So I’ve been implementing sensory activities into the kids daily schedule for a long time without even realizing what I was doing. Then I came across an article about the importance of intentionally giving your children sensory activities to help them develop and grow through their five senses. There are even therapists who work with children through sensory toys and activities to help with disabilities like autism. This sparked my interest since my bachelor’s degree is in counseling, I also took every disabilities course available since I have a heart for the disabled, and last but not least I have 3 young children in some important years of their development.
Many of the sites I found about how to help your kids learn and explore through sensory activities that a good tool to have is a sensory table. This is usually a short table (kid height) with a hole cut out of the middle that a plastic tub sits down inside. You can fill it with all kinds of things for the kids to play with and do. After doing some research the first thing I decided to do was to go out and get a long plastic tote, as I found out buying a sensory table is super expensive. I found one at our K-mart for 8 dollars and its a good brand and is heavy-duty. I think it’s about 2 1/2 ft long and 2 ft wide and about 10 in deep. I chose one that was clear so once its fitted into a table we can use different colors of lights under it to shine through clear objects (like in the pic above). It also has a pretty strong lip around the top so Eric is working on building a table for it to sit down in, but for now the kids and I just set it on the kitchen table for activities. One of the first things we did was get the gel water balls from the dollar tree floral section and filled the tub with them and I put things inside like funnels, measuring cups, small cups, plastic utensils from their play kitchen, etc. They had a blast and giggled and played and learned a lot. We use our sensory tub (soon to be table I hope) about 3-4 times a week. I’ve seen other moms fill it with cooked spaghetti noodles boiled in food coloring for fun colors. I’ve done colored rice, fake snow, dirt, shredded paper and more.
A few posts back I posted about our time out bottles that we use, this is a sensory activity itself. Just a more calming one, because punishment was becoming too crazy with yelling and kicking and angry kids. It is a calming sensory input device that really works for my kids. They focus on the glitter slowly falling instead of screaming or being mad and too much going on around them. I’ve seen a major change in how they react to punishment and deal with their angry emotions.
Here are just a few of the activities I’ve gathered from my friends, family and online that we like and have used with our children to provide intentional opportunities for sensory input:
1. Let your kids “paint” on the table with shaving cream or pudding
2. Use paper towel or toilet paper tubes to play a game of “I spy” and have them describe what they see
3. Let your kids help you bake or cook (safely) testing ingredients, stirring, smelling, feeling and describing what they feel. One way to incorporate listening into it is when using a wire whisk or when vinegar hit baking soda
4. Grow an herb garden together, let the kids help you plant and water the herbs. As they watch them grow discuss the different shapes of leaves and let them pick a leaf and crush it to smell the different herbs.
5. Jello is another fun activity, make jigglers with cookie cutters and let them feel the smooth texture and the taste of different colors
6. Have children move ice cubes from one container to another using different utensils like tongs, a spoon, a fork, a ladle
7. Sing! Nursery rhymes, preschool songs, church songs, the alphabet
8. Play with play dough (even make it! there are tons of great online recipes) I like to even add smell to ours like mint, or cinnamon
9. Take a texture walk, let each child bring a bag along for their texture finds. Leaves, sticks, pinecones, rocks, and anything you find as you walk (I do have a no living things rule :) )
10. Let your child bang on pots and pans! Give them different things to use to bang to make different noises (wooden spoon, metal spoon, plastic tongs)
11. Tactile glue painting, let your child make dots or shapes on paper. Let it dry and then feel the textures that they created
12. Make a texture book, use a three-ring binder and hole punch card stock to make pages and then let your child fill the pages with different textures they find. Tape to a page crinkled tin foil, tape to another page a smooth piece of plastic, on another a sticker upside down so the stick part is out, etc
13. Put on some fun music and dance with your child! It gets the wiggles out and teaches them to listen for a beat. Give them ribbons tied to an old plastic lid from butter or cool whip hole punched for the ribbons to tie to, they can dance with the ribbons
14. Water play, encourage bath time play with cups to pour water from one to another, bath tub paint, glow sticks in the water with the lights out, foam cut outs stick to the walls of the tub or tile with water, color pellets for the water (I’ve found them cheap at Walmart), let them play with a colander to see how the water pours through the holes, use bubble bath for bubble texture fun. I use bath play time as my clean the bathroom while they play where I’m within arms reach, or play with them while we sing teaching songs like the alphabet or the books of the bible
15. Help them learn animal sounds, a game we play is I will call out an animal and they will make the sound for that animal
16. Give them open-ended sensory time by placing some items with a lot of texture in your sensory tub. like a small ball, a toilet paper roll, wax paper crumpled, cotton balls, a cork, a feather, rock, etc
17. Look for opportunities everywhere you go with the child (store, park, backyard) I love going to my local craft store for instance and every time I’m in the fabric section looking for some fabric for a new project I take some time to let my kids feel different types of fabric and describe how they feel (except my baby who just feels and giggles) like tulle, wool, fleece, silk, etc.
Some Holiday sensory ideas:
Easter – Let them play with Easter grass, egg dying, plastic egg hiding around the house or yard. Make resurrection rolls by wrapping crescent rolls around a marshmallow rolled in butter and cinnamon sugar then baked and when they come out they are empty the marshmallow is gone like Jesus was from the tomb
4th of July – make fruit juice or pudding pops with them, use their hands dipped in white paint for stars on blue construction paper and then glue it to a white poster board then dip their feet in red paint to make stripes on the white poster board (a sensory flag to hang in your home)
Halloween – Embrace the gooey mess and let your kids dig out the insides of a pumpkin and play with it, use different textures when making or picking out a costume for the kids, discuss what ones they like or don’t like, bake a pumpkin pie together, let them taste and smell the spices
Thanksgiving – lots of opportunities for helping in the kitchen and tasting, smelling, feeling lots of textures, also let them help decorate the table after a nature walk with pinecones, leaves and acorns
Christmas - get “fake snow” and put it in the sensory table for the kids to play in, let them help pick out the tree if you do a real tree and let them feel it and break off a few needles to break and smell the pine smell, make gingerbread houses and let them taste and place the frosting and candies, play with a toy nativity scene and act out the story of Jesus’ birth, make snowflakes out of coffee filters and hang on windows, let them help you pick out and wrap gifts (get over the messiness of the wrapping) to give to others, take them caroling to the elderly