If you are a parent or family caregiver for a toddler or special needs child who may need help developing sensory, fine motor, gross motor, and/or communication skills, then sensory-based activities and play-based therapy will help support your child in a safe and fun environment.
Sensory-based activities and play-based therapy will help support your child in a safe and fun environment.
Below, occupational therapists from Saint Elizabeth’s school program share children’s sensory play ideas and fun activities for educators, parents, and caregivers.
Tactile, oral and olfactory (sense of smell) sensory activities
- Create a ‘fidget bin’ – This homemade sensory play idea can include a variety of items with tactile, visual and noise appeal. Try to choose toys that are soft and not easily breakable.
- Sensory water play – Wash dishes, spray water on surfaces and clean it off with a towel, etc.
- Sensory smell play - Fill paper or an album with scratch and sniff or puffy stickers.
- Sensory book ideas - Look at books that have tactile components or interactive noises, or visually interesting pages (foil inserts, holes to peek through, etc.)
- Create tactile sensory activities with a ‘touchy-feely’ kit that has lots of tactile items (e.g., silk cloth, fluffy items, bumpy things).
- Paint with water on skin (arms or hands).
- Create a scent kit with bottles of various essential oils. Put a few drops on a cloth to sniff. Rotate a new scent or theme each week. (Ensure the child is not sensitive to scents/oils.)
- Try play-based therapy using putty or homemade play dough.
- Blow through straws.
Movement sensory activities
- Spend time on a climber.
- Dance to music with parent/caregiver.
- Do functional tasks such as delivering items, and helping with household tasks like wiping counters or sweeping.
- Play with punching balloons or a beach ball. Bounce, roll, or throw it back and forth to another person, or roll large therapy balls around the room.
- Play bowling using a soft ball and foam blocks or dollar store plastic bowling pins.
Attention / emotional development sensory play
- Help children enjoy physical activity with friends. Make this more structured by introducing safe toys such as beach balls or a parachute.
- Make a photo album or scrapbook of family members, friends and educators doing various activities with and without the child. He/she can look through it whenever needed.
Calming sensory activities and strategies
- Listen to music, with or without headphones.
- Play with soft manipulatives such as felt pieces or fuzzy items.
- Hide in a tent or protected spot, or under a blanket fort.
- Use a weighted lap pad.
- Fidget toys are great self-regulation tools and help with focus and attention.
- Blow bubbles.
- Suck on a drink through a straw, or suck/crunch crushed ice.
- Do a quiet computer activity.
Life skills sensory integration ideas
- Have them fold clothes and/or towels.
- Wipe surface or sweep the floor.
- Sort mail or other items. Start with one or two items and then progress to more.
- Practice self-care such as brushing hair, putting lotion on hands, putting hat and mittens on, putting jackets on, or brushing teeth.
You might also enjoy some of our other Elizz articles on child development including Fine Motor Skills for Children and Speech and Language Development.
At Elizz, we provide caregiver support for you and home care services for those who depend on you. Elizz is a Canadian company powered by Saint Elizabeth, a national not-for-profit health care organization that has been caring for Canadians since 1908.