Stimulate Your Newborn's Senses with Easy Sensory Play Mats



· 8 min read
Easy Sensory Play Mats

Sensory play mats are activity mats designed to stimulate an infant's senses and promote sensorimotor development. They provide a safe space for babies to interact with different colors, textures, sounds, and objects. While playing on a sensory mat, babies explore their environment, develop control of their bodies, and advance their cognitive, motor, visual, and tactile skills.

The first months of life are crucial for brain development. Sensory play allows babies to use their sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch to learn about the world around them. It helps them pay attention, improve coordination, and builds the connections in their brain needed for more complex learning later on. Providing a variety of sensory inputs helps babies reach developmental milestones and learn critical concepts like cause and effect relationships.

Sensory mats target the 5 main senses:

  • Sight - Colorful patterns and high contrast images develop visual perception.

  • Sound - Rattles, squeakers, bells, and crinkly materials develop auditory perception.

  • Taste - Mouthable toys allow oral exploration.

  • Smell - Scented toys engage the olfactory sense.

  • Touch - Different textures like silicone, cotton, wood exercises tactile perception.


A baby's vision develops rapidly in the first few months of life. While newborns can only see objects 8-10 inches away, by 3 months their vision expands to about 3 feet. During this time, babies are drawn to high contrast colors, patterns, shapes and human faces.

Sensory play mats designed for babies 0-3 months utilize high contrast black and white or primary color images to capture baby's attention and stimulate their developing vision. Simple geometric shapes in bright contrasting colors are ideal. Circles, squares, lines and stripes in black, white and bold primary colors like red, blue and yellow are visually engaging without being overstimulating. Placing these images against a plain black or white background creates helpful contrast for baby's developing eyes.

As baby tracks moving shapes and focuses on different patterns, neurological pathways are forming to support vision and visual processing. Using sensory mats is a great way to encourage visual engagement during tummy time, floor play and other activities. At this young age, even a few minutes of visual stimulation supports healthy vision development.


Babies are born able to hear, and their sense of hearing develops rapidly in the first months of life. Exposing infants to different sounds through sensory play is crucial for auditory development. Play mats often incorporate various materials that stimulate the sense of sound:

  • Crinkly materials - Mats may include sections made of crinkly materials like crinkly plastic, foil, paper, or tissue paper. The crunching and crackling sounds grab babies' attention and allow them to connect actions (grasping the material) to sounds. This helps them understand cause and effect relationships.

  • Rattles - Small plastic rattles attached to play mat arches are common sound-makers. As babies bat at the dangling rattles, they learn to track moving objects with their eyes and associate their own movements with the resulting sounds. Rattles help develop hand-eye coordination.

  • Music - Some play mats have musical features like buttons that play melodies, chimes, animal sounds or lullabies. Listening to music engages the auditory cortex and can have calming effects on babies. It exposes them to pitch, rhythm and the human voice. Babies may instinctively move their bodies in response to music.

Providing a variety of sounds for babies to explore allows them to develop auditory processing skills and understand how their actions relate to sensory input. Play mats give babies agency over the sounds they hear through reaching, grasping, kicking and batting. This stimulates cognitive growth and lays the foundations for communication skills.


A baby's sense of taste begins developing while still in the womb. Newborns have around 10,000 taste buds compared to adults who have closer to 5,000. While taste buds are still maturing, babies experience tastes differently than adults. They initially show preferences for sweet flavors and avoid bitter or sour ones.

Taste exploration is important during sensory play. Provide teething toys and materials made of silicone or 100% food-grade plastic that are easy to grasp and safe if a piece breaks off. Avoid toys with added scents or flavors since these can irritate a baby's developing senses. Focus on textures to massage tender gums and promote healthy teething. Ribbed teethers or ones that can be chilled provide relief for sore gums.

Keep an eye on any toys that go into baby's mouth and stop using ones that show signs of damage or wear. Don't attach teething toys to cribs or carriers with cords or elastic since these can pose a strangulation hazard. Supervise closely and limit chewing time to avoid excessive drooling or choking. Teething is an important developmental phase that provides essential sensory input as your baby learns about taste.


Babies explore smell through their nose and scent receptors. At birth, babies can already distinguish scents from each other. Safe scented toys or materials can help stimulate and develop babies' sense of smell during play.

Avoid overpowering smells or chemical scents which may irritate babies' developing senses. Organic and natural scents like vanilla, lavender, or chamomile introduce pleasant aromas. Place a scented item like a natural sponge near baby during tummy time or pad printed fabric with essential oils.

Smell toys like cloth scent cards allow baby to explore scents independently. Attach a smell card to baby's crib mobile or stroller to engage their sense of smell safely on-the-go. With time and exploration, babies learn to identify and recognize different smells and scents. Nurturing baby's sense of smell paves the way for memory development tied to smell identification.


A baby's sense of touch develops early on. Newborns can feel pain and changes in temperature. By 2 months old, babies start exploring objects by touching them with their hands or mouths [1].

Touch plays an important role in infant development. Sensory mats for 0-3 month olds should provide various textures to stimulate their tactile senses. Multi-sensory materials like textured fabrics, crinkly materials, ribbons, and puffy shapes allow babies to explore different sensations against their skin [2]. Contrasting textures like soft cotton next to scratchy wool help babies differentiate between feelings.

The sense of touch also aids hand-eye coordination. Reaching for and grasping textures on a play mat strengthens babies' finger and hand muscles. This dexterity prepares them for actions like self-feeding later on [3]. Exposure to tactile stimulation may even have long-term benefits like improved academic performance [4].

With supervision, let your baby freely interact with a range of textured materials on their play mat. Observe their reactions to find the textures they are most drawn to for further sensory play. Just be sure to avoid small parts that could pose a choking hazard for little hands and mouths.

Motor Skills

As infants begin exploring the world around them, developing motor skills is a crucial part of their growth. Sensory play mats provide plenty of opportunities for babies to strengthen core motor functions.

  • Reaching and Grasping

    From birth, babies initially use reflex movements and begin swiping their arms aimlessly. Around 3 months, they develop control over reaching out towards objects that catch their eye. Grasping toys and materials on the mat facilitates hand-eye coordination and dexterity. Place toys with different textures and sizes near their reach to encourage grasping.

  • Kicking

    Newborns initially kick as reflex movements until they gain control over leg movements. With time, they learn to coordinate kicking in tandem with arm movements. Sensory mats that crinkle or make sounds can stimulate kicking as babies learn to use their legs more purposefully. Allow plenty of room for free movement.

Regular tummy time on the mat promotes pushing up on arms, reaching out, and kicking. This strengthens neck, arm and leg muscles essential for pivoting, crawling, and walking later on. Vary positioning of toys on the mat to activate kicking in different directions.

The sensory mat provides a safe space for babies to develop control over motor functions through play. Reaching, grasping, kicking and pushing up are important developmental milestones that parents can facilitate through interactive mat play.

Cognitive Development

In the first few months of life, babies' minds are rapidly developing thanks to sensory play. Even though babies can't speak or consciously think yet, they are forming concepts and learning cause and effect.

One cognitive milestone that sensory mats can foster is object permanence. Object permanence is the understanding that objects continue to exist even when out of sight. Around 2-4 months old, babies learn that a toy doesn't cease to exist when hidden under a blanket. Sensory mats provide lots of opportunities to play peek-a-boo and practice object permanence. Covering toys with different textured materials and watching them reappear helps babies grasp this concept.

Cause and effect is another important cognitive skill developed through sensory play. When babies interact with the toys and materials on a play mat, they learn that their actions have effects. For example, when a baby shakes a rattle, it makes noise. Or when a baby presses on a teether, it squishes. Recognizing cause and effect is key for learning and development. The sensory mat provides endless chances for babies to experiment and see the results of their actions.

In summary, sensory mats stimulate cognitive growth in babies by allowing them to explore object permanence and cause and effect. While playing and exploring, babies' minds are hard at work forming connections and gaining an understanding of how the world operates. This sets the foundation for future learning and development.

Choosing a Play Mat

When selecting a sensory play mat for your baby, there are a few key features to consider:


  • The size of the mat is important for the space you have available and your baby's age/mobility. For young infants, a smaller 36" x 36" mat is likely sufficient. As they become more mobile, consider larger sizes up to 48" x 72".

Washable vs. Disposable

  • Washable mats allow you to reuse, saving money in the long run. However, disposable mats mean less clean-up. Disposable mats may also have more texture/sensory elements vs. washable cotton mats.

  • If choosing washable, ensure the material is machine washable and durable. Look for stain-resistant fabrics that are easy to spot clean between washes.

Adjustable Features

  • Some sensory mats have removable/adjustable features like arches, dangling toys, mirrors etc. This allows you to modify the play space as your baby grows.

  • Adjustable features add visual interest and encourage reaching/batting skills. But they increase cost and can be overstimulating for very young babies.

  • For the first few months, a basic mat without many added pieces is likely sufficient. You can always add accessories later as baby's skills progress.


Supervising your baby during sensory play is extremely important. Babies explore the world around them by putting objects in their mouths, so you'll want to keep a close eye on them at all times. Make sure the play mat doesn't have any pieces that could detach or become a choking hazard. Avoid sensory materials like foam cubes, marbles, or small items that could pose a danger if swallowed.

When introducing new textures and materials, watch your baby closely for signs of discomfort or distress. Go slowly and pay attention to how they respond. Remove anything that seems to overwhelm or upset them. Keep your baby safe by staying engaged and vigilant during sensory play. Don't step away or become distracted, even for a moment.

By carefully selecting age-appropriate materials and supervising closely, you can ensure sensory play is a positive, safe experience that promotes growth and development. With some simple safety measures, your baby can explore textures, sounds, sights, smells and tastes while you bond through play. Just be sure to put safety first.


About Davide

Davide is not just a co-founder of ProKids; he's also a dedicated father who understands the joys and challenges of parenting firsthand. Passionate about games and child development, his mission is to make parenting a more enriching and ...

Empowering Parents, Enriching Childhoods.
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