99 Sensory Activities for Any Child
All kids can be affected by sensory processing issues. Certain situations just make them freak. So it makes sense that exposing kids to a variety of sensory activities in a calm, playful manner can alleviate some of these problems.
In that spirit, we've put together this list of 99 sensory activities for any child. Though these activities involve sensory stimulation, they are great all-around activities for any child, from toddlers on up. Some are even good for babies. These sensory activities also can help you. My kids' school's occupational therapist once gave a seminar to parents on sensory balance and activities for maintaining a sensory-savvy schedule. I now realize my engine tends to run too low and I need to work harder at energizing myself throughout the day. I have incorporated some of these activities to keep my own energy up.
Many are inspired from the 2009 book Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Integration Issues by Lindsey Biel and Nancy Penske. This is the best book I have found for parents on children's sensory issues. In fact, it's a valuable book for any parent.
Sensory activities fall into different categories. Perhaps the most useful for self-regulation is proprioceptive input, a fancy word for "heavy work" that engages your joints. These activities make you feel grounded and can be calming for a high-running child or invigorating for a low-running one. This first batch of activities creates proprioceptive input:
1. Jump—on a mini-trampoline, from a chair to a sofa, or on the bed.
2. Do wheelbarrow walking or races.
3. Perform donkey kicks.
4. Do ABC push-ups: Push-up to plank position, touch your chest with your hand and say a letter of the alphabet; repeat all the way to the letter Z and alternate the hand that touches the chest.
5. Bear walk.
6. Crab walk.
7. Play leapfrog.
8. Slither like a snake.
9. Perform tummy-time push-ups (for babies).
10. Toddlers can push their own strollers, the laundry, or grocery cart.
11. Have your toddler or child carry a backpack full of his or her toys and books.
12. Hammer ice cubes in a plastic bag (then use them for lemonade).
13. Have a pillow fight.
14. Play catch with a stuffed animal.
15. Hang from a chin-up bar.
16. Climb a rock wall.
17. Engage in tug-of-war.
18. Play hopscotch.
19. Stage a wrestling match.
20. Start a tickle fight.
21. Bang on some drums.
Have your child bang on pots and pans for joint engagement. Photo by Jay Malone via Flickr.
22. Clang pots and pans.
23. Have a parade and march.
24. Wipe the counters.
27. Break out the dust-buster.
28. Unload the washing machine and the dryer.
29. Take out the trash.
30. Play water balloon catch.
31. Lounge in a beanbag chair.
32. Play push-o-war by putting palms against each other and pushing as hard as you can.
33. Play animal footsteps: Have your child lie down and choose an animal. Using your fingers or hands, make it feel as if that animal is walking over your child's back and limbs.
Vestibular input (swinging and spinning) is intense and provides long-lasting sensory input. Parents should monitor their children's sensitivities to these activities and offer vestibular input activities in doses.
34. Go for a swing; try different types of swinging to see which feels best (on a tire swing, rope, monkey bars).
36. Run in circles.
37. Hang upside down.
38. Pull your child around on a sheet or blanket.
39. Rock in a rocking chair.
Some kids are overly sensitive to tactile input. Tags, pant buttons, getting wet, or even the feeling of food in the mouth can drive some kids batty. Doing these activities can help children get used to tactile stimulation gradually and can be fun for all kids.
40. Make a kid sandwich by pressing down on him or her between two pillows or couch cushions.
41. Make a kid burrito by rolling him or her tightly in a blanket.
42. Roll out the cookie dough by rolling a big ball firmly over the back and limbs.
43. Make your own sandbox with a bowl full of dry beans.
44. Pour salt on a cookie sheet and paint with your fingers.
45. Spread rice and beans out in a baking tray or pan and make a construction site for trucks. Bury small toys in rice and have your child do an archeological dig.
46. Go on a texture walk, collecting things that are smooth, things that are bumpy, things that are soft and so on.
47. Have a texture scavenger hunt at home.
Make bathtime more bearable. Some sensory-defensive kids hate getting wet, but these activities make bathing more fun.
48. Add food coloring to the water.
49. Use ladles, cups, strainers, squirters and funnels to manipulate the water.
50. Play with shaving cream.
Bath crayons can help distract a water-fearful kid. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala.
51. Use soap crayons or bath paints to make a masterpiece.
52. Rub bodies with different textures while in the bath: a smooth or nubby washcloth, a loofah, a nail brush.
53. Put shaving cream on a placemat to squish around.
54. Mix cookie dough or cake batter with hands.
55. Make "play dough."
56. Make a touch book of different textures from your home.
57. Put single items in paper bags and let kids guess what they are.
58. Play with face paints.
59. Repot the plants.
60. Use a vibrating toothbrush.
61. Sip seltzer.
62. Lick lemons.
Some kids need extra oral-motor activities, but these tend to be calming for everyone.
63. Crunch ice.
64. Use chewelry.
65. Make smoothies and suck through a straw.
66. Practice chewing gum and blowing bubbles.
67. Use crazy straws.
Breathing is especially important for kids with low muscle tone, but we can all use to exercise our lungs and benefit from the therapeutic effects of breathing deeply.
68. Blow whistles.
69. Make and blow pinwheels.
70. Blow feathers off your hand.
71. Play soccer by blowing a cotton ball across a table. You score if you blow it off the other person's end.
72. Have a cotton ball race.
73. Make bubble mountains in a bowl with a straw and soapy water.
74. Blow gently on each other's faces. See who can blow the longest.
Visual-, olfactory- (smell), and auditory-stimulating activities:
75. Sit quietly and listen to nature or a nature sounds recording.
76. Play a listening game. Sit quietly and guess the sounds you hear.
77. Let kids play with the stereo dial to experiment with loud and soft sounds.
78. Play by candlelight.
79. Turn off the lights and play flashlight tag.
80. Make shadow puppets.
81. Build a fort or tent.
82. Hide under a blanket and read by flashlight.
83. Play catch with a balloon.
84. Do mazes or dot-to-dots.
85. Trace your body or hands.
86. Wear sunglasses.
87. Explore how your child reacts to different smells. If you find some are soothing or alerting, get lotions, soaps, or candles to help regulate his or her mood.
88. Using a blindfold, have children guess different smells, such as peanut butter, maple syrup, and apples.
89. Give a child a strong flavored candy or gum before trying a new food at dinner.
90. Eat sensory-savvy snacks.
91. Trace fingers lightly over the skin.
92. Put on lotion.
93. Pet the cat or dog.
94. Offer butterfly kisses (eyelash kisses).
95. Give each other massages.
96. Make extreme faces.
97. Practice blowing out birthday candles on make-believe cakes.
98. Put dollops of different-colored paints in a baggie and squish around to mix the paints.
99. Create a sensory-savvy spot by placing a beanbag chair or pile.
This article was first published in April 2008 but has since been updated.
Top photo via Bigstock.