Sensory Play: How to Help Your Child Thrive in Every Sense - Kinetic Edge Physical Therapy
by Jordan Bell, OTR/L

Are you looking for fun and creative ways to help entertain your kids while also meeting their needs? Then these activities are perfect for you! Each and every one of us have a sensory system built up of 7 senses: touch, taste, smell, hearing, vision, proprioception, and vestibular. Let’s take a closer look at each sense and talk about some sensory play activities that will work on each of them. 

Touch

This sense is all about interacting with our world through our skin. 

If you know a child who craves touch (always running hands or body on things, loves hugs and back rubs, likes messy play) or avoids it (doesn’t like tags in clothes or being messy, needs socks/shoes to be “perfect”, avoids touching others), then here are some great activities: 

  • Writing in shaving cream
  • Make homemade slime or playdoh
  • Bins of dry rice, corns, beans, pasta, etc. with little toys hidden inside
  • Water or sand table play

If the kiddo avoids touch, take the activities much slower. Start with dry textures and progress to wet or sticky textures. Give them time and independence to interact; don’t force it.  

Taste/Smell

nutritious foods
nutritious foods

These two, taste and smell, how we interact with the world through our nose and mouth, often go together. If you know a child who smells or mouths everything, or if you have a child who who has a very sensitive nose and is a picky eater, then here are some great play activities:

  • Name that taste/smell
    • If your kiddo has a sensitive nose or is picky, be sure to use familiar and positive tastes/smell.
    • If your kiddo is a little more adventurous feel free to add some variety.
  • Blowing bubbles
  • Sucking through a straw. Try a variety of textures like water, apple sauce, and a milkshake.
  • Chew gum
  • Cook together

Hearing

The sense of hearing is all about interacting with the world though sound and our ears.  If you know a child who loves loud music or covers ears to unexpected noises then here are some activities for sensory play:

  • Name that sound/tune
    • If your kiddo has sensitive hearing be sure all noises are familiar and positive. Avoid loud noises and prepare your child before the noise occurs.
  • Play instruments made from household items
    • If your kiddo has sensitive hearing make a “silent band”
  • Do a YouTube dance or music class
  • Play telephone; be sure to whisper!

Vision

paper plates

The sense of vision is all about interacting with the world through our eyes and what we see. 

If you know a kiddo who loves to stare at bright lights or moving objects or a kiddo who avoids the sunlight or other bright lights then here are some great play activities:

  • Do a puzzle, I Spy, hidden pictures, mazes, dot to dots, and color by numbers.
    • Try to do these in real life and limit screen time. 
  • Color with crayons or chalk if the weather is nice
  • Create a mobile, sun catcher, or stain glass window art

Proprioception

The sense of proprioception is all about interacting with the world through our body, and it allows us to know where we are in relation to ourselves (i.e. my legs are on the ground and my head is on top of my neck).

If you know a child who loves big hugs or rough play, or a kiddo who is timid and avoids contact with others then here are some great play activities:

  • Build an obstacle course
    • Be sure to include animal walks, jumping, climbing, crawling, and heavy work when you can.
    • Some of my favorite obstacles include crawling under kitchen chairs or coffee tables, jumping on shorts like they are lily pads, animal walking around a room, and rolling or somersaulting through the hallway. 
  • Jump to a beat
    • Pick your kids (or your favorite song). See if they can jump to the beat for the whole song.
  • Do yoga, kick boxing, line dancing, or another work out activity that involves your whole body
  • Animal walks
    • Use the standard bear, crab, and frog or have your kids make them up!
  • Act out a story book or make a play
    • Act out going on a bear hunt or move the furniture to create a stage and seating for the audience. Have the kids do heavy work. 

Vestibular

heel pain

This sense is all about interacting with the world through our body with gravity and allows us to know where we are in space. 

If you know a child who is always spinning/rocking or one that avoids motion then here are some great play activities:

  • Swing
    • Try a variety of swings or use the swing in a variety of ways (sitting, kneeling, on your belly)
  • Build an obstacle course
    • Be sure to add in movements like rolling, spinning, somersaults, and rocking.
  • Spin in an office chair, or have roller chair races
  • Ride a bike, use a scooter, roller skate
  • Roll down the hill or across the yard
  • Do a tumbling act or class on YouTube

Try a variety of sensory play activities each day. Be sure to select activities from each category to optimize your child’s sensory processing skills. If you have any questions on sensory processing, these play activities or how you could help your child contact one of our occupational therapists online or by calling 866-588-0230 today!