One trick up my occupational therapy sleeve is using a beach ball cushion as a cheap sensory seat alternative. A beach ball wiggle cushion is actually a DIY occupational therapy seat cushion that offers all of the sensory input that a typical wiggle cushion offers but at a much more affordable cost. This is an OT tip that I’ve used time and time again to support sensory needs in the classroom. Let’s explore this occupational therapy sensory seat alternative!
This blog post was originally published May 11, 2016 and updated in 2023.
Beach Ball Cushion
You’ve probably seen a wiggle seat or other occupational therapy sensory cushion in use. However, have you ever seen a beach ball cushion in action?
Sensory strategies in the classroom are not always easy to use. There are many factors at play for the school based OT: items get lost, the price of sensory items, the carryover…there are a lot of factors that impact the use of sensory strategies such as wiggle seat cushions! However, the need for calm down items in school environments are prevalent.
Flexible seating in the school environment is one area that school based OTs address, because of the impact that seating may have on learning:
- Posture and sitting balance
- Handwriting and fine motor skills
- Attention and focus in learning
- Sensory input and needs
- Vision needs
However alternatives to seating can be pricy. That’s why having a few DIY flexible seating options are handy.
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occupational therapy seat cushion
Take a look in a classroom or an Occupational Therapist’s clinic. You might see a few interesting occupational therapy seat cushions that are used to support sensory and regulation needs.
There are bright blue disk cushions, wedges of different sizes, and even giant therapy balls, wiggle stools, and even sensory chairs. All of these sensory seating ideas are perfect for vestibular input during sitting.
Each of these occupational therapy cushions are designed to promote movement and wiggling to allow for improved attention and needed sensory input.
Wobbly seat cushions, or “wiggle cushions” like these are used for self regulation and allow students to attend to classwork or sit at the dining room table while participating in functional tasks because their body has an opportunity to fidget with calming or alerting sensory input.
These types of seats allow kids to keep their mind focused and help kids who can’t seem to sit still.
Address vestibular needs with this easy therapy hack!
Therapy discs or cushions are perfect for so many kids. There is no denying that they help many children and even whole classrooms stay on task. But, the biggest issue with these types of therapy seating options is the price. At $25/cushion (or more!), it can become a pricey option for better attention.
Cheap Sensory Seat Cushion
Today, I’ve got a simple sensory hack for therapy cushions. This is a tip that I’ve recommended for years as a pediatric Occupational Therapist. School districts that simply could not afford to purchase one therapy cushion were able to use this therapy hack to help with attention and sensory needs.
Enter the beach ball.
Every time I’ve shared this tip with parents, teachers, and administrators, I’ve gotten wide eyes and a “ooooh” type of response.
- Grab a beach ball from your nearest dollar store.
- Inflate it with only one or two breaths.
- Place the beach ball on a chair.
Watch your little one wiggle and move while attending to their math homework, spelling list, or dinner conversation.
Some classrooms that I’ve serviced as an Occupational Therapist had decided to use partially inflated beach balls with many of the students.
This sensory hack is an easy fix for every child, whether they exhibit attention or sensory needs or are neurotypical children.
Moving and fidgeting is an attention strategy that every one of us uses. Try this inexpensive sensory hack with your kiddo.
Sitting on the partially inflated beach ball adds an unstable seating surface and allows for just enough movement that children can better focus and attend. They are given vestibular input through their trunk to help with fidgeting needs.
Need more movement ideas? Try balance beam activities.
Another idea for that $1 beach ball:
Place it on the floor for a movement surface for the feet. Given the chance to move the feet, most kids are able to better attend to desk work.
NOTE: A $1 beach ball will NOT last forever. It will pop at some point. Excessive sitting and standing with force will shorten the lifespan of your sensory seating hack. Be aware that while this is a great seating option for kids with attention and sensory needs, it is not the intended use of a beach ball. Inflating the beach ball more than a few breaths will make the seating surface more firm, however, it will make the beach ball more prone to popping.
TIP: Some kids might tend to slide forward into a slouched position when sitting on the partially inflated beach ball. Add a sheet of dycem to the surface of the seat to keep the beach ball from sliding.
Looking for MORE sensory hacks to help with fidgeting? Try these along with your occupational therapy seat cushions:
Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to email@example.com.