Finding something to do when you’re stuck inside can be challenging for many kids. But for kids who have sensory processing challenges, some activities work better than others. Here are eight sensory-friendly games to help meet your child’s sensory needs.
Using play-dough is a great activity to strengthen fine motor skills. It’s also a quiet activity, which is helpful if your child is sensitive to sounds.
Play-dough can reduce frustration and may appeal to kids who like to touch things. Try hiding small objects in a ball of dough for your child to find. Or challenge your child to roll the dough into a ball.
Some kids with sensory challenges have a strong reaction to the smell of store-bought Play-Doh. If your child does, or tends to chew on things, search online for a recipe for homemade (and even edible) play-dough.
“The floor is lava”
This is a popular game that’s fun for kids of all ages. It can help them practice the motor skills affected by sensory challenges. (These are also called the proprioceptive and vestibular senses.)
Gather safe climbable items like pillows and sofa cushions. Create an obstacle course by scattering them on the floor. Kids navigate from one piece of furniture to another without touching the floor. Make sure that the objects don’t slide — you don’t want kids to slip and fall.
Tabletop sensory boxes
It’s easy to create a mini sandbox. You can use your child’s favorite soothing “ingredient,” whether it’s sand, water, rice, dry beans, beads, shaving cream, or slime.
Pour the ingredient into a shoebox-size plastic storage container with a lid. Add some plastic spoons, tweezers, tongs, cups, and small toys, too. Scooping, pouring, and burying are all part of the sensory experience.
Putting puzzles together is great for kids who tend to get overexcited. The activity has a more calming effect than many people realize.
Puzzles not only work on fine motor skills, but can also help kids with visual-spatial processing challenges. Some jigsaw puzzles for younger kids even make sounds when you put the pieces in the right places.
It’s important to find puzzles that are the right challenge for a child’s skill level. That way you can build confidence and avoid frustration.
Finger and food painting
Finger painting is a great activity for sensory seekers. Just have your child dress in an old T-shirt while painting.
If your child is sensory avoidant, you can use the activity to introduce your child to new textures. You can also appeal to their sense of smell by using a variety of squishy foods to “paint” on a cookie sheet. For example, you can use chocolate pudding, yogurt, or applesauce with cinnamon.
Scratch-and-sniff painting is one of the more labor-intensive activities. But it appeals to kids’ visual, tactile (touch), and olfactory (smell) senses.
Choose a few flavors of Jell-O based on your child’s color and smell preferences. Use a different plastic cup for each color. Mix 1 tablespoon of white glue, 1 tablespoon of water, and 1 teaspoon of Jell-O powder in each cup. (The glue helps the gelatin granules stick.)
Give your child a few paintbrushes and cardboard or heavy paper to paint on. Once the painting is complete, lay it flat to dry. When it’s dry, kids can rub their fingertips over the page to reactivate the smell.
For kids who need more sensory input and don’t like quiet or stationary games, try a simple dance party. It can appeal to your child’s need for visual and auditory stimulation. Put together a kid-friendly playlist, turn up the tunes, and let your child dance.
If your child has trouble with gross motor skills, try having them mirror your dance movements. It can help your child be more in touch with their body and learn how to coordinate their moves. And if your child likes to make their own music, add some instruments or pots and spoons as drums and cymbals.
At-home ball pit
Make an at-home version of a ball pit. You’ll need plastic ball pit balls, a small kiddie pool, and space to put the pit. An inflatable pool works well because you can easily deflate it for storage. Your child can bury themself, throw the balls, and even dig for a small toy you hide at the bottom of the pit.
Unless you want balls thrown all over your home, reduce access to the pit. Use a large bin with a lid to contain the balls when not in use. Bring the ball pit out only for a scheduled activity. When it’s over, have your kids load the bin with all the balls. Then cover it up and store the ball pit for next time.
About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.
Keri Wilmot has worked with children, teens, and young adults for more than 20 years in a wide range of pediatric settings. Her teenage son has been diagnosed with ADHD.