by Diana Hellard
The benefits of sensory play extend into many areas of child development. Pouring and dumping materials teaches a child about cause and effect, size relationships, properties of liquids, and coordination. Simply running their hands through a sandbox teaches a child about texture differences. Sensory play materials are available in a wide variety of prices ranges and a quick web search will yield hundreds of different ways to create a sensory experience for your child.
It’s easy to get buried in the different options. When your child has complex needs, you want to give them the best experiences possible. In most cases, that requires a lot of work and a lot of time from parents. With sensory play, simple is often better, making it an ideal learning and adaptive experience for children with special needs and their busy parents.
One of the easiest ways to introduce sensory play into your child’s day is through sensory boxes. All you need is a box large enough for your child to scoop, dump, and run their hands through a sensory medium. That medium can be as simple as rice. One favorite in our house is rainbow rice. Just mix a few drops of food coloring with a tablespoon of rubbing alcohol and add it to a bag of rice. Mix the rice until the color is saturated throughout and then put it on a sheet of foil to dry overnight. The rice makes a great indoor substitute for sand and the colors make it look special.
You don’t need special tools for this kind of play. Anything that can be used to scoop and pour works well. Another great thing about sensory boxes is that it is easy to have a variety of things available to pull out throughout the day for a few minutes of play at a time. Some of the options on hand at our house are water beads (available in the floral department of most discount stores), rice, beans, oatmeal, and dry pasta.
Another fun way to use sensory boxes is for holiday or seasonal play. We use an under bed storage bin full of white beans and add in various themed items for play. This creates a fun way to keep hands occupied while talking about a holiday, a season, or even a featured color. Seasonal accessories can be picked up at the dollar store or in the party favor section of a discount store. They add a little variety to a basic sensory medium without adding a lot of cost.
Gross Motor Sensory Play
Sensory play extends to more than just fine motor play as well. Any activity that challenges the equilibrium and provides proprioceptive input has a sensory play value. One such activity is a ball pit. Now, I know that ball pits are not the most accessible activity in the world. For those of us with children who have compromised immune systems, it would seem that a ball pit is one childhood rite of passage that is just plain off limits. That doesn’t have to be the case. A portable, inexpensive home ball pit is simple to put together and provides a uniquely tailored activity for playtime.
At our house, we use an inflatable bouncer. When our son was smaller, we used a simple inflated pool. I bought bags of balls online to fill it up. Unlike a public ball pit, which is often recessed and very difficult to maneuver a child with mobility challenges in and out of, the home ball pit offers great ease of use and the benefit of knowing that my child is the only one going in it!