From the moment your baby is born, they start using their senses to learn about the wonderful world around them. By choosing toys and activities that stimulate all five of your baby's senses, you'll foster essential early brain development.
Because newborns are still developing their visual acuity (their ability to see clearly), black-and-white images are easiest for them to see. Put a black-and-white frieze on the wall near the change table or cot, and show your baby black-and-white cloth books at play time - they'll be naturally drawn to the high-contrast patterns.
Once your baby's colour vision has developed at about five months, they can distinguish between colours and are most attracted to bright primaries. Hang a brightly coloured mobile over the cot and offer soft toys with panels of contrasting-coloured fabrics to explore.
Babies love to look at faces, and gazing at their own in a toy mirror is no exception! Looking in a mirror is not only fun – it also helps your baby learn to focus and track images. As you look in the mirror together, touch your baby's features and name each one.
Once your baby can grasp, they can create sound independently and start to understand cause and effect – they realise, "When I shake my rattle, it makes a sound!" Enjoy making different sounds with bells, shakers, xylophones and mini cymbals. Electronic activity centres give your baby the freedom to explore sound independently as they push and swipe the buttons and dials.
Develop your baby's auditory and listening skills through music play and story time. Play CDs and sing together – simple melodies with rhyme and repetition help teach the concepts of high and low, loud and soft, and early speech. Reading books aloud helps younger babies understand the rhythm of language, and fosters communication, vocabulary and imagination in older babies.
Touch helps your baby learn about their environment – they develop their tactile sense by feeling objects, and make emotional connections by touching people they love as well as other babies they encounter.
Create a sensory bag for tactile play – include soft feathers, large smooth shells, spiky nail brushes, fluffy scraps of fabric, felt or plastic balls, hard wooden blocks, squishy sponges, or woolly pompoms. (Supervise this activity for safety.)
Look for sensory blankets or soft activity toys with a few tactile elements – from crinkly fabric to smooth ribbons and plastic rings with ridges. The different textures will delight and surprise your baby!
Other opportunities for tactile play include: board books with textures like sandpaper, corrugated cardboard and fur; play dough; sandpit and water toys like sieves and watering cans; and non-toxic finger paints.
Taste and smell
Your baby's sense of taste and smell are fully developed at birth. They can identify which smells bring them comfort, such as the smell of their mother because of her breast milk. They can also distinguish between different tastes – salty, sweet, bitter and sour – though this doesn't come into play until they begin solids.
Stimulate your older baby's palate and encourage adventurous eating with a tasting pots game. Set up a plastic tray with small plastic containers of different foods like blueberries, grated cheese and yogurt. Smell each food together first, then taste it. Yum!
Explore smell with your baby on a tour of the park or garden. Enjoy natural fragrances – flowers like frangipanis and roses; herbs like mint and rosemary; plants like eucalyptus leaves or lavender. You can also create a set of smelling bottles for indoor play with fragrant items like soap, cinnamon, cloves, and a slice of citrus fruit.