Boost baby’s brain at 18 months through sensory play, pretend play, and mindfulness activities

Activities with Montessori toys to make learning a fun experience for your little ones

The toddler stage is probably one of the most exciting stages in childhood.

Your child is now in full control of his body, getting a better grip on his speech and becoming more aware of his emotions.

He is also super keen on exploring and practicing his independence.

We laugh at every funny remark, new words he now knows how to use and silly gestures he is now capable of making.

But did you know that as he continues to explore and find ways to entertain himself (and us), your baby’s brain also continues to develop, even more rapidly than any other time in his life?

And we can help nurture it even more through the simple and sincere act of playing with them.

What if I tell you that there’s a way to keep your child entertained while stimulating his senses, and only using simple toys or things around the house?

This is where sensory play comes in.

Key Takeaway: Toddlers communicate their needs and interests more directly and how we respond is important in their learning.

How your child’s brain develops at 18 months

At 18 months, your child’s brain works at a faster rate than any other time in his life.

While during the age of 12-18 months, the baby’s brain developed mostly all areas, at this stage some changes may happen.

The brain has already formed over 100 trillion neural connections or synapses.

But as they continue to multiply, the brain has also started a pruning process, which edits away the synapses that are not being used.

The cerebral cortex is also fully developed to perform complex cognitive functions and concepts (like cause and effect and understanding simple instructions).

Key Takeaway: Pruning is thought to be the brain’s way of removing connections in the brain that are no longer needed.

Sensory play and your child’s brain

Sensory play can help your toddler’s brain continue to retain the information that was captured previously through the neural connections, by constantly using and stimulating the senses.

It also strengthens cognitive skills by introducing challenging activities in your child’s daily routine (like problem-solving games and cause and effect).

Sensory play also enhances memory by practicing mindfulness

The benefits of simple play and simple toys

In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) came out with a clinical report advocating simple play and its role in the development of a child’s mind. It revealed some astonishing findings:

  • An hour of active play per day helped children to better think creatively and multitask.
  • Pretend play encourages self-regulation in children.
  • Children who played with traditional toys increased in quality and quantity of language compared to those who played with electronic toys.
  • Children become more creative when they play with inexpensive toys like wooden blocks, balls, puzzles, crayons and even simple household objects.

Montessori toys, which are considered classic, also promotes STEM learning.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) learning develops skills like problem-solving, creativity, critical analysis, experimentation and independent thinking.

Since they don’t come with a specific set of instructions, children are driven to build, explore and experiment in endless ways possible.

Key Takeaway: Montessori toys are mostly made of natural material such as wood, wool, cotton, metal, ceramic and even rock.

Sensory activities for toddlers

Your child is now capable of doing many things than when he was a baby, so when it comes to activities that promote sensory stimulation, keep things interesting by including activities that promote communication and interaction, use of their hands, repetition, open-ended play and encourage independence. 

Sensory play using sensory bins

Sensory tables or areas where your child can explore sensory play using all sorts of things.

The Ikea Flisat sensory table is a favorite among Montessori moms because the top part can fit plastic containers for sensory bins.

You can design the table with pompoms, wooden blocks, play silk, or anything that would pique your child’s interest. 

  • Kids love sand, and kinetic sand is a non-toxic, less messy alternative. You can even make your own edible version if your child loves putting his hands in his mouth.
  • You can put toys like wooden blocks or tiny cars inside your bin and hide them in rainbow rice or pasta (using food-grade colorants).
  • You can also use whipped cream and food coloring, or make Aquafaba (chickpea water) and let your child soak his hands in the foam and pretend play (sea foam with ocean creatures, do pretend laundry day, car wash, it’s so fun to be a kid!).
  • Kids love things that are squishy, colorful and grow when you soak it in water. Hence, giant water beads!
  • Let him play with the inevitable play dough and slime. Search the web for homemade, edible versions if you’re worried about him ingesting it

Key Takeaway: Sensory bins helps the child to practice mindfulness by focusing on their senses and by experiencing calmness.

Pretend play ideas

  • Let him find his center while exploring nature. Help him pick out some leaves, herbs, or flowers and concoct potions with the Avery & Ruth Kids Mindfulness Calming Kit. The basic task of scooping and grinding herbs can be centering and increases one’s focus.
  • Oh, the wonders of play silk. It’s great for telling colors, texture, and pretend play too. He can use the play silk as a cape, a blanket, a river, or let him just toss it in the air like a parachute.
  • Encourage independence and pretend play with kitchen toys. The Avery & Ruth Kitchen Learning Jumbo Set is intricately crafted for little hands. Expect these wooden toys to be a staple in your child’s sensory play. 
  • Wrapping play food with foil. (I absolutely love this idea and I can’t wait for my daughters to try it!)

Sensory activities for independence and mindfulness

  • Fort building kits are great in teaching problem-solving skills while nurturing your child’s creativity. 
  • Transferring ice from one container to another using a scoop or tongs is another activity that practices fine motor skills and promotes independence.
  •  Another quiet sensory activity is a busy board with zippers, buttons and buttonholes using felt cloth, velcro tapes or snaps, and shoelaces to strengthen your child’s fine motor skills. 
  • Explain cause and effect using Montessori toys. With the Avery&Ruth Bowling Set, you can explain what happens when the ball rolls and hits the bowling pins.
  • Glitter jars can help your toddler to calm down and practice mindfulness. All you need is a clean, empty jar, water and some glitter.

Indeed there are so many fun activities that can stimulate your child’s senses and nurture your child’s brain development using simple Montessori toys or even household items.

Just remember to keep things exciting and enjoy yourself as well, as you make wonderful memories together. 

Discover more ways to boost your child’s brain development – through Mindfulness, Montessori, STEM Learning. Find answers to FAQ about toys and activities suitable for your child’s age.

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