Sensory Experiences through Play

Sensory input is a valuable tool to assist with child development

By Amy Smith MA, CCC-SLP August 4, 2019

Sensory input is a valuable tool to assist with child development.  It teaches concepts (hot/cold, smooth/rough, slow/fast) as well as provides proprioceptive feedback to children.  Some kids may struggle with different sensations they experience from the environment. Difficulty dealing with different sensations is call Sensory Integration Dysfunction and it can impact a child’s ability to focus, regulate and attend, which are all important skills required for learning, playing, and functioning in an academic or social environment.  If a child struggles with sensory input, they may struggle with classroom noise, the sound of chairs moving against the floor, activities in PE, and overall loudness of some environments (e.g. recess, lunchroom).  

As speech-language pathologists, we often work with children who struggle with sensory input, which interferes with their ability to communicate.  As such, sensory input is a tool we commonly use during speech and language therapy, but it is also fun and easy to do at home as part of a child’s daily activities!  Providing sensory experiences increases a child’s ability to learn, play and function. Some fun sensory activities at home may include:

  • Set up a tub full of rice.  You can hide small toys and objects in the rice.  Allow your child to move the rice around the tub, scoop the rice, and pour the rice out.  You can also provide scoops and measuring cups for additional play, or even a funnel and an empty water bottle for them to fill.  (Clean-up tip: Spreading a sheet or blanket under your tub allows for quicker clean-up as you can scoop up the sheet and shake-it out over the trash).
  • put shaving cream on a cookie sheet.  Allow your child to spread the shaving cream around with his/her fingers.  Practice writing letters or drawing shapes in the shaving cream.  For additional fun, you can add drops of food coloring or washable paint and allow them to mix colors in the shaving cream.
  • Lay your child flat on a blanket and roll them up like a burrito or rug.  While rolling you can use gentle squeeze to provide some deep pressure.  You can also unroll them (the rolling provides proprioceptive feedback).Another option may be to make your child into a “sandwich” by gentle squeezing them between two pillows.  You can also use pillows made of different fabrics/textures to provide different “feels.”  
  • Get swinging! Swinging also provides great proprioceptive feedback to your child.  You can swing slow and fast and high and low!  It is also great to try different types of swings – a tire swing moves differently than a regular swing and swinging on a disc or rope also feels different.  If you have a younger child, try standing in front of the swing instead of behind to allow for better eye contact and engagement with your child.
  • Jumping and hopping is a fantastic way to provide sensory feedback, as well as burn some energy!  Games of hopscotch are always fun, as well as jumping on a trampoline.  You can also climb and jump off of low walls etc. at a park or even from the bed/couch onto a pillow! 
  • Balancing and dancing are additional ways to provide sensory input.  These two activities focus on the vestibular system.Balancing on a curb or beam is not only great for sensory input but also for motor skills!  It’s also great fun to jump off when you are done balancing!  
  • Dancing allows your child to spin, sway, hop and wave their arms.  Again, this allows various types of movement, but also burns energy!
  • Go on a walk and collect items that you find that have different textures and smells…grass, flowers, leaves, bark, etc. Talk about what smells the best/worst to them, and what texture they like the most.  

Sensory experiences not only improve your child’s ability to process and regulate sensory input, but these experiences also provide terrific opportunities for fun language/cognitive development.  They also create great memories your child is sure to cherish! Here are a couple of resources to consider: Sensory Integration Activities and Sensory Integration

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