3 Development-Forward Summer Activities for You and Baby

Summer is nearly upon us, and it presents a unique opportunity for development-forward, sensory enriching activities for you and baby. Nature offers so many new things for baby to explore and experience. All the sights, sounds, and smells of the outdoors can make for an excellent natural playground for multisensory enrichment.

Here are three fun summer activities we recommend for supporting baby’s development.

1. Go barefoot

Try standing and walking barefoot on different types of natural surfaces like grass, mud, or sand. See how baby reacts to the different textures and sensations. Multisensory experiences can drive motor activity and help develop baby’s motor skills. The tactile and olfactory experiences of walking on various surfaces and terrains allow babies to have different responses. Walking on wet sand creates a different response than dry sand, for example, and each requires different amounts of effort and graded motor control. These variations are fantastic ways to promote new skill development and confidence. Plus, standing and walking barefoot allows baby to use intrinsic foot muscles that are not as active when seated or wearing shoes.

Think of yourself as a very curious observer rather than a teacher. Once you set up a novel environment, your child may do something that you didn’t expect. Leaning into curiosity allows you to learn about what your child gravitates towards. Watching, delighting and narrating your child’s discoveries is a great way to support their connectedness and learning. Think of the difference between “Let’s march our feet in the sand” and “I see you exploring the sand with your feet. Does it feel wet?” Even if your baby can’t respond or confirm these observations they are listening to your words and taking it all in.

2. Water play

Water play is a useful activity all year round, but it’s so much more fun (and perhaps less messy!) outside in the summer. For the same reasons that adults find bodies of water soothing — swimming in the sea, taking a warm bath, etc. — babies can release pent up energy and feel emotionally soothed by water. Water play offers a multisensory experience that is both engaging and motivating.

For babies who are confidently standing, set up a water table. For babies who are just learning to sit, set up a small tupperware container at chest height. And for babies just working on tummy time, use a baking sheet on the floor. Place items like floating toys, measuring cups, spoons, eye droppers, funnels, and travel-size spray bottles (depending on your child’s age) in the water. With your supervision, allow your baby to explore how these items interact with the water. Through this play, babies can learn graded control (if I squeeze a paper cup of water too hard, it will spill out), cause and effect (if I splash, I’ll get wet), and using two hands together — all of these experiences facilitate development.

Babies are like scientists, constantly running experiments to make sense of the world around them. Pouring, splashing and squeezing are opportunities for your child to refine motor skills, but also learn about their impact on the world. Continue to set up your baby with tools and toys for their experiments and wait, watch and narrate as they go. Resist the urge to instruct and instead try to be playful yourself. Modeling is supremely motivating for early learners, they become naturally attracted to imitating your actions.

3. Make summer treats together

Include baby in making homemade popsicles or smoothies. Encourage them to help squish, pour and stir fruit into a delicious treat. Offer a peeled banana and large bowl, and encourage them to pull apart pieces, squish into their fingers, and mix with other ingredients. This is another multisensory learning opportunity. Babies can smell and touch different texture and temperature foods as they add them to the recipes.

If you are doing this with a younger baby, pull up the high chair next to the kitchen counter and give them a small job, handing them items one at a time. For an older toddler, encourage them to pour in pre-measured ingredients and even push the buttons on the blender (safety first, of course!)

Happy summer, happy playing!