As a Special Education teacher, I had a whole lot of experience with sensory difficulties, and with finding tools that help support children with sensory needs. However, whether your child has sensory perception troubles, or just likes to move around a lot and experience new things, ALL children enjoy and benefit from doing sensory-based activities.
What is a Sensory Lab?
Sensory Lab is just a fancy way of saying a collection of activities and equipment that help your child develop his different sensory and motor capabilities. They don’t necessarily even need to be in the same room, although mine have always been kept together in one area.
In my classrooms, I always had a corner, about 6×10 feet, where all of our equipment and materials were kept. It also included things to help with cool down time, which I’ll talk about in a little bit. For the most part, though my little “lab” was filled with things that could then be dragged out into a larger area in the room when in use.
Other places that I’ve visited have had an actual Motor Lab, a room dedicated to sensory and motor play and activities. The most amazing place was called the Enchanted Garden, and they had a room with all sorts of swings, beams, squeeze machines, and ball pits. The group home that I worked at had a room with beanbag chairs and a trampoline, and a collection of balls. That was all they needed for their residents at the time.
If you’ve got a spare corner in your home somewhere, or even out in your garage or back yard, I highly recommend packing some equipment in that can be pulled out for some targeted sensory play!
What Senses are We Talking About, Here?
This is a fun one. Let’s talk about sensory perception for a few minutes. We know about the five senses:
Those senses are all well and good, and we will address them. However, there are a couple of other senses that are the ones we usually target in sensory activities. Those are:
Your proprioceptive sense is your awareness of where your body is in relation to other things. You are sitting on the couch, and you can feel the weight of your body sinking in. The blanket wrapped tightly around you feels comfortable and snuggly. Your feet touch the floor as you walk to the kitchen. So on.
Your vestibular sense is your sense of balance, controlled by your inner ear. It helps you maintain your upright position while spinning, swinging, walking, and so on.
Now, with some individuals with sensory processing disorders, their proprioceptive and vestibular senses need some support. Often times, they are simply unable to feel their bodies in relation to other things. They jump and stomp, simply to be able to feel any input at all! Other times, they feel as though they are always spinning, and are never able to bring themselves to an upright stop.
The following are some activities that I’ve used in my classroom, and have available at home for my toddler and my stepchildren to use as they like, to help support sensory development, and provide lots of fun in the process!
Let’s start with the easy one. Whether your child has some visual over sensitivity, under sensitivity, or simply likes to explore new things, here are a few activities for supporting vision!
- A Lite Bright. That’s right- that magic screen can be an awesome sensory experience! The different colors, ability to create patterns, and the change of lit vs. unlit makes it number one on my list.
- Magnetic Connect Toys. Not only are they awesome visually, they also are a fun and creative puzzle activity!
- Colored Sand. Use this stuff in a bottle to create awesome sand art that your little one can go back and re-inspect over and over again!
My very favorite smelling activity is Maria Montessori’s Smelling Bottles. Essentially, it is a matching activity, but instead of using the sense of sight or touch, they get to match scents! Here’s a great tutorial from Gift of Curiosity on how to set this up for your own children!
Hearing is another fun one, because you can incorporate a lot of music into it!
- Suzuki School. While it’s true, these songs can get maddeningly boring and repetitive for us as adults, they do an incredible job of teaching children pitch and rhythm. I’ve also found that some children with autism love them for their predictability!
- Ambient Noise Machines. No joke, these are an excellent thing to have in the house while your children are working or playing. It helps to relax everyone and bring a sense of calm and community into the place.
One of my favorite activities for taste is Sweet Vs. Sour. Having children identify and sort different foods based on whether they are sweet (apple slices), or sour (limes) is a great way to help them differentiate between the different sorts of tastes. You can also add in salty foods, or even spicy foods if your kids are up for it (mine think that cinnamon is spicy, so we’re not ready for that yet…)
There’s a lot that you can do with touch. From texture, to temperature, to weight, our tactile sense has a lot to cover. Here are a few activities that can get you where you want to go:
- Fidget Spinners. Yeah, I went there. These little toys can actually do a lot to help teach coordination, as long as they are used appropriately.
- Sand Centers. If you can’t use sand, then uncooked rice, beans, or elbow noodles work great too! Fun things to explore the texture of and play in are always a plus!
- Water Play. Even if it’s just in the bathroom sink for twenty minutes, playing in water can help your child practice needed skills, like pouring or scrubbing, as well as explore other aspects of physics like gravity and force (little human wave machines that they are!).
Here’s where it gets fun! Proprioceptive activities are actually among my favorite, and there are dozens upon dozens of them that I don’t list here. Check out my Sensory-Proprioceptive board on Pinterest to see a ton of other great activities from around the internet!
- Exercise Ball. There are probably hundreds of activities that you can do with this thing. Your child can bounce on the ball, roll on the ball to touch things on the floor, have the ball rolled across their bodies, and so on and so on. I use mine all the time at home, and my step son (who has ADHD) loves it so much that he actually popped one, and we had to buy a new one.
- Body Socks. These babies are made out of a stretchy fabric that your child can climb inside and walk around in. They push against the fabric, which is like a whole body resistance band, which provides sensory feedback about where their body is and what it is doing!
- Scooters. Be sure you’ve got a little room and a lot of patience before you invest in one of these. Scooters that your child can lie down on, sit on, kneel on, or whatever on are so much fun for them, but they’ll spend hours on them if you allow it! Having to pull themselves along with their hands, or push with their feet, gives the sensory experience that we’re looking for here.
- Trampoline. This is a small trampoline, but if you’ve got a big one, even better! The more your children can jump and bounce, the more coordinated and aware of their bodies they will become!
This is another fun category, with so much great stuff to choose from. Here are a couple of my favorite vestibular activities:
- Swinging. While a park swing will work fine, remember that you can swing back and forth, OR side to side. That’s why I love something like this, which can be swung or spun with your little one in it.
- Rocking. Sometimes rocking in a chair is fine, and sometimes you need to rock your whole body! I like to have something like this around, to help my young ones practice balancing and hone those balance skills.
And there you go.
What are some activities that you use to keep your children on a sensory diet at home? Let me know!