Getting messy is a wonderful play experience for young children, and I recommend it. But sensory integration is more complicated than just getting your hands dirty. Here’s a quick glimpse into what sensory processing means.
What Is It
A child’s sensory system picks up information from the child’s surroundings and sends that information to the nervous system, which processes the information and generates a response or reaction to what is happening around him. This is sensory processing-the way the body receives, analyzes, and responds to the signals it receives from its environment. The sensory systems include auditory, visual, touch, smell, taste, movement and body position. Thoughtful, guided exposure to playful sensory experiences is the best way to promote healthy development of the sensory systems. This ensures that little bodies learn to process, integrate, and generate appropriate responses to the sensory information in their environments.
What To Do
Here are some helpful activities and objects you can try at home to support healthy sensory processing:
Simple Sensory Bins
Sensory bins are an excellent way to encourage tactile play. They are perfect for introducing new textures and exploring new sensations. Sensory bins are containers filled with some kind of material that kids can feel and manipulate with their hands. The materials can be messy, clean, wet, or dry. Some of my favorite fillers include beans, noodles, and rice. Sensory bins can be adapted to children’s individual sensory needs to simply by changing the materials inside. A wide variety of materials is available for sensory bins.
If your child is hesitant to join in the play, start with dry materials and add only one material at a time. Gradually introduce new textures and encourage your child to slowly explore new sensory experiences. Try encouraging your child to play with the sensory bin using a familiar or comforting toy, such as by pushing a train or car through the bin.
Sensory bottles, discovery bottles, sensory jars or calm down jars-whatever you call them, sensory bottles are simply clear containers filled with various materials as a way to encourage visual exploration. Sensory bottles are helpful for babies, toddlers, and children of all ages. You can use them as a calming visual sensory experience or to challenge visual skills in kids.
Test out a variety of objects and materials. You can try a bottle with one material, two materials, or even several. The possibilities are endless.
Setup for this auditory play idea is easy. Create a “sound lab” and intrigue your child with the power of sound. Place all the buckets and containers in a large bin, then place all the other objects in another bin nearby. For this simple play, you do not need to provide much direction, because you will want to see how your child explores the various materials on his own. Start off by showing your child how to turn the containers upside down inside the bin, like drums. Then show him how to make different sounds by dropping the different materials onto the overturned containers. Let imagination take over-your child may want to turn the containers right side up or even sideways. He may want to find other objects around the house to drop on the containers. He may have other ideas for containers to use as drums.
This activity is great for exploring soft and hard sounds or loud and quiet sounds. Ask your child to describe some of the sounds that she made. Which containers and objects made the loudest sounds? Which were the quietest? Which combination was his favorite?
Fruity Yogurt Smoothies
Cooking helps children learn functional skills and independence. Smoothies are a great place to start. They are simple to make and fun to taste, which makes them the perfect oral sensory activity. Have your child measure out each ingredient and starting with milk, pour all the ingredients into the blender. Blend until all the ingredients are mixed together and the ice cubes are as small as they can get. Pour into cups and enjoy.
Encourage your child to suck the smoothie through a straw. Sucking is an organized sensory activity that is great for increasing focus and attention.
Bubble Wrap Stomp Art
This recycled art activity presents several opportunities for tactile, vestibular, proprioceptive, and auditory play. You could not pack many more sensory experiences into one activity. Stomping and jumping on bubble wrap makes for a full throttle, high-energy painting experience. Find a clear space outside and roll out the paper. Squirt paint in drops or lines on the paper. Place the bubble wrap on top of our paint design and let your child jump all over it with bare feet until they cannot jump anymore. Slowly pull off the bubble wrap to see the results.
Be sure to weigh down the paper on the ends with rocks or another heavy object so the wind does not carry it away. Try all different sizes of bubble wrap to explore the different effects and sensory experiences.
For many kids, flying through the air on a swing is just about the best entertainment possible. But his activity is also full of amazing sensory benefits. Vestibular input is important for developing balance and helping children feel safe and secure as they explore and play. Swinging is a great way to provide this kind of sensory input for your child.
Not all children respond in a positive way to the vestibular input provided by swinging. Start slowly for one minute at a time. Watch how your child responds. If he becomes agitated, distressed, sick, or upset during swinging, stop immediately.
Scented Play Dough
Mix extracts or scented oils into a simple homemade play dough recipe.
Couch Cushion Games
Playing with couch cushions is the ultimate heavy work experience. These big heavy pillows are perfect for lifting, pushing, pulling, jumping on, knocking over and throwing. All you need is just the cushions from your couch!
Let your child do as much of the lifting, stacking and arranging of the pillows as possible for an added heavy work bonus.
If you have questions about sensory activities and toys, contact us and we’ll be happy to help!