20 Creative Play Ideas for Sensory Seekers
Welcome to the first in my series of Sensory Processing blogs.
Disclaimer: I am NOT a medical professional of any kind. Or qualified teacher. I teach my children at home but they attend an SEN school. These blogs are full of what I've learned from various sources and my own experience over the last 12 years. I truly hope they're helpful and inspiring. Let's get started!
Humans are sensory creatures. So much of our lives, particularly as adults, is desperately lacking in a rich sensory diet. We can learn from our children about this! Especially children with a sensory processing difference. They are often masters of find and engage in sensory play to the benefit of their mind and body.
Sensory play is AMAZING both for children and adults. Sensory play builds connections in the brain and helps to cement learning by accessing different senses together.
When you mix sensory play with creativity the results can be extraordinary.
I have an exciting list here. Check this out!
Creativity plus sensory play:
+ supports cognitive growth,
+ hones fine and gross motor skills,
+ improves problem solving skills,
+ boosts imagination,
+ helps establish identity,
+ improves social and play skills,
+ builds communication skills
+ improves observation skills,
+ sparks curiosity,
+ develops hand-eye coordination,
+ improves focus and attention,
+ supports emotional regulation,
+ boosts memory,
+ builds self-esteem
and creates opportunities for CONNECTION
There are different types of sensory input. You'll know of course the classic 5:
Sight/visual, sound/auditory, taste/gustatory, smell/olafactory and touch/tactile.
But did you know about these?
Vestibular, proprioceptive and interoception.
Our vestibular system is how we receive and process information relating to our body's orientation (standing up, lying down, upside down), movement and balance. Examples of vestibular actions are: swinging on a swing, going down a slide or zip line, balancing on a beam/on one leg. cartwheels, hand or headstands etc...
Our proprioceptive system processes pressure and gravity and how our body relates to an environment. For example, we receive proprioceptive information when we hold someone's hand, sit on a chair, squeeze a stress ball, are swaddled/wrapped in a blanket, get pushed or pulled etc...
Our interoceptive system is our body's inner sensations like pain, hunger, thirst, itches, temperature, feeling dizzy or sick etc...
All of us have these sensory systems and they give our mind and body a LOT of information all day every day. For most of us we are able to process this information efficiently and without issue, but those with a sensory processing disorder will have areas where they are over or under-sensitive to various or all of these senses.
Today I'm talking about sensory SEEKERS.
This topic actually covers not only the majority of neurodiverse people but neurotypicals as well! All of us seek sensation and take pleasure in some way from our senses but many will not be aware that they are seeking sensory input.
Let me ask you this: Do you love perfume/fragrances? Do you choose clothes of a particular fabric because you love the way it feels on your skin? Do you love the feel of bubbles in the bath? Do you get lost gazing at rainbows or clouds or shadows? Do you love popping bubble wrap? Do you love peeling the clear film from new screens? Do you love spicy food for that mouth burn?
I could go on... but this is all sensory seeking stuff.
It's all brilliant and should all be encouraged!
Sensory seeking behaviour has various levels however, and you may well find that your neurodiverse child has sensory seeking needs that are more insistent and exaggerated than this. For children with a sensory processing disorder diagnosis, their lives are going to revolve a lot around their sensory needs. Both my boys have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and it establishes differently for the 2 of them, just like their Autism.
Sensory seekers can seek input from any of their 8 senses, so it's a huge topic! Here are just a few examples. If your child is a sensory seeker they may do a combination (or all!) of theses things:
* throw themselves onto crash mats, sofas and beds,
* love being pushed on swings,
* repeat zip lines again and again,
* repeat the slide again and again,
* run a lot,
* clap their hands together,
* stamp their feet,
* love making and hearing noise,
* like to cover themselves with paint, foam, bath bubbles,
* enjoy hot and cold sensations,
* plunge their noses into clean laundry (I think many of us like this!),
* look at visually-interesting objects/lights/materials etc... for extended periods of time
and many others.
Sensory seeking also has a flip side and can potentially be harmful. I don't say this lightly, but knowledge is power and the truth is that this can happen in some cases, so it's as well to be aware of it and be prepared best you can. For example; children throwing themselves onto crash mats could lead to leaping downstairs or off climbing frames. Hand clapping and foot stamping can lead to tissue or even bone bruising. Children with a chew craving can bite themselves or others which could cause injury. Be mindful of this flip side, but don't obsess over it; take each behaviour as it comes and absolutely I recommend you seek professional help from your Dr, Occupational Therapist or Health Visitor if you are at all concerned. Now that said, I want you to know that these more extreme results can be avoided or reduced. I won't make guarantees, but if done regularly and in the right way for your child you can keep their sensory system functioning as healthily as possible. With the right interventions and activities it could reduce the chance of harm from sensory seeking behaviour; to themselves and to others.
Now let's have a look at some fun ideas to try for your sensory seekers!
When you see this symbol ~~
it means 'Mama suggests: dust sheets for covering floor and/or walls!'
~~ Water beads (fantastic opportunities for photography and videos here! They look so cool and make a squelchy sound when smushed together that your kids are likely to love and find funny!)
Kinetic sand (create shapes challenge, draw in sand with tools)
Playdoh and tools (step by steps and creature ideas)
~~ Shaving foam marble paper printing
Paper tearing collage with sticky back plastic/contact paper
~~ Slime kits
~~ Oobleck/Goop (which is just 2 parts cornflour 1 part water)
Paint/draw to different types of music
Chalk pastel drawing (on corrugated card is fun!)
Modelling with Play Foam (tiny polystyrene balls coated in a colouring that sticks to itself and not the surface)
~~ White vinegar and bicarbonate of soda experiments! (Bear in mind some kids won't like the smell of the vinegar and it's a hard one to shift if you splash it in all at once so have them have a little sniff first and see how they go!)
Colour your own Squishy toy (you can buy them cheaply from Baker Ross in various shapes. You can use sharpies or you can buy their Deco pens to colour them.
Blow pens/straw and water colour art
DIY ribbon/woollen thread bracelet/dreamcatcher
Nail/pin board rubber band/thread picture
Hand and Footprint characters
Aromatherapy Playdoh colour mixing
~~ Glitter and glue
~~ Fake snow (cornflour and mineral/baby oil)
In my Facebook community group I've done a couple of 'create with us' videos that tick some of these boxes and we'll be doing much more going forward so if you'd like to join in please head over there to like and follow the page so you'll know when and what we're going to be doing for some awesome creative and sensory play! If you can't join live, don't worry, the videos will be kept on the page for you to watch in your own time.
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Did you learn anything about yourself or your children's sensory processing system reading this? I'd love to know if you'd like to share! I've learned so much about myself over the years raising my special boys. Aren't our bodies just fascinating?!
Feel free to share this blog if you like but please share it directly from this page.
Thanks so much!
Have a wonderful time exploring fun activities with your sensory seekers!