Make a list of the seven sensory systems. The senses of touch, smell, taste, hearing and sight are all well known, but vestibular sense, which is the feeling of movement and balance, and proprioception, or pushing or pulling on muscles, can often be overlooked. Make a list of activities that fit within each sensory system. Involve your teen in this step.
Create activities appropriate for your teen’s abilities. While carrying a bag of groceries is appropriate for proprioception for a younger child, a teen can lift free weights, do heavy work like raking leaves or mowing the lawn or enjoy a firm massage. Similarly, while swinging is enjoyable for younger children, teenagers might enjoy yoga or swimming to aid vestibular input.
Check your list of activities to ensure all seven sensory systems are covered. A daily sensory diet for a teen might include listening to relaxing music, doing yard work after school, hobby time such as sculpting or knitting, organizing his desk, trying a new food at dinner, practicing yoga and lighting a candle during bath time. According to West Metro Learning Connections Inc., the teen’s brain is not like the adult brain because it is still developing, which is why it is important to provide a variety of sensory activities.
Talk to your teen about each activity and his goals. For example, organizing his desk might give your teen soothing visual input, which in turn helps him focus on school work. Listening to a favorite tune might help your teen calm down, which improves his emotion regulation. Yoga practice improves his body awareness, which can help your teen display appropriate body language in social situations. The purpose of talking to your teen about goals is that it gives him a reason to do the activities and works toward independence.
Your teen is developing, so his interests might change. Don't be afraid to adjust your teen's sensory diet as he becomes interested in other activities.
Toddlers love to draw, paint and create. Spread salt or whipped cream on a baking tray and let him draw pictures with his fingers. Add a few drops of food coloring to a few tablespoon of honey and let him finger paint in complete stickiness. Show him how to form shapes and sculptures with play clay or to pat a chunk of play dough flat and use his finger to imprint designs. The chance to draw or create something can make handling sticky, or otherwise unfamiliar substances, less intimidating.
Submerging her hands in a variety of different textures can help build up her tolerance to different materials and environments, reports the Pediatric Development Center. Fill a large plastic bin with dried beans, rice, flour or sugar and hide a few small toys in the bottom. Then ask your toddler to help you find the hidden treasures inside. Fill a casserole dish with water or sand and set it on the floor for her to experiment and play with. Provide a few toys such as a small doll or toy car that your tot can practice moving through the different mediums.
Your toddler experiences sensations with his hands and his feet, so encourage him to have new sensory experiences barefoot by walking through a baby pool of dry macaroni or a goopy mixture of flour and water. Encourage him to try and grab some of the contents between his toes as he's walking. Cut large squares of distinctly different fabric, such as velvet, nylon, wool and fleece and have him hop between the different "touch pads" in bare feet.
Letting your toddler explore a variety of textures, from sandpaper and corduroy, to shag carpeting and velvet can help acclimate her the different sensations. Create a book with each page made of a different material. Cut out shapes made from contrasting textures or fabrics and let her arrange or play with them on a small table or tray. Have her touch a particular material or fabric with her eyes closed and try to guess which one she was touching.
If you know your child is about to enter an overstimulating situation, then tell her what is about to happen. A child who is prepared for a situation is less likely to react negatively than one who is surprised by it. It also gives her the opportunity to communicate with you in a calm, less stimulating environment. She might ask questions about the sequence of events or might even refuse to go. While refusal might not be ideal, depending on the activity, it's likely to be less dramatic than a full meltdown.
Give your child items that can reduce sensory sensitivity responses. This could mean noise-cancelling headphones for a child sensitive to noise or a stress ball for a child who needs strong tactile input. This not only gives him the opportunity to react constructively to his sensitivities but using the object communicates to you that he is having a sensory need. You have time to evaluate the scene and decide if it's time to leave, to move to another less-stimulating area, or leave the situation alone.
Certified speech-language pathologist Lauren Lowry of the Hanen Centre, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children with special needs learn to communicate, says that games can not only satisfy your child's sensory needs but can teach her about communication. Ring Around the Rosie or Red Light, Green Light might help a child who needs movement. Finger games provide visual input to children who stare at their hands. As he learns that the game satisfies his sensory cravings he asks for more, and later may independently ask you to play the game with him. These simple acts provide important building blocks to language development.
Choices allow a child who may have difficulty communicating to have control over the sensitivities in her environment. When you offer two options for activities, toys, clothing or food, it lets her avoid the one that triggers oversensitivity or choose the one that provides needed stimulation. Although this can be more work for you -- preparing two dishes just to give your child a choice when eating -- it will pay off by building independence, self-esteem and communication.
Modify activities you know your child enjoys. Many daily activities include sensory practice, so you don’t need to reinvent your child’s day, but you might want to consider a more goal-oriented approach to play time. If your child likes splashing water in the bath, give her some bath toys and let her explore the way water moves. This activity gives her a tactile experience that also improves her understanding of the way things work. Consider each activity and ask yourself what senses are being used for it or what you can add to include more sensory input.
Introduce new activities that fill in sensory gaps. Some children do not necessarily enjoy tactile input, so searching for pebbles in a sand box or involving your child in food preparation will help her receive tactile sensory information through an enjoyable activity.
Take your child to the park or with you to the grocery store, where she can use a variety of her senses. Riding a swing works on vestibular senses, and carrying bags of groceries helps with proprioceptive awareness.
Practice activities that have an academic purpose and utilize the entire body, whether the movements use gross or fine motor skills. Teach waiting and listening to verbal directions by doing a freeze dance with music. Teach letters by drawing them with shaving cream or decorating a construction paper letter. Use a hopscotch game to teach numbers.
Purchase age-appropriate toys that work on sensory input and integration. Consider balls that have different materials or textures, touchy-feely books, outdoor tree houses, swings, weighted blankets, trampolines, tunnels, shape sorters, bubble machines, light-up toys or clay putty.
If your child throws a tantrum or becomes frustrated at particular sensory stimuli, such as loud sounds, you might want to consult a doctor, as these symptoms might indicate a sensory processing disorder. If your child receives such a diagnosis, you will likely be referred to an occupational therapist to improve your child’s sensory integration.
Tactile Toys Defined
If you are wondering what a tactile toy is, you probably aren't alone. After all, aren't all toys that a child touches actually "tactile" in nature? That said, some toys are more sensory oriented than others. The pediatric experts at the Kids Health website note that tactile toys include items that specifically encourage your young child to use his sense of touch in an exploratory way. These may include ridged or softly spiked rubber balls, touch and feel books or any other item that has a specific feel to it.
Homemade Tactile and Sensory Activities
You don't have to break the bank buying tactile toys for your toddler or preschooler. Instead of hitting the toy store, search the house for sensory objectives that come in different textures. For example, you can crinkle wrapping or tissue paper for your preschooler to ball up and feel. Another option is to make a soft feeling touch toy from a fuzzy old sock. Fill the sock with cotton batting or other old socks to make it squishy.
Art activities make imaginative tactile and sensory play games for your young child. Kneading play dough, smooshing modeling clay and squishing finger paints are all ideal options for toddlers and preschool aged children. Add an extra layer of sensory learning to these artsy activities by combining materials. For example, fold some rough play sand into smooth modeling clay or add coarse salt to slimy finger paint to make it rough. Instead of asking your child to make something specific, have her explore and experiment with the materials to make her own tactile discoveries.
Don't keep your little learner stuck inside for his sensory activities. Get the kids out, so they can be tactile in nature. You don't have to trek into the middle of the woods. Take your young child into the backyard or to a local park. Collect a bagful of textured items such as fallen tree bark, soft flower petals, crinkly, dried leaves or rough rocks. Have your child close his eyes and hold onto one of the tactile natural toys. He can guess what he is feeling by noting its texture. Have your child describe how each item feels before he puts it back into the bag.