Sample sensory diet activities for school-age children
Once your child is old enough for school, keeping up with sensory diet activities is super-important to help her to thrive.
Have your child jump on a mini-trampoline, jump onto a heap of pillows, or play hopscotch.
– Pushing and pulling
Have your child push something (relatively) heavy, like a laundry basket. She can help carry in groceries, vacuum, clean the table, transfer laundry, etc. Any household chore provides both ‘heavy work’ for joints and muscles and the satisfaction that comes with helping. Don’t forget to praise your child’s work!
Going hand-to-hand across monkey bars is great, as are all forms of energetic physical play.
– Swinging and rolling
Try different types of swinging on playground swings (back and forth as well as side to side). Roll down a hill (bonus: good proprioceptive input too!).
Spin on an office chair at home, or go on a playground merry-go-round.
– Getting upside down
Have him hang upside down from playground equipment, do cartwheels, do head inversions over the edge of a couch or large armchair, or do yoga poses.
– Experiencing the outdoors through touch
Have her walk barefoot in the grass, sand, or mud. Garden. If you don’t have easy access to the outdoors, she can repot plants indoors and grow plants from seeds.
– Putting on plays
Perhaps together with friends, your child would enjoy putting on make-up or face paint, dressing up in costumes, and putting on a play or ‘shooting a movie’ on a smartphone.
NOTE: For children who are hypersensitive to tactile input, try seamless socks and underwear, and very soft clothing. You can find many retailers online who sell clothing appropriate for sensory children.
– Using chewies
Chewies come in a variety of forms: chewy tubes, “chewelry,” and many other options. Let your child choose between a few alternatives.
Helping you cook allows your child to explore different textures and temperatures, and also be more inclined to try different foods if that’s an issue — he’ll be more interested in consuming something he prepared himself.
– Eating and drinking
The same as for younger children: offer plain seltzer (or flavor it with a little juice or lemon, lime) to experience the feel of bubbles in her mouth. Have him blow bubbles, use straws, explore different food textures (i.e., dry, wet, smooth, lumpy) and temperatures (warm, cold, frozen (popsicles, frozfruit), mixed temperature and/or texture (berries with ice cream; ice cream with hot fudge) ), or eat a chewy or crunchy snack to provide “heavy work” for the mouth.
Visual activities and modifications
– Alerting additions
Give your child brightly-colored games, books and exercise-stimulating equipment.
– Calming modifications
As with younger children, if your child is over-stimulated visually, put clutter into closets or boxes. Cover a filled bookcase with a cloth in a single neutral color. Decorate with solid color rugs (let your child help choose the color/s), and keep the walls bare and painted in white, neutral or pastel colors. Keep the lights low and don’t use fluorescent bulbs.
– Looking games
Play age-appropriate ‘spot the difference’ picture games and “I-spy;” do mazes and other puzzles.
– Seating in the classroom
Discuss with your child’s teacher the best place for her to sit. At the front of a classroom where there is less distraction from other students? At the back of the room so he can see what’s happening without always turning around? Away from the window to avoid the distraction? The teacher may want to experiment to see which seating arrangement works best.
Some of these activities are the same as, or similar to, the ones for toddlers and young school-age children.
– Listening to music
As with toddlers, music can be either calming and focusing, or energizing, so you can keep a music ‘library’ available for different situations. You may need to experiment a bit since musical preferences are so individual that what you find soothing, your child might find distressing, and vice versa.
– Making music
If your child is interested in playing an instrument, encourage her and give her lessons if possible.
– Listening to sounds
Create agreeable sounds. A white noise machine often has settings for different types of pleasant instrumental music and natural sounds, such as rainfall, ocean waves, birdsongs, etc., or you can find them online. A tabletop fountain that runs over small rocks, or an aquarium, is calming both to listen to and look at.
– Removing sounds
If your child is being bombarded with auditory stimulation at home, you can go into a quiet, dimly-lit room, or put on a white noise machine to block out sounds. If you’re out, you can give her sound-canceling headphones.
– The Listening Program™
Your child’s OT can devise a plan of daily sessions for The Listening Program™, a music-based therapy program, which your child can follow (perhaps with a little help from you at first). We discussed this program in more detail here
– Experiencing the outdoors through listening
Sit outside and listen to natural sounds: rain, thunder, wind blowing, birds singing, crickets chirping.
– Playing listening games
Sit quietly with your child and try to identify the various sounds you hear (i.e., traffic passing, children playing outside, the hum of the refrigerator, birds singing, a door closing, a fan spinning, etc.) and where it’s coming from.
– NOTE: Give your child a turn to take control over his environment. Being able to know a sound is coming, and being able to control its volume and duration, puts the power (literally!) in his hands. Let her turn the vacuum cleaner or the blender on and off. Have him pop bubble wrap or balloons. Have her flush the toilet. The more familiar the sounds are, the less sensitive your child will be to them.
– Smelling scents
Again, smell different scents with your child to find ones that work best to either alert or calm him (unless odors are one of his sensory issues, of course). Everyone has individual reactions to scents, but in general, lavender, vanilla and rose scents are calming, while peppermint and citrus are energizing. Once you identify what works for your child, you may choose to use a calming scent for bath time soap, shampoo, and/or body lotion, or put its essential oil into an aromatherapy machine at bedtime.
– Playing smelling games
Have her close her eyes and try to identify different scents. The kitchen has a lot of opportunities for this: spices, fruit (especially citrus), and other foods. If you have a garden, you have many options there as well.
– Using taste
Although we taste with our tongues, the experience is strongly influenced by our sense of smell. If you have your child eat one food while you hold another, with a strong scent such as a lemon, under his nose, the first food will taste like lemon. You can also use strong tastes (as long as she enjoys them!) like mint to wake up her system when her engine runs low.
As with the ideas for toddlers and pre-schoolers, these are just a few suggestions for calming and alerting therapeutic activities. You can find more ideas and information about calming
therapeutic activities for the different senses here.
Everyone with SPD, young or old, can benefit from a sensory diet. In the next post, we will discuss sample sensory diet activities that are appropriate for teenagers (and adults as well).
Is there a category of activities which works best for your child? Which? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Also, let me know there or via email what other topics you would like to discuss or hear more about.
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All the best,