Activity ideas for sensory-based fun! - By Claire Ryan

Include children's interests within sensory-based play

Now that summer has arrived, we wanted to share some ideas for families to have some fun in the sun! We've chosen activities which are either cost-free or very cheap to make. If you do have a go at any of the activities below, or if you have other ideas, we would love you to share photos or comments with us at @ChatterPackUK on Twitter
Children with sensory processing difficulties might not be able to recognise when they have reached a point of "too much" input. Providing structure can really help, so try to pre-plan the activities, explain how the activity will progress, how long it will last and provide support during the activity in order to monitor their responses.

Part 1: A list of ideas you might like to try.

Part 2: Sensory Mazes. We've included some photos of a few different types of mazes for you to look at (we've had a lot of fun this month!)

Children must be supervised at all times during activities. If you are at all concerned about whether the ideas below are suitable for an individual child or young person, please seek advice from an occupational therapist.

Part 1

Tactile play

  • Boxes full of rice to make a 'lucky dip'

  • Finger painting

  • Home made play-dough. You could try adding various textures to your finished recipe.

  • Shaving foam - Hide toys under a pile of shaving foam for the child to find. Or put some shaving foam on the palm of your hand and clap to 'make it snow!'

  • Ice play - mix food colouring with water before freezing in ice-cube trays. Use the ice cubes to make pictures. You could put a few different coloured ice-cubes on kitchen roll and watch the colours spread and mix together as they melt.

Be prepared to make a mess!

Play with food

  • Indoor or outdoor picnics - Have a small amount of a range of food on plates and have a relaxed picnic with the family, or with toys. Try not to put any pressure on the child to try any new foods, sometimes even touching them (perhaps to feed a toy), or licking them can be a huge step.

  • Craft with food - Use sauces as paint. Make a collage using different cereals. Threading with pasta tubes.

Exploring sound

  • Play a loud/quiet game and ask the child to rate the levels of noise using a visual 1-10 scale. Prepare them in advance by playing the sounds at different, but quiet levels and tell them that the sounds won't get any louder.

  • Give them control over sounds by play a listening game where they control the volume and switch sounds on/off. Animal sounds might be a fun idea to try, or recording sounds in the environment together and making a sounds bingo.

  • Try using a bottle top as a pretend volume control button. Ask the child to adjust the level of your voice using it and teach them what they can say or do in situations when noises are too much.

Fun with smells

  • Try to stick to natural smells to begin with, as smells such as perfume or sprays can be too intense

  • Try a smell bingo when you are out and about - can you smell grass, flowers. Maybe spices when you are cooking

Smelling flowers and grass is a sensory activity you could try when you are out and about

Let's get moving!

  • Playing tug-of-war

  • Pushing items into/pulling apart thick play-dough, clay or putty

  • 'Wheelbarrow' races

  • Musical bumps - using jumping/hoping etc whilst the music plays

  • Rolling races - Maybe they could roll towards an item to retrieve and roll back to place it in a pot

  • Ready-steady-go games that involve spinning, jumping, sitting down and standing up, etc.

  • Trips to the park to use the swings

Calming activities

  • Rice, beans, sand in boxes to run hands through

  • Ask the child to lie down and roll a therapy ball over their arms and legs - keep asking the child to say if they need more or less pressure

  • Sometimes chewing can help children to calm (this will depend on the child and what is being offered to chew)

  • Self joint compressions such as: Lifting themselves up from a chair whilst seated, Wall push-ups, pushing palms of their hands together as hard as they can and repeat x5

  • Play calming music

  • Provide structure with countdowns, timers and something pre-planned to transition onto

Part 2

Mazes come in many forms!

Lego maze

If your child enjoys playing with Lego, making a Lego maze could be a great way to keep them engaged. Once complete, place a marble at the start and see if you can guide it all the way through the maze to the exit by tilting/tipping the board. This is trickier than you might think!

Alternatively, you could try making a ball by screwing up some paper. Place the paper ball at the start of the maze and using a straw, see if the child can blow it around the corners and all the way to the exit.

Floor mazes

  • Using electrical tape, masking tape or something similar which won't harm your floor, create the outline of a maze. Alternatively, you could draw the maze on the floor outside using some chalk.

You could use a cut-out hand and foot shapes to indicate special instructions. For example, a hand shape could indicate when they should 'crawl' along the maze, or 'touch the floor'. A single footprint might indicate when to 'hop' and two footprints could indicate when they should 'jump' - until they reach the next instruction.

  • We found it easier to first make templates from cardboard and then used these to draw around on the coloured paper.

  • Write or draw a symbol for any special instructions, such as jump! or hop!

  • After placing the hands, feet and special instructions at different stages of the maze, make sure you demonstrate what to do at each point. For example, when they should switch from jumping to hoping.

Using a straw, you could try blowing paper balls through the maze. Or perhaps have a race to see who can roll balls through the maze in the quickest time.

Shoe box maze

  1. Using the lid of an old shoe box, cut out some wide rectangular shapes which are approximately two-thirds of the width of the box in length.

  2. Score along both of the long edges on each rectangle making them easier to fold upwards.

  3. Then glue or tape a fold on each rectangle to the back of the shoebox, taking care to position them so they overhang the next one on a downwards slope.

  4. Use small toy cars, lightweight balls or marbles, etc. to roll down the slopes until they reach the bottom.

You might find that you need to reinforce the outside fold on each slope. You could do this by threading some string through the fold and then threading this through the top of the shoe box to keep it upright.

Paper-magnet Mazes

We used card rather than paper to make our paper maze as it made it more sturdy, but drawing it was tricky! If you don't have any card, you could use a paper plate instead.

Once complete, hold a small magnet underneath the start of the maze and place a small magnetic item on top. Explain and demonstrate to the child how to guide it from the start to the finish.

Initially, we added some 'dead-ends' to make it trickier, but we decided that might make it a bit too difficult, so we covered a few up. However, you could add dead-ends too and cover or reveal them depending on whether the maze is too easy or too tricky.

Lining paper Maze

We've often used lining paper in sensory play, mainly for feet and finger painting but a roll of lining paper and some paint can result in a lot of fun! You will need some space to roll the paper out and it might be a good idea to try this one outside for a few (very messy) reasons!

Once you have your maze drawn onto the lining paper, you could try gently attaching some bubble wrap to the child's feet, then encourage them to walk through the paint before starting through the maze.

Sensory play

Paper Plate Mazes

Using a paper plate and some strips of paper, make a maze to roll a marble or small ball through.

To add a bit of fun, each coloured hoop could represent a different number of points, which are scored when the marble runs through them. Or perhaps one of the colours could be a 'no-go' hoop which must be avoided!

What to do with those left overs?

We had a lot of paper left over and we don't like waste. So, we decided to cut the paper into small pieces to make a lucky dip.

When you hide things beneath the coloured paper, see if the items can be identified by touch only. No peeking!

We didn't want to waste the tape used for the floor mazes either, so we made a ball run maze using toilet roll tubes.

Whilst some of the tubes were left whole, we cut others in half - joining them back together lengthways to make longer sections.

You could make this a longer (and prettier!) project by painting or colouring the cardboard tubes before attaching them to a door. Or perhaps glue some of the chopped up lucky dip paper to the outside of the tubes to make a mosaic pattern.

The hand and feet cut-outs also seemed far too good to waste. You could try attaching the hand prints to a door or a wall and encourage the child to do some 'wall push-ups' (which are a great way to encourage self-joint compressions). Or, position the footprints on the floor to practice side-stepping.

Perhaps you could use the cut-outs to guide the child through a treasure hunt maze.

The possibilities are endless!

We hope you all have a lot of fun!

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