Fun in the Sun: Sensory Integration & Strengthening
Here are some activities that are perfect for the outdoors. Some require the added space that can be found outside and others may be a bit messy at times. These are fun activities that you can share with all of your children.
1. Ball Pool: To create your own “ball pit” at home, fill a soft blow-up pool with plastic balls. The feel of the balls all around your child provides deep touch pressure that can be very calming. To improve tactile and visual discrimination, challenge your child to find hidden toys among the balls. You can even take turns playing hide and go seek in the balls.
2. Finger Painting: This is a good activity for providing tactile input. Your child can also paint on an easel or a piece of paper that is “fun-tacked” against the house. Painting on a vertical surface encourages wrist extension, which is important for promoting a proper pencil grasp.
3. Play-doh Printing: Using cookie cutters, make all different shapes out of play-doh. Let them dry and harden in the sun and then dip the shapes into paint to create fun designs on paper. Play-doh is a great tactile activity and mushing play-doh in your hands can help strengthen them.
4. Blow & Splat Painting: For this activity you will need a cup, straw, paper, water, and food coloring. In a cup, mix a few drops of food coloring with water. Then have your child suck small amounts of water into the straw and blow it out onto paper or paper towels to create interesting “blow art”. This is a great oral motor activity to strengthen the muscles and grade force. Your child will need to carefully control how much water enters the straw and use the muscles in and around the mouth to blow through the straw with aim. For more resistance, try blow pens (www.therapro.com).
5. Bubble Printing: For this activity you will need bubble solution (water + dish detergent is okay too), tempera paint, paper, a straw, and a cup. Mix the bubble solution with some paint in a cup. With a straw your child can blow a “bubble mountain” until the bubbles are overflowing from the top of the cup. Place the paper over the cup to make the “prints”. This is a good oral motor activity to help strengthen the muscles in and around the mouth and can also be very calming.
6. Sand Table: Playing in sand is a fun way to introduce your child to tactile play. Build sand castles, dig, bury your legs, hide small toys, or experiment with texture by adding water to the sand. If your child has tactile defensiveness, allow him/her to wet his/her hands as soon as the sand is bothersome. Sand and water tables are available online. Step 2 makes a nice toddler set.
7. Paper Mache: Using old newspaper and watered down glue, your child can express his/her creativity. First find a base form such as a balloon or something made out of a sturdier material like cardboard. Next, make paper mache paste by mixing one part water with two parts glue. Finally, tear old newspaper into strips. Dip one strip at a time into the paste. Run a finger along the strip to remove excess paste. Place the strip down and smooth it with a finger or paintbrush. Cover the base form with overlapping layers of strips. Allow each layer to dry for 24 hours. Once you have the desired effect, paint the project.
Using fingers this way can enhance tactile discrimination and fine motor control and decrease tactile defensiveness. Have your child wear disposable gloves if the paste is offensive. Have him/her cut off the fingers one at a time as he/she becomes less squeamish.
Using a paintbrush is an even less threatening way to apply and smooth the paste and provides an opportunity to practice using a proper pencil grasp. Start with thicker brushes and progress to thinner ones when your child’s pencil grasp is well established.
8. Hammock: Swinging on an outdoor hammock is a very calming experience. The slow, rhythmic movements can be organizing for the child who is easily over-aroused and over-active. For a challenge, your child can share the hammock with you or another child.
9. Strap Swing: While sitting and swinging, have your child kick a ball to develop eye-foot coordination and timing. When your child is swinging on his/her belly, practice catching and throwing a ball with two hands to improve eye-hand coordination and bilateral coordination (using the two sides of the body together).
10. Playground Structures: Playing on outdoor play equipment like climbing up ladders and rock walls, sliding, and swinging across monkey bars are ways of challenging your child’s motor planning abilities, i.e. his/her ability to play in novel and creative ways. Experiencing a wide variety of playgrounds and play structures will continually challenge motor planning. At first your child may hang back and watch other children play. He/she may jump right in as sense of body position in space becomes enhanced and motor planning improves.
Written by: Aviva Goldwasser, MS, OTR and Chaye Lamm Warburg, MA, OTR, Director POTS