If you visit any of our classrooms at Partners In Learning, you will see a variety of sensory activities that are available to all-ages of children. The classroom teachers get very creative with these types of things and even find a way to incorporate the weekly lesson into the idea.
Now, what do we mean by sensory integration? We all know that our five senses are: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Sensory processing is how our individual body receives and organizes the information created by our senses. Most of us process this information in about the same way, for example, if you hear a train you might cover your ears because it is too loud. Some people have problems with sensory processing, for example they may cover their ears if they hear the buzz of a TV or they may hate to wear clothes because of the feeling it makes against their skin. Many children with Autism experience sensory processing issues, but even children who may or may not have a developmental delay or special need can experience problems with this. Therefore, sensory integration therapy involves treating someone who may have difficulty processing this sensory information and helping them desensitize so that they can better cope with their senses.
Using sensory activities isn’t just for children with special needs. All children can benefit from a variety of sensory opportunities.
Before I give some examples of common sensory ideas, I want to express how easy it is to make these things at home. And with the holiday season coming up, there are even more opportunities to let your child explore each of their senses. For example, let your child help you make cookies for the holidays. Encourage them to add each ingredient and to roll the dough. Let them feel the dough in their hands (I’ll let you decide how messy you want this activity to get). Put the cookies in the oven and explain how HOT the oven is, let them feel the warm air, but take the opportunity to teach them about safety in the kitchen. Set a timer and tell your child to listen for the DING to indicate they are finished. Now, have fun decorating your cookies with frosting and sprinkles (I love doing this with my children during CBRS). Snow is another fantastic sensory activity this time of the year!
The most obvious form of sensory integration activity is a sensory box. Most classes at Partners In Learning have a sensory box that changes according to the lesson plan. My sensory boxes typically have beans in them, but you can use rice, flour, etc. I add little Dollar Tree items that go along with the lesson or season. I like to include sensory balls (squishy balls) or other weird feeling stuff as well. Put cups, tubes, and bottles in the box and allow your child to dig, count, roll, shake, and most importantly feel.
Another popular sensory activity is music time. This may not seem like a sensory activity because it isn’t “weird,” but think about it. If a child is sensitive to sounds, allowing them to experience soft music is beneficial. ALL classrooms at PIL have a music section.
Play-Doh is my favorite sensory activity! It is similar to the sensory box in that it encourages your child to feel and manipulate weird feeling stuff in their hands. Add goodies to your Play-Doh activity, such as grass, sea shells, small plastic animals, buttons, etc. Another great idea is to hide a flashing or noise making toy inside a ball of Play-Doh and ask your child to find it; they are using multiple senses for this activity. You can also make a Mr. Potato Head out of a large blob of Play-Doh and add your body parts to the blob. There are so many sensory and learning opportunities with Play-Doh!
Art activities are another one that you might not think of as sensory-related. But, add some glue, feathers, pop-pop balls, paint, and you’ve got a sensory activity. Try this idea during the holidays: have your child glue mini-marshmallows onto the outline of a snowman or an outline of the letters in their name.
And finally, the play tunnel is a great way to expose your child to multiple senses. Your child may need some encouraging to first go into a tunnel that is dark and small. Try rolling a ball or their favorite toy inside and call them from the other end of the tunnel and I bet they will venture inside just a little. If you don’t have a tunnel, don’t worry, you can do the same thing with a blanket; make a fort!
I hope that you do indeed try some of these ideas with your child this holiday season or in the future, especially if your child hasn’t been exposed to stuff like this before!
Katie Zink, Infant-Toddler Family Specialist
Katie Zink is a graduate of Catawba College and serves as a CBRS therapist for Partners In Learning. Prior to her role as a therapist, Katie served as a teacher beginning in 2009. Working with children is her life’s passion.