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Sensory Play For Babies

Issy, known to her young family, and her Instagram followers as Mummy Scrummie is a Hampshire-based mum of two and brand rep for Catkin Toys. Every Sunday, Issy will be writing a guest blog feature, covering the parenting topics and issues that interest you! Have a topic you'd like to hear more about? Get in touch!

Tray Play Fun For Your Under One

Does it feel like social media is showing you page after page of brilliant play ideas for children, and you have no idea where to start with setting up something for your child?

Are you being visually bombarded with beautiful trays and play set-ups but left thinking: “Okay, that’d be great if I had a five year old, but what can I do for my baby?”

If you answered yes to both these questions, then read on, mama; and prepare to feel more inspired than tired, with Mummy Scrummie’s guide to Tray Play Fun for Your Under One!

Why Simple Play is So Important

Experts agree that the years before your small person turns five are some of the most crucial in their development; moreover, it is scientifically proven that the simplest toys, the simplest play experiences are the ones your child learns most from, because it encourages them to use their creative thinking and to forge those neural pathways responsible for imagination and decision-making.

It is these first ventures into the world of play that will shape the person your little one becomes. Which is crazy, when you put it like that, isn’t it? But don’t let the idea of this being a landmark moment in your child’s learning put you off jumping straight in and giving some tray play a go.

My first piece of advice is to remember that, to a child under one, everything and anything can be amazing. This has always been the case, but is perhaps truer than ever for a generation that have, by default, been a wee bit sheltered by being born in the middle of a global pandemic.

What might seem to you something totally uninteresting, may be absolutely fascinating to your little one: remember, it may be the first time they’ve ever seen anything like it, or they might suddenly have a much clearer understanding of what it is, or how it works, compared to what they understood of it the last time they saw it.

My Littlest adores a little wooden spinning top we have. The first time he saw it, he was fascinated, watching it twirling around and around; the next time, he clearly had some understanding of how I’d set it spinning, and was trying to twist it in his hands. Babies are amazing, and always watching and learning!

Keeping Baby Safe

As with every aspect of baby-care, your first priority when it comes to playing with your little one is going to be safety: you need to make sure that whatever your small person is playing with is age appropriate and safe for them; for those under 12 months, that means they need to be able to put it in their mouth, chew it, bash it about, drop it and hold it in their hands without hurting themselves.

Your bubba is not going to enjoy themselves (and you certainly won’t!) if you’re jumping up and down like a pea on a drum every two minutes, trying to prise from your pint-sized person’s kung-fu grip something you don’t want them playing with. So, I find that the easiest, and most stress-free way to keep your baby safe whilst they’re playing is to follow these two super simple rules:

1. Anything smaller than Baby’s fist: save for another time.

2. Look for the UKCA (previously CE) mark on the label to ensure that whatever you’re buying/using meets UK toy safety guidelines for babies.

And that’s it. It’s that simple! Stick to those guidelines and the job’s a good’un; now you and Baby can explore, experiment and have fun together with a whole world of fab play ideas.


So, you need a tray!

Trays come in all shapes and sizes, from teeny-tiny tinker trays, to fully-fledged tuff trays, but my favourite, and the one I use with both my four-year-old and my one-year-old (shown right!), is this one ( White Metal Play Tray ) it’s safe, sturdy, washable and because it’s not absolutely ginormous; it’s the ideal starter tray for your baby’s first tray plays.

Tray Plays

The KISS principle (Keep It Super Simple – and other less kindly-worded variations!) is going to be your best friend; as sometimes the best play set ups are the simplest ones. For your Under One, a large part of their experience is going to be sensory.

Some people see the word “sensory” and read: “messy”, but “Sensory Play” and “Messy Play” are not necessarily one and the same, and for now, I’m talking about minimal mess sensory trays that you and your little one will enjoy! Sensory Play is, quite literally, play that stimulates any one (or more) of your baby’s five senses: touch, taste, sound, sight and smell.

What To Put In Your Tray

When thinking about your tray set up, you might like to choose to follow a topical theme (for example: The Jungle, Halloween, The Ocean, People Who Help Us etc.) or a sensory theme (taste-safe, touchy-feely, audio-visual etc); or you might just want bung all your Baby’s favourite things in a tray! It really doesn’t matter what you decide to do, your baby will be excited regardless!

Sensory Bases:

A sensory base will be the thing that ties your tray together; it’s what your play accessories will sit on and it will provide a sensory element to the play. Aesthetically, it might be the ‘grass’ in your Jungle, or the ‘water’ of your sea.

Some of my favourite sensory bases are:

· Coloured organza scarves

· Fuzzy felt

· Crushed Weetabix, Cheerios or porridge oats

· Glow sticks

· Shredded packing paper

· Tin foil sheets

· Pom-poms

· Water (or your baby’s milk)

· Mirrors

· Pipe cleaners

Play Accessories:

Toys and play accessories are the themed elements of your tray that help focus play. They can act as a teaching point and conversation starter. For your Under One, this ‘conversation’ could be the introduction of a simple word: ‘dog’, ‘red’, ‘egg’, ‘car’ etc.

  • Rattles (my favourite are these adorable Pebble Child ones)

  • Coloured paddles

  • Cars, trucks and other vehicles

  • Pastry brushes, scoops and spoons

  • Animal/People figures

  • Spinning tops

  • Easy Hold panels

  • Peg dolls figures

  • Musical instruments

  • Sensory test tubes or treasure tubes (with secure lids) filled with rice, chickpeas, water – you name it!

  • Painted pebbles

...and so much more! The list really is endless! As you’ll see, for something to be fun for your baby to play with it doesn’t have to be ‘a toy’ per se; it just has to be safe and interesting to them.

As you potter about your home, look around you for tray play inspiration, you’ll suddenly start seeing play accessories in your everyday household things. Spare bottle brush? Babies love the sensory appeal of them. An odd sock? That’s a basic hand-puppet. Empty water bottle? Fill it with pasta, screw the lid on tight and you’ve got yourself a rattle!

Has this blog inspired you to set up your own tray play? If so, what are you going to try? Why not check out the Catkin Toys play hashtag on Instagram #CatkinPlay for thousands of other brilliant ideas from parents just like you!

If you’re a seasoned tray-player, what is your favourite set-up? What’s your favourite sensory base?

As always, I love to hear from you, so don’t be shy: pipe up and sing out. Until next week…!


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