Babies use their senses to explore and make sense of their environment. When we think of sensory play, we often think of the 5 main senses:

Sight – the stimulation of light receptors in our eyes, which our brains then interpret into visual images.

Hearing – the reception of sound, via mechanics in our inner ear.

Smell – the stimulation of chemical receptors in the upper airways (nose).

Taste – the stimulation that comes when our taste receptors react to chemicals in our mouth.

Touch – the stimulation that comes from touch receptors in our skin that react to pressure, heat/cold, or vibration.

But there are two other senses that are often overlooked. These are the two that I focussed on with Cian today:

Body awareness (also known as proprioception) – the feedback our brains receive from stretch receptors in our muscles and pressure receptors in joints which enable us to gain a sense where our bodies are in space.

Balance – the stimulation of the vestibular system of the inner ear to tell us our body position in relation to gravity.


  • Blankets
  • Silk scarves
  • Music


I left Cian in just his nappy, so that he could get more benefit from the touch and body awareness elements as he kicked and pulled at the scarves. He is nearly 5 months old and was very animated; babbling, smiling and rolling himself on to his side.

Cian can roll on to his side and back on to his back, but is unable to roll from his tummy to his back. To work on his balance, I rolled him on to his tummy. He lifted his head up and tried to use hid hands to support him. I then gently lifted his shoulder and rolled him on to his side, to the point where I knew he could complete the roll.

Sensory play can be more beneficial when you stimulate multiple senses at the same time. To engage his hearing, we listened to his favourite soundtrack, La La Land.

If you need convincing about the effect different music has on babies, look at the difference in Cian in the first two videos (playing whilst listening to energetic songs) compared to his reaction when the third song started in the video clip below. He calmed down almost instantly and went quiet, really concentrating on his hearing.

To prove Cian wasn’t just tired, this was him after the song finished. He was back to being active and vocal again once the music stopped.

For more information on the benefits of sensory play, you can read this article by Educational Playcare.

DfES Outcomes for EYFS (2013)

Communication and language

Listening and attention (Birth to 11 months)

• Turns towards a familiar sound then locates range of sounds with accuracy.

• Listens to, distinguishes and responds to intonations and sounds of voices.

• Reacts in interaction with others by smiling, looking and moving.

• Quietens or alerts to the sound of speech.


Speaking (Birth to 11 months)

• Makes own sounds in response when talked to by familiar adults.

• Practises and gradually develops speech sounds (babbling) to communicate with adults; says sounds like ‘baba, nono, gogo’.

Physical development

Moving and handling (Birth to 11 months)

• Turns head in response to sounds and sights.

• Gradually develops ability to hold up own head.

• Makes movements with arms and legs which gradually become more controlled.

• Rolls over from front to back, from back to front.

• When lying on tummy becomes able to lift first head and then chest, supporting self with forearms and then straight arms.

• Reaches out for, touches and begins to hold objects.

• Explores objects with mouth, often picking up an object and holding it to the mouth.

Personal, social and emotional development

Self-confidence and self-awareness (Birth to 11 months)

• Laughs and gurgles, e.g. shows pleasure at being tickled and other physical interactions.

• Uses voice, gesture, eye contact and facial expression to make contact with people and keep their attention.

Managing feelings and behaviour (Birth to 11 months)

  • Shows a range of emotions such as pleasure, fear and excitement.

Making relationships (Birth to 11 months)

• Enjoys the company of others and seeks contact with others from birth.

• Responds when talked to, for example, moves arms and legs, changes facial expression, moves body and makes mouth movements.

• Recognises and is most responsive to main carer’s voice: face brightens, activity increases when familiar carer appears.