I would like to start by briefly discussing SI. Sensory Integration is a theory we use, as OTs, to manage children’s behaviors, feelings, learning and other difficulties in everyday activities. It tells us how our brain processes information from our body and environment.
Some children, particularly, those with special needs, exhibit Sensory Integrative Dysfunction. But whether or not there is a diagnosis, I am a firm believer that it is important and beneficial to fill our children’s day with sensory-rich activities, more so, in our current quarantine status.
The following activities and make-shift equipment, I am sure are available at home, are on top my list:
Mat or just a clean floor
You can do a lot on the floor! For babies, tummy time has long been recommended by pediatricians to develop back and core muscles. Encourage your baby to look up and reach for toys you dangle just above her head. Get the smaller kids moving! Let them jump, skip, hop, crawl and explore using their body safely. Have them try log rolling, do easy yoga positions and animal walks. Let your bigger kids do cartwheels, more complex yoga positions and more complex animal walks. It would not hurt, also if they want to try your very own exercise routines such as push ups, sit ups and planks.
Swings and rockers
The vestibular system is the most powerful sensory system. If your child is willing, then hang ropes from your ceiling and create a swing! Use a blanket, a net, a tire or a wide, sanded wooden paddle. Make sure it is safe, though. Try it for yourself, if it can carry you, then it will probably safe for your child, too. Have them go forward and backward or twist for a rotatory motion. Stay close, just to be safe. If they seem to be scared, then take your time. Step back and allow them to take baby steps. Never force your child to do something they are not comfortable with.
Blanket is so much fun! Create a fort or a tent where they can stay in to play pretend. Hang two middle portions and feign a tunnel so your children can cross and crawl non-stop. Use more blankets to create an “underworld,” much like Antman and his daughter on a treasure hunt. Good luck with laundry, though! Be creative and think of other ways to play with it. A parachute, tug of war, a wagon that drags you while your child pulls? Its all good!
Pillows and other cushions
Two words: Rough. Play.
Pillow fights and crash sites provide an avenue for the more active kids to use their energy. Merely walking or jumping on it challenges your younger child’s balance. Throwing or kicking pillows improves just those skills exactly. You can even organize a ball game just by using your bed/mat and pillows! Good Luck on your fights, games and challenges in the next few days!
Chairs and climbers
Your child who does not like to go on the swing? Try this first. Prepare a chair to step onto, to reach for her cookie. Next, add more chairs and turn it into a bridge. Now, she has to cross a bridge to get her snacks! Climbing up and down improves our coordination, especially how we support ourselves in the process. It cannot be any truer for the child who is just learning, since she would have to make use of all she’s got – her extremities and body, sometimes, even her face – to keep herself from falling. For bigger children, make use of your gate or grills for more challenge. They would feel like they are wall climbing in the mall! Remember to stay close to give verbal cues on what to do and for safety in general. Catch them if they fall!
Toys from the kitchen
They say the kitchen is mom’s playground. Nuh-ah! The spatulas and spoons make for great drumsticks, especially for babies! The spoons, scoops and jars are your smaller kids’ junior science experiments… messy ones! To avoid cleaning up an unexpected mess, prepare a work area for your kids. Let them play with flour, salt, water and a little bit of food coloring to make their own play dough. Give them water, rice or uncooked pasta to transfer and pour from one container to another. A scoop or spoon will help them practice spill-less eating in your next meal! Add a lace or a string and they’ll be happy to make you a necklace that will surely melt your heart.
Playing pretend is also a good idea. Add in an actual food tasting component to the game and you might just increase your picky child’s food repertoire. Teach your bigger kids simple food preparation or level them up as you see fit! Learning concepts can easily be incorporated with smaller and bigger kids alike, such as tastes, hot and cold, rough and smooth, names of fruits, vegetables, and a whole lot more!
Depending on where you are staying, the surroundings has relatively been quiet. Find your child’s preference in music. Does he like slow and classical or pop and loud? Does he make music on his own? Encourage it! Challenge bigger kids by listening to instructions, answering questions and more playfully by finding (localizing) where sounds come from, for example, a dog’s bark or a car’s engine. Traditional games such as Name that song or Guess the sound can be played with the help of phone apps. For the children who does not like particular sounds, desensitize by producing it very softly, almost inaudibly at first. Turn up the volume, little by little, as he tolerates.
Flashlights come in handy when you are playing in a tent or the “underworld”, as has been suggested above. In bed, at night, play with shadows on the wall by forming your hands to form animal heads or a bird flying (I’m obviously an 80’s kid, IKR!). A couple of colored plastic and you modify the color of your surroundings, this could be very fun for your child! And as always, never force him into something he is uneasy with.
These activities touch-base on the 8 senses of the SI theory. I trust that you know your child well and that you also know which activities they need most. It is, however, good to ask your child’s OT to approve tasks before you actually give it to them.
I hope you make fun memories with these activities!
Ayres, A. Jean (2005). Sensory Integration and the child: understanding hidden sensory challenges. Los Angeles, CA: WPS. p.5
Delaney, Tara (2008). The Sensory Processing Disorder Answer Book. Naperville, IL: P. CM.