Find easy methods to stimulate your baby’s brain through Montessori toys and sensory play

Sensory play ideas and tools for babies ages 12-18 months

Remember when our babies were newborns and all they do is sleep and we would wish for them to grow up soon so we can play with them?

Well, that time has come and you can bet that their favorite thing to do now is to play and explore!

It’s ironic though that when our babies reach their first birthday and start crawling or cruising around the house, we just want to put them in a corner and wished they would stay there, so they don’t get hurt or so we can do the next thing on our list.

I remember making the mistake of propping up my daughter on a chair and letting her watch a 30-minute video because someone suggested that it would help her read at an early age.

Then came the pile of toys. The ones that light up and make noises when you press a button.

I thought these things would help in my baby’s brain development.

Back then, I didn’t know that there is a better way to nurture my baby’s brain while keeping her entertained – by stimulating her senses through play.

Is screen time okay for baby?

As I mentioned above, I introduced my child to gadgets. It was my easy way out of keeping her entertained at the same time allow myself to do other things or have “me-time”.

With all the development happening in your baby’s brain, you can bet that they are ready to try new things and forms of entertainment.

Does this mean we need to get those electronic toys or the latest apps to stimulate his senses?

Well, it’s a big NO.

In fact, organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization warned against the dangers of passive entertainment and sedentary screen time and discouraged it for children under 18 months

Reading through the article alarmed me on the mistake I made.

Immediately, I search for ways how to properly nourish the baby’s brain development asap.

Key Takeaway: Electronic toys such as battery-operated car or baby laptop, more so mobile gadgets, decreases the quantity and quality of communication between a child and parent.

Your child’s brain development at 12-18 months

Your baby’s brain continues to do really amazing work after his first year. 

The hippocampus, (the part of the brain in charge of cognition and memory), is already well-developed.

So not only can a baby learn what he experienced, but also remember it even after a day or two. 

Baby’s brain is getting better at directing and training the muscles, hence, your child’s movement and his motor skills are becoming more refined.

There is also an increase in your child’s cognitive abilities, including awareness.

Notice that your baby can say and understand more words now?

It’s because his left hemisphere (in charge of language) is also highly active at this stage.

Key Takeaway: At 12-18 months, the baby’s brain develops further, such as the areas responsible for cognition and learning, movement, language, and social-emotional issues.

Sensory play and your baby’s brain

Your baby’s brain is rapidly forming new synaptic connections between nerve cells, which enables it to do more complex mental processing and better motor function. 

The more these connections are stimulated, the stronger they become.

This is why sensory play, or any activity that stimulates your child’s sense, is essential in nurturing your baby’s brain during this stage.

Sensory play also promotes mindfulness or the act of being aware of one’s self and his surroundings.

Studies show that practicing mindfulness decreases aggressive behavior in children, and helps children with autism spectrum disorder in the areas of self-regulation, focus and social interaction.

If that’s the case, what form of toys and entertainment should you invest in?

Using Montessori toys for sensory play

In 2007, a study by AAP recommends the use of “true toys” such as wooden blocks where children use their imagination, over passive toys that require only limited imagination

Montessori toys are great for sensory play because of the following reasons:

  • It encourages open-ended play, STEM practices, and promotes mindfulness.
  • Usually made of sturdy and natural materials (like wood), Montessori toys can be used in different ways as your child’s preference evolves. In short, they are built to last. 
  • The varied texture of Montessori toys (wood, fabric) adds to sensory stimulation, compared to other popular toys (like plastic, which usually feels the same).
  • Its minimalistic quality encourages mindfulness as they allow children to focus and explore their surroundings without providing unnecessary distractions. 
  • Montessori toys are also based on reality, which makes it ideal for pretend play.

Key Takeaway: Children don’t need a mass of toys. Quality matters much more than quantity. – mariamontessori.com

Sensory play activities for you and baby

As your child transitions from being a baby to a toddler, they also becomes more mobile and interactive.

Their curiosity is increasing and can now appreciate how pretend play works.

Continue nurturing their creativity, promote mindfulness and boost your child’s brain development with the following toys and activities:

Sensory bin ideas

  •  Get a box or a plastic container and fill it with different items of different textures, sizes, shapes and colors such as wooden blocks, rocks or play silk. Or allow your child to explore and maybe add a few items in his bin. The Avery & Ruth Stack and Pour set would make great sensory bin fillers. 
  • Make rainbow rice or pasta using food-grade colorants or dyes. You can put this on the sensory bin, and your child can practice scooping them and pouring them on different containers.

Practicing hand-eye coordination

  • Stacking wooden toys. Babies learn balance and symmetry when they stack toys on top of each other. He can use cups or wooden blocks. Little kids love stacking or making a tower, and also knocking the whole thing down.
  • Pompom balls. He can practice sorting the colors or dropping the balls on tissue paper rolls like a mini basketball ring.
  • Practice sorting, counting and matching with shape sorters. Plus it also develops problem-solving skills.
  • Strengthen your child’s fine motor skills using clothespins. You can play “match the color” using clothespins and colored paper.
  • Popsicle sticks. They’re good for counting and sorting, or to make it more challenging, get a box, put narrow slanted holes on it and let your child insert the sticks in the box. 
  • Teach him how to pour water in cups, and let him do it himself. 

Key Takeaway: Developing hand-eye coordination is essential for writing and reading skills in the future.

Texture training

  • Fabric board. Tape tiny squares of fabrics (different textures) on a cardboard and run his hands on them. 
  • Put different colors of play silk inside a tissue box, and let your child pull them out, trying to guess what color comes next. You can also explain concepts like smooth or soft by touching the play silk’s fabric. 

Art and Music

  • Put your child inside a big box and let him express himself using non-toxic markers.
  • Painting with water. All you need is water, paper and a paintbrush.
  • Start a band. Fill empty bottles with water to make a xylophone or by letting him bang the pots and pans with wooden spoons

Make the most of this stage in your child’s life and enjoy playing with him as you engage in activities that stimulate his senses.

Nurture the baby’s brain and promote mindfulness while using simple household items and Montessori toys. 

Explore things you need to know about mindfulness and brain development. Learn more ways to boost your child’s brain development – through Mindfulness, the Montessori method, STEM Learning.

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