas
Shared below are three of the ocean-themed sensory play ideas I have enjoyed the most with my own daughter, Lila, when she was between 9 and 18 months old. With good parental supervision, and a solid dose of common sense, they are all baby and taste-safe. Just watch the size and density of anything approaching little mouths, and leave the cutting and sticking to Mum and Dad. And a final warning: you'll want to stock up on the blue paint and food colouring!
If you enjoy these ideas, there are plenty more where they came from. We have a FREE e-book with 10 ocean-themed baby sensory play ideas for babies and toddlers available for download here.
Ocean-Themed Baby Sensory Idea 1: Egg Carton Aquarium
Does your little one love to put things in and out of boxes? Then this craft is for you! This egg box aquarium is really easy - and can be as simple as ornate as you like.
What you'll need:
- An old egg carton, I find a 6 egg box works best (but go for 12 if you’re feeling ambitious!)
- Some extra cardboard (I used the side panel from a box of nappies)
- Some non-toxic poster paints
- Black biro or pencil
- Kitchen string or twine
- Some scissors (for mum, not bub!)
- Some extra props, if you want to go really fancy! Shells, little ocean creatures, painted pebbles - anything sensory and ocean-themed
How to do it:
- Draw any ocean scene you fancy on the inside lid of your box.
- Paint in your scene. For a perfect finish, do two coats, but bubs probably won’t mind if you just do one!
- Whilst this is drying, draw out some extra fishy creatures on your cardboard and paint them in.
- Once dry, cut your 'extras' out and add to your aquarium. Add whatever other ocean props you’d like.
- For bonus fun, make a string anemone or seaweed! Just paint some short bits of string, and glue to the bottom of one of the recesses. It's a wonderful sensory addition, and totally on-theme!
- Get carried away like I did and paint the front lid of the egg box, making this extra inviting to play. Now everyone knows this egg box aquarium belongs to Lila!
Ocean-Themed Baby Sensory Idea 2: Sensory Shore-Line
Yes you can recycle your leftovers into awesome ocean play things! Here I used up some spaghetti and the scraps of a bag of oats to make up a fun, and totally edible, sensory shoreline play (Now tell me, how old is too old to still be putting everything in their mouth? Asking for a friend!)
What you'll need:
- Leftover oats
- A blender
- Leftover spaghetti
- Blue food colouring
- Some toy ocean animals or sturdy shells
How to do it:
- If you've not got leftovers, boil up your dry spaghetti with some blue food colouring - add more for a deeper blue
- For a multi-coloured greeny-bluey-marbled effect, take your cooked spaghetti, add a splash of oil and mix in some more food colouring very roughly in a bowl. I’d do this step - it makes the spaghetti way more mesmerising!
- Blitz up your oats. Arrange next to the spaghetti in a container.
- Add your ocean “props” - making sure to avoid anything fragile or that could be a choke hazard
- Marvel at how easy it to make a ocean sensory bowl for bubs!
- Marvel at the mess aforementioned bub can make whilst happily lifting, sifting, scooping, mixing and yes, probably eating, your lovingly created ocean scene. All whilst developing a deep appreciation and fascination for the ocean (well, that’s the idea!)
Ocean-Themed Baby Sensory Play Idea 3: Jelly Beach Clean-Up
Who has a little one who loves different textures and sensory play? This wibbly wobbly ocean jelly is just the thing, and can provide an important eco lesson for older kiddos too.
What you'll need:
- Blue food colouring
- Gelatine powder
- Ocean creature figurines
- An enamel tin, or oven proof tray
- Various plastic bits of “rubbish”. Careful of choke hazards here for younger babes - I chose a spoon, a pouch lid and a piece of duplo
- If you’d like to add an “artistic” ocean sand floor here, also add butter and pretzels to your shop!
How to do it:
- For the sand floor, blitz your pretzels finely and knead them with butter, then press down well into the base of your tray
- Bake for 10 mins at 180 degrees and allow to cool fully
- Make up your blue jelly with boiling water, colouring and gelatine. I used 4-5 heaped teaspoons with 750ml of water for my tin
- Allow the jelly to half set in the fridge - it’s important it’s at least cold or it will “melt” your beach when you add it to the tin
- Arrange your ocean creatures and rubbish on top of the “beach” and pour your semi-set jelly on top.
- Pop back in the fridge for a few hours to set fully
- Prepare for some mess! My little one loved flicking this about with her spoon and scrunching the jelly between her fingers, but for kids old enough to "sort" fish from "trash" there’s a great lesson to be learned here about the need to keep plastic rubbish out of our oceans
Why get involved in some eco-friendly baby sensory play this World Ocean's Day?
Now that we've explored how wonderful sensory play is for your baby, toddler or pre-schooler, and shared some awesome (not to mention cheap and easy) ocean-themed sensory play ideas to enjoy together, there's only one last plea for me to make ahead of this World Ocean's Day. Making the most of natural materials, and items that would otherwise go from your home to landfill is an incredibly sustainable way to play.
Before reaching out for yet another garish toy made from virgin polyester or plastic, have a think about the following Little Fishy Facts, and wonder whether a little sensory play could help some of these stats go away?
- An amount equivalent of one rubbish truck full of plastic is dumped in the ocean every minute.
- By 2050 it is estimated that the amount of plastic in the ocean will outweigh the amount of fish!
- $160 million dollars worth of baby and infant toys are bought in Australia each year.
90% of those baby and infant toys are plastic. And 80% of them end up in landfill, incinerators and eventually the ocean, usually after an average life span of just 6 months.
So recycle, play and have fun saving the ocean. Sounds like a win to me!
If you'd like more Ocean-Themed Baby Sensory Play ideas, our free e-book featuring 10 different ocean-themed sensory play ideas for babies and toddlers is available here.
If you'd like an eco-friendly alternative to plastic baby sensory toys, check out our eco-sensory baby sensory books here. Each features 6 different ocean buddies to meet, and ocean-landscapes to explore, and best of all is made of recycled plastic bottles that would otherwise pollute our oceans.