Exercises for Focus and Attention

exercises for focus and attention

This is an old blog post from January 31, 2016 on the benefits of movement and various sensory exercises to improve focus and attention. We’ve updated this article as of January 22, 2024 to include more resources and strategies to support attention.

Exercises for focus and attention depend on the individual’s unique needs, but there are underlying areas that can support the cognitive skills needed for learning, safety, and behaviors.

Occupational therapy providers may use toys for attention because of the primary role that play has in the occupations of a child. Therapy providers can also offer their expertise in the role sensory motor development plays in daily tasks like learning and occupational performance.

While these exercises for focus and attention are not a cure-all (in fact, the tools you’ll find here are simply a therapy support), there should be a plan in place to support unique needs. Going through a few sensory motor exercises likely won’t result in improved attention and focus on their own.

Saying that, it’s important to recognize the whole-body component that impact focus and attention. There are many factors at play here…Ask any occupational therapy provider about how occupational therapy supports the whole being, not just the physical components or the cognitive components of function. It all goes together…

What Impacts Focus and attention in kids?

Some of the factors at play include:

Certainly, let’s delve deeper into each area and discuss how they impact children’s learning and behaviors. Critical thinking skills is another resource to check out on this topic.

  1. Neurological Factors:
  • Brain Structure and Function: The prefrontal cortex, responsible for executive functions, undergoes significant development during childhood. Immature executive functions may lead to difficulties in sustaining attention.
  • Neurotransmitters: Imbalances in neurotransmitters like dopamine can affect a child’s ability to stay focused. For example, lower dopamine levels may contribute to attention deficits.
  1. Developmental Factors:
  • Child Development: Attention evolves as children grow. Younger children may have shorter attention spans, gradually improving with age.
  • Executive Functions: Developing executive functions, such as working memory and inhibitory control, directly impact a child’s ability to pay attention and control impulses.
  1. Environmental Factors:
  • Stimuli: A stimulating environment with age-appropriate learning materials can enhance attention. Conversely, an overly distracting environment may hinder focus.
  • Noise Levels: Excessive noise, common in busy classrooms, can be a significant distraction for some children.
  1. Psychological Factors:
  • Emotional State: Emotional well-being is closely tied to attention. Children experiencing stress or anxiety may struggle with concentration, while positive emotions can enhance focus. An individual’s emotional state refers to their ability to notice and adjust for emotions, or the ability to self-regulate. This is a huge component in attention. We can’t focus or attend on a task or conversation when our emotions are in control.
  • Motivation: Intrinsically motivated children are more likely to engage and sustain attention during learning activities.
  1. Individual Differences:
  • Learning Style: Recognizing and accommodating diverse learning styles can optimize attention. For instance, visual learners may benefit from visual aids.
  • Attentional Control: Children with better attentional control can transition between tasks more efficiently, positively impacting learning.
  1. Health Factors:
  • Sleep: Inadequate sleep affects cognitive performance. Children who don’t get sufficient sleep may exhibit difficulties in attention, memory, and behavior.
  • Nutrition: Proper nutrition, including omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, has been linked to better cognitive function in children.
  1. Technology Use:
  • Screen Time: Excessive use of screens, particularly in younger children, may contribute to shorter attention spans. Monitoring and regulating screen time are crucial for healthy cognitive development.

Understanding these factors is vital for educators, parents, and healthcare professionals working with children. Interventions should be tailored to address the specific needs of each child, considering their unique combination of factors.

It’s important to note that these factors often interact, and a holistic approach considering multiple aspects is crucial in interventions related to attention and focus.

One tool in our therapy toolbelt is exercises to improve attention and focus.

Why use exercises for focus and attention?

Now that we’ve explored what all goes into focus and attention in kids, let’s take a look at one support strategy.

Using physical exercises to improve focus and attention links the sensory, motor, and cognitive components. Think about it this way: after a big lunch, you might feel sluggish and unmotivated. That’s interoception at work.

We all experience this feeling, and our kids are no different. The fullness feeling after a big meal is just one example, though. There can be many things that lead to inattention or difficulty focusing.

Paying attention is hard for some kids.  There are a few different reasons for inattention during school work or homework, or when just participating in listening activities like conversations or reading.  

Learning disabilities, distractibility, poor core body strength, an overload of visual stimulation, poor working memory, ineffective executive functioning skills,  and even temperament can contribute to poor attention (among other reasons).


Numerous diagnoses like ADHD, Autism, sensory processing disorders, and more also have symptoms aligned with inattention.  

But sometimes, attention problems can be confused with diagnoses typically associated with poor attention.  Sometimes, the reason for trouble paying attention is something else.

Whatever the reason, there are easy ways to help your child pay attention. Today, I’ve got a simple way to play and work on core muscle strength and proprioceptive input through a sensory movement activity.  This super easy movement activity is so much fun that your kids will want to play again every day.  And, that’s a good thing, because the movement, proprioceptive input, and core strengthening involved will help them work toward improved attention.

Do you know a little one who can’t focus on school work?  Someone who is always distracted or forgets details of a task?  A little one who starts a project but easily gives up, never to return to the activity?  A student who is always daydreaming or wiggling in their seat and misses key information?

The DIY fidget toy is one type of “exercise” that supports attention.


Many children have trouble with paying attention and it can seem like it is only getting worse.

Attention and the Pyramid of Learning

If you take a look at the Pyramid of Learning, by Williams and Shellenberger, you will see that the base of the pyramid is the sensory systems.

Sensory Systems:

The next level of the Pyramid, which is labeled Sensory Motor Development is some of the components of attention and focus.

Sensory Motor Development:

  • Postural Security (Posture and control)
  • Bilateral Body Awareness (dominant side, coordination)
  • Motor Planning (complex and new activities)
  • Body Scheme (body structre and awareness)
  • Reflex Maturity (elimination of primitive reflexes)
  • Ability to Screen Input (selectively take in stimuli)

This last bullet point is extremely relevant when it comes to filtering out information and identifying relevant and important information. This is the essence of attention and focus. It’s neat to see that all of the motor skills in this level are at the same consideration as this screening skill, which is a cognitive ability. There is true connection between the motor and the cognitive.

The next level of the pyramid also has a huge role in attention and focus and again includes motor skill areas. This level is labelled as Perceptual Motor Development.

Perceptual Motor Development components include:

  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Ocular Motion Control
  • Postural Adjustment
  • Auditory Language Skills
  • Visual Spatial Perception
  • Attention Center Functions

Again, the last component is a huge red flag because it’s labelled as the very skill that we’re covering in this article: Attention. The motor and physical skills in this level are again related to the jobs of the attention focus center.

At the very top of the pyramid is the cognition and intellect.

Cognition and intellect includes:

  • Daily Living Activities
  • Behavior
  • Academic Learning at the very pinnacle of the pyramid

It’s interesting to note at this point that the sensory base supports the sensory motor skills (attention screening), which supports the perceptual motor skills (attention functions). The cognitive skills are supported by all of these other areas. In other words, you can’t have learning, daily functioning, and behaviors without all of the rest of the underlying skills. Powerful stuff!

Sensory and Attention in Learning

We talked about how sensory is an underlying skill of motor, perceptual skills, cognition, and function. So, we can see that sensory integration challenges negatively impact learning, including attention and focus.

Sensory integration interventions, especially in relation to the vestibular sensation, improves academic scores in children with learning disorders. Additionally, there is a relationship between academic performance and sensory seeking/low energy behaviors. (Ayres, 1972; Bar-Shalita, Vatine, & Parush, 2008; Chien et al., 2106; Polatajko, Law, Miller, Schaffer, & Macnab, 1991).

Other research has determined that physical activity and learning have improvements in attention, executive function, information processing speed, academic scores, and on-task behavior.

For individuals in a learning environment, a sensory ball, or stability ball (therapy ball) is a flexible seating option that provides physical activity (CDC, 2010; Erwin, Fedewa, Ahn, & Thorton, 2016; Mead, Scibora, Gardner, & Dunn, 2016; Kahn & Hillman, 2014; Tomporowski, Davis, Miller, & Naglieri, 2008).

One research review on the use of therapy balls as a flexible seating option found that some populations, including ADHD, found that there was increased engagement and in-seat behavior when a therapy ball was used as a seating option. And, this review found that improved attention, on-task behavior, in-seat behaviors, and improved reaction time occurred when a stability ball seating option was used. (Fedewa & Erwin, 2011; Messinger, 2014; Schilling & Schwartz, 2004; Schilling, Washington, Billingsley, & Deitz, 2003).

exercises for focus and attention

Sensory Ball Activities for Proprioception

One technique that is often recommended by Occupational Therapists for some children is the use of a large therapy ball for sitting and movement.  The therapist can guide the child in specific activities and exercises.  For our activity, we used a large and partially deflated Playground Ball similar to this one
for a simple sensory movement.


Proprioceptive input adds deep pressure to the body’s muscles and joints for a calming and organizing input.  Using a large ball like this one can help some children with inattention issues by promoting a postural reaction to a moving surface and heavy work input.

A calming corner can be a space to use these types of exercises.

Attention and Focus Exercise

Attentional Flexibility, also known as Flexible Thinking, refers to the capacity to shift focus during a task, contemplate things from a novel or diverse perspective, adapt to alterations, adjust in problem-solving scenarios, and integrate fresh information into plans or ideas. This cognitive skill involves various aspects of executive function (EF) such as working memory, attention, shift, praxis, metacognition, and more.

Here’s one example of a mental flexibility exercise:

  1. Copy or repeat a series of letters: tspjkl.
  2. Add these sets of numbers: 3 and 1, 6 and 2, 8 and 4.
  3. Subtract the paired numbers.
  4. Arrange playing cards facing up on the surface: Flip over all the cards with even numbers.
  5. Next, flip over all the cards with odd numbers.

Observe for seamless transitions between tasks. Keep a record of the number of errors. Document instances of verbal prompts (e.g., “Have you completed the task?”) and physical prompts (e.g., pointing gestures).

This task is designed to assess and enhance attentional flexibility, a crucial component in cognitive functioning.

stability ball exercises for focus and attention

Sensory Ball Exercises for Focus and Attention

We’ll go through a few different exercises to improve focus and attention below. Some of these are sensory motor exercises, designed to get the individual to a calm and regulated state.

Others are cognitive exercises that support attention and focus.

Sensory Ball Activity for Attention

You can use the proprioceptive and vestibular input of a sensory ball or therapy ball in core body strengthening.

A sensory ball is also known as a stability ball, a therapy ball, or a yoga ball. Essentially, we are talking about a large ball that you can sit on or use in movement activities.

When it comes to theory, a stability ball or a sensory ball is used as a tool in offering sensory input. Sensory input means there is nourishment for the brain, according to Ayres sensory integration theory. This occurs through the sensory systems: tactile, proprioceptive, vestibular.

A tool like a stability ball can provide input. Ayres goes on to say that sensory integration is the “organization of sensation for use”. In our case, the use we’re talking about is attention during learning or functional participation.

Inattention can be a result of core weakness of the body.  The core is the child’s trunk and midsection and is needed for support and ongoing positioning in functional tasks.  

With a weak core, a child may slump in their seat, or have trouble maintaining and changing positions.  Exercises like these with a ball can help work on the core muscle strength to help the child focus and attend while writing, cutting, and learning.

Incorporating stability ball exercises that leverage both vestibular and proprioceptive input can be beneficial for promoting balance, gross motor coordination, and overall stability.

Here are some therapy ball exercises that integrate these sensory systems of proprioception and vestibular input:

  1. Seated Bouncing:
    • Sit on the stability ball with feet flat on the ground.
    • Gently bounce up and down while maintaining a stable posture.
    • This activity provides both vestibular and proprioceptive input.
  2. Ball Rolls:
    • Lie on your stomach over the stability ball.
    • Place your hands on the floor and use them to roll the ball forward and backward.
    • The rolling motion engages both vestibular and proprioceptive systems.
  3. Balance Challenge:
    • Stand with one foot on the stability ball.
    • Try to maintain balance for a set duration.
    • This exercise combines proprioceptive and vestibular challenges.
  4. Sitting and Reaching:
    • Sit on the stability ball and reach for objects placed at different heights.
    • This engages both proprioception and vestibular input as you shift your body position.
  5. Stability Ball Squats:
    • Stand with the stability ball between your lower back and a wall.
    • Perform squats by bending your knees and lowering your body.
    • This exercise provides proprioceptive input while enhancing stability.
  6. Rolling Planks:
    • Assume a plank position with your hands on the stability ball.
    • Roll the ball in different directions while maintaining a stable plank.
    • This challenges both vestibular and proprioceptive systems.
  7. Stability Ball Circles:
    • Sit on the ball and make circular movements with your hips.
    • This activity engages the vestibular system while promoting core stability.
  8. Knee Tucks:
    • Start in a plank position with your shins resting on the stability ball.
    • Pull your knees toward your chest, engaging both core muscles and proprioceptive input.

Super Easy and Fun Movement Exercises

All you need for this activity is a large ball. You could use a Balance Ball
or just grab a bouncy playground ball like this one from your child’s outdoor play equipment.  

We partially deflated our ball and drew a heart on one side using a dry erase marker.  The heart provided a visual prompt for where to sit or push.  It made a fun activity even better as we tried to squish the heart!

Use the ball to sit, bounce, and squash for proprioceptive input and strengthening.

A few core exercises that you can try:

  • Sit on the ball and bounce.
  • Sit on the ball near a wall and have your child pick up their feet.  Use the wall to stabilize.
  • Lay belly down and roll side to side.
  • Lay belly down and roll the ball front to back.
  • Lay belly down on the ball and bounce.
  • Squash the ball against the wall with the child’s chest.
  • Squash the ball against the wall with the child’s back.
  • Stand on the ball against a wall, using the wall for support (use close adult supervision and contact for this one.)

Exercises for Self-Awareness Skills

Another type of exercise for focus and attention are those that offer self-awareness skills. This includes body awareness but also the ability to be aware of listening skills (auditory processing) and speaking skills. This includes the ability to attend to receptive language and carry that attention and focus over to expressive language.

These self-awareness skills include exercises that include crossing the midline. There are many self awareness games as well that support development of this area.

When we are involved in a conversation or other back and forth communication that uses both external and internal feedback, we have active listening. This means we don’t “drift off” during a conversation or learning experience where we need to listen and take in information, and then respond.

You probably can remember a time when you were supposed to be listening to an in-service or a lesson and you’ve felt your eyes and mind glaze over. This happens when we lose attention and drift off in focus. However for students that have this happen on a common basis, we have learning and comprehension issues.

The part of attention that allows us to listen, comprehend, and respond (either with actions or words) is a feedback-feedforward loop. It involves internal thoughts and responses as well as external motor responses. This involves self-talk as well.

Active Listening Exercises

While these exercises are more of an auditory processing activity, you can incorporate movement too. This involves whole body learning.

Auditory attention is a sub-component of attention.

These active listening exercises can be graded up or down, depending on the needs of the individual.

  1. Sound Discrimination Games:
    • Play games that involve distinguishing between different sounds. For example, you can use everyday objects that make distinct sounds and ask the child to identify them.
  2. Auditory Memory Challenges:
    • Create listening challenges that require the child to remember sequences of sounds or words. Start with short sequences and gradually increase the complexity.
  3. Musical Activities:
    • Engage in musical activities like rhythm games, clapping to a beat, or playing simple instruments. These activities can enhance auditory processing and attention.
  4. Listening to Instructions:
    • Provide verbal instructions for various tasks and ask the child to follow them. This can be done through games or daily activities, reinforcing both listening skills and attention. This can include games like Simon Says.
  5. Storytelling with a Twist:
    • Tell a story with pauses and ask the child to fill in the missing parts. This not only improves auditory processing but also encourages active listening. You can also do this with nursery rhymes or fill in the blank song lyrics.
  6. Echo Games:
    • Create echo games where the child repeats patterns of sounds or words. This helps in honing auditory discrimination skills.
  7. Listening Walks:
    • Take the child on a listening walk outdoors. Encourage them to focus on and identify different sounds in their environment. This supports auditory discrimination skills.

 
Try these sensory movement activites and exercises for helping kids learn to pay attention.  Easy ball therapy exercises using proprioception and core muscle strengthening with a frugal and easy alternative to a therapy ball.  Occupational Therapy tips for kids.
 



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Try these sensory movement activites and exercises for helping kids learn to pay attention.  Easy ball therapy exercises using proprioception and core muscle strengthening with a frugal and easy alternative to a therapy ball.  Occupational Therapy tips for kids.
 



 
 
Try these sensory movement activites and exercises for helping kids learn to pay attention.  Easy ball therapy exercises using proprioception and core muscle strengthening with a frugal and easy alternative to a therapy ball.  Occupational Therapy tips for kids.
 
Other exercises for focus and attention can be specifically play-based. Here are some ideas: 
 
 
Coke bottle water xylophone Teach kids to tie their shoes the fun way egg carton craft Creative Pencil Grasp Activities Organization, Attention, and Sensory Processing

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 contact@theottoolbox.com.

Christmas Mindfulness

Picture of Christmas tree with arrows on ribbons and text reading "Christmas mindfulness activity"

If Christmas mindfulness is something you would like to achieve this holiday season, we’ve got a seasonal strategy for you. This deep breaths Christmas tree is a deep breathing exercise that is sure to be a go-to Christmas season mindfulness activity that supports self-regulation needs for kids and families. Use this holiday sensory tool along with our breathing star.

Christmas mindfulness

Christmas Mindfulness

This time of year, most of us knee deep in holiday planning, prep work, and to-do lists! Having a few mindfulness for kids tools up your sleeve is a good idea this time of year. Today, I wanted to provide some tips on mindfulness during the holidays.

For our kids with self-regulation needs or emotional regulation challenges that impact learning, emotions, anxiety, or worries, the holiday season can be a time of even more concern.

Over the holidays, school and routines are off. There may be late nights at holiday parties, parents out for work events, unfamiliar family and friends visiting, new sights and sounds. All of this sensory input and environmental input can put a regulation system on overdrive.

Then, in the school environment, there may be school parties, special events, and special themed days. The classroom Christmas party (or winter party) can be cause for sensory overload for some kids. Picture a classroom full of excited children at the end of a semester. The noises, sights, and environmental input can be just too much.

In the community, there is holiday music, crowds, and a sense of excitement in the air. This can be a reason all its own for Christmas mindfulness tools.

Then imagine the child with regulation needs at a family party with unfamiliar guests, a scratchy sweater, strange smells, and lots of noise. A Christmas mindfulness tool that the child can pull out and use to ease worries or stressors can be a great strategy for this time of year.

Kids are barraged by schedule changes, anticipation of holiday events, later bedtimes, holiday travel, parent/teacher stress, increased sugar…and more. They feel these big feelings and can “lose it”, seemingly at the drop of a hat. Children can melt down in front of our eyes. This time of year perhaps especially, there is SO much going on inside those little bodies and minds. Focusing on mindfulness and coping strategies can help.

I mean, think about it this way: We as adults are totally stressed out by deadlines, shopping lists, travel, extended family, holiday budgets, and the never-ending to-do lists.

Our kids see that stress and anxiety.

Think about our kiddos with sensory struggles. They are bombarded by lights and music, hustle and bustle in the grocery store, shopping mall, and even by the neighborhood lights. The later bedtimes and influx of sensory input is a challenge to process for them. It’s overwhelming and exhausting.

Think about our students with praxis or motor issues. There are crowds to navigate, auditorium stages to maneuver and they need to do it FAST. There are schedules to maintain and growing to-do lists!

And that’s just the beginning. All of our kids…no matter what their strengths or needs be…struggle with the change in routines, the adult stress, anticipation, holiday projects, gift giving issues, that extra sugar from holiday sweets, itchy holiday sweaters and scratchy tights, or mom’s stress from holiday traffic.

That “iceberg” of underlying issues and concerns is a holiday version that leads to emotional breakdowns, poor coping skills, and sensory meltdowns.

Now, think about the kiddo with executive functioning challenges. They can’t plan ahead or prioritize tasks when they have a holiday letter to write, a classroom sing-along to practice for, and Grandma’s house to visit next weekend. It’s hard for them to function when their routine is off kilter and anticipation is high.

There are so many benefits to mindfulness, and supporting kids in this way makes a huge impact. Having a few Christmas themed mindfulness strategies on hand could make all the difference when it comes to experiencing all that this season has to offer.

Christmas Mindfulness Activity

Below, you will find a Christmas mindfulness activity and some coping strategies to address the holiday stress. This mindfulness tool goes along well with our Pumpkin deep breathing exercise, and Thanksgiving mindfulness activity.

Christmas mindfulness activity for kids during the holiday season.

When we think about the holidays from the perspective of a child. Having a set of mindfulness activities for kids is a great way to fill their toolbox with strategies they can use each day.

Essentially, the post urges us to be mindful of the child’s thought process, emotions, and coping strategies this time of year.

Holiday Mindfulness

Below, you’ll find a printable Deep breathing Christmas tree printable that kids can use to support regulation needs. It offers relaxation breathing as a sensory tool.

Print off the sheet and trace along the arrows as the user breathes deeply in and out. This calm and centering visual tracking paired with deep breathing can help the user to focus with mindful breathing.

Mindful breathing is helpful in calming heart rate, easing anxious thoughts, and helping the user to focus on one thought rather than the many thoughts that may be running through their head.

You can even pair the visual Christmas mindfulness breathing tool with visualizations.

  • Ask the user to visualize a calm space with a lit Christmas tree in a dimly lit room.
  • Ask the user to visualize a calm space rather than the hustle and bustle that may be happening around them.
  • Invite the user to imagine deeply breathing in the scent of a Christmas tree and breathing out the same scent as they empty their lungs.
  • Invite the user to picture the worry and anxiety slowly releasing from their body as they move down the slopes of the Christmas tree.
  • Pair the deep breathing with thoughts of things that remind you of peace and love (for example) for with each breath.
  • For each layer of the tree, kids can concentrate on one thing, person, or aspect of the holidays that they are grateful for. Thinking about whatever it is that you are grateful for is a simple way to pair the benefits of slow deep breaths with intentional thoughts.

Focus on breath control as the user breaths in and out.

Then, show the user how to carry over this Christmas mindfulness strategy using a real Christmas tree.

  1. After using the printable Christmas tree deep breathing exercise, they can look at a real Christmas tree and trace the lines of the tree’s sides with their eyes as they breathe in and breathe out.
  2. Ask them to trace an imaginary Christmas tree, or triangle shape on the palm of their hand using the pointer finger of their other hand.

This becomes a Christmas mindfulness tool that they can use any where and any time even without the printable exercise.

Christmas mindfulness activity

Christmas COping Tools

This holiday season, I wanted to fill your toolbox with the tools your little one (or client/student) needs to thrive.

These are the strategies and tips we can use to slow down, take a deep breath, and recognize the underlying issues going on behind behaviors, meltdowns, and frustrations.

Because when you have the tools in place, you have a blueprint for success in the child.

Here are some holiday tools that can help both YOU and a CHILD struggling with all that this time of year brings…

Christmas Mindfulness

This is a coloring page. Use it as a handout or home program. Kids can color it in and work on fine motor skills, too!

Use the Christmas mindfulness handout with kids as a group or individually. You can set this up in several ways. Ask them fist to list out some things they are grateful for. Then, quietly say an item with each breath break.

As a mindfulness group activity, use the Christmas tree graphic and explain that they will be pairing deep breathing with a focus on love or peace. Come up with a list of things the group loves about the holidays. As you work through he deep breathing exercise, the children in the group can focus on things that brings them peace personally.

Or, you could invite the child to think in their head about some things that remind them of the holidays and then with each breath in, they intentionally concentrate on that thing/person/idea.

More Christmas Mindfulness Strategies

Here are more coping tools for kids that focus on addressing underlying needs so that kids can function. Use these strategies as part of a sensory diet or within the day.

The thing about mindfulness is that the tools that support needs will differ for every individual. During the holiday season, there are ways to support mindful needs with the holidays in mind:

All of these are self-regulation strategies with a holiday theme and can be a powerful tool when it comes to supporting emotional and sensory needs during the holidays.

Mindful Christmas

Having a mindful Christmas can mean being aware of stressors or things that add a sense of dysregulation.

During the holiday season, the connection between mindfulness and self-regulation becomes even more crucial, especially for children and therapy providers navigating the potential stress, anxiety, and worries associated with this time. Mindfulness practices offer a valuable toolkit for managing these challenges:

Stress Reduction: The holiday season can bring added stress, but mindfulness provides a means to cultivate a calm and centered state, helping both children and therapy providers navigate and mitigate holiday-related stressors.

Emotional Regulation: Mindfulness practices, tailored for children and therapy providers, become essential tools for recognizing and regulating emotions heightened by holiday-related pressures. This contributes to a more emotionally balanced experience.

Anxiety Management: Mindfulness techniques, such as mindful breathing or guided imagery, can be powerful allies in managing anxiety. They provide a practical and accessible way for children and therapy providers to alleviate anxiety during the holiday hustle.

Worry Coping Strategies: The mindfulness approach of observing thoughts without judgment is particularly helpful in addressing worries. Children and therapy providers can utilize mindfulness to create a mental space to acknowledge concerns and develop effective coping strategies.

Enhanced Focus and Presence: Mindfulness helps maintain focus on the present moment, preventing holiday-related worries from overwhelming the joy of the season. This is especially beneficial for therapy providers supporting children, ensuring they are fully present during sessions.

Cultivating Resilience: Mindfulness fosters resilience by promoting adaptability and acceptance. This quality becomes crucial during the holiday season, where unexpected changes or challenges may arise for both children and therapy providers.

Empathy and Connection: Mindfulness practices that emphasize compassion and empathy contribute to a sense of connection. Therapy providers can incorporate these practices to create a supportive and understanding environment for children navigating holiday stressors.

By integrating mindfulness into therapeutic approaches, therapy providers can empower children with valuable self-regulation tools, fostering a positive and mindful experience during the holiday season. The practices not only address immediate stressors but also contribute to building resilience and coping skills for the long term.

Free printable Christmas Mindfulness Printable

Want to grab our Christmas tree mindfulness deep breathing exercise? Enter your email address into the form below. This printable is also available inside The OT Toolbox Member’s Club. Members can log in and head over to our Mindfulness Toolbox where we have this and other Christmas mindfulness printable exercises.

Print off this Christmas breathing activity and start supporting skills. This Christmas coping skills activity can be used on the go while out and about this holiday season, at a family get together, or during school assemblies for the holiday season.

Get a Christmas Tree Mindfulness Coloring Page

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    Wishing you a thriving, stress-free, and functional holiday season for you and those kiddos you serve!

    You will also want to grab a copy of our breathing star, which can be paired with our Christmas mindfulness tool.

    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 contact@theottoolbox.com.

    Looking for done-for you therapy activities this holiday season?

    This print-and-go Christmas Therapy Kit includes no-prep, fine motor, gross motor, self-regulation, visual perceptual activities…and much more… to help kids develop functional grasp, dexterity, strength, and endurance. Use fun, Christmas-themed, motor activities so you can help children develop the skills they need.

    This 100 page no-prep packet includes everything you need to guide fine motor skills in face-to-face AND virtual learning. You’ll find Christmas-themed activities for hand strength, pinch and grip, dexterity, eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, endurance, finger isolation, and more. 

    Pumpkin Deep Breathing Exercise for Halloween Mindfulness

    Pumpkin deep breathing exercise

    This Pumpkin Deep Breathing Exercise is the very first visual breathing tool that we created here on the website. We now have many more deep breathing exercises designed to support self-regulation, mindfulness, and brain break needs. We’ve recently updated this Halloween mindfulness activity to include more information on WHY this pumpkin deep breathing strategy works. We’ve also updated the printable to include a pumpkin breathing poster and a pumpkin mindfulness coloring page! This printable deep breathing exercise is a great Halloween Mindfulness mindfulness activity.

    You can get both below or access them in our Member’s Club.

    Pumpkin Deep breathing exercise

    Pumpkin Deep Breathing Exercise

    This Halloween activity is one that I came up with while thinking about our recent Halloween Occupational Therapy activities post. So often, we see kids who struggle with coping strategies and require tools to improve self regulation.

    This can occur at school or at home. What if we could combine a child’s interest in all things Halloween with a deep breathing exercise that can be used as a coping strategy, or a calm down activity?

    That’s where this pumpkin deep breathing exercise comes in.

    This deep breathing exercise uses a pumpkin for a coping strategy for kids that is a calm down strategy this Halloween.

    Halloween Mindfulness Activity

    We’ve created many breathing exercises to calm down kids (and adults) here on the website, and this pumpkin themed mindfulness strategy is just one of the tools in the toolbox.

    So often, parents and teachers ask for strategies to use as a coping mechanism. When kids have coping tools in their toolbox for addressing sensory needs, worries, and getting to that “just right” state of regulation, a self-reflective state can occur.

    Addressing specific needs like sensory overload, worries or anxiety, fears, or nervousness can be as simple as having a set of sensory coping strategies on hand. One way to do this is using mindfulness and positive coping skills like this deep breathing exercises.

    Using deep breathing exercises to support mindfulness and coping skills works for several reasons:

    • When kids are taught about how their body feels and reacts in certain situations, they can self-reflect on past responses.
    • They can better understand who they are and how their body reacts to stressful or sensory situations.
    • By better understanding their states of regulation, they can be mindful of things that may set them off, but better yet, know how to respond.
    • Having a coping strategy on hand can set them up for success in learning or social situations.

    Practicing mindfulness activities and coping strategies can be powerful for kids!

    Mindfulness is the ability and awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations as our body responds or reacts in thought, feeling, and sensations. Mindfulness is being present in the moment in any given situation with full awareness of inward and outward sensations. Practicing mindful awareness through deep breathing exercises is one way to notice how our body is reacting in a given moment and provides a tool to reset. Coping skills for kids may include deep breathing as just one strategy.

    Here are some mindfulness videos on YouTube to help kids better understand what coping strategies and mindfulness in action looks and feels like.

    Deep breathing acts as a coping tactic and a calming activity. It’s an easy coping strategy for kids because taking deep breaths with mindful breathing can be done anywhere and without any equipment.

    Taking controlled breaths with deep breathing can give kids a sense of control that helps them rest and address self-regulation or emotional regulation when they are upset, worried, or feel a need to calm down.

    Halloween Breathing Exercise

    So now that we’ve covered deep breathing and why it’s a helpful coping strategy for kids, let’s talk about a fun Halloween themed coping strategy that kids will love to try.

    The deep breathing printable activity uses a simple picture of a pumpkin, but you can use a real pumpkin, too.

    Use a real pumpkin for more sensory benefits.

    The small decorative gourds or pie pumpkins are perfect for this activity, because kids can hold the small pumpkin in their hands and feel the weight of the pumpkin as they complete the breathing strategy.

    1. Hold a small pumpkin in the palm of your hand.
    2. Use your pointer finger of your other hand to slowly trace up a ridge and breathe in.
    3. Then trace down another ridge and breathe out.
    4. Continue tracing the ridges of the pumpkin while deeply breathing in and out.

    Take the breathing exercise a step further by trace the lines up toward the stem while taking a deep breath in. Hold the breath for a few seconds and then trace a line down another section of the pumpkin while slowly breathing out. Hold that breath for a few seconds. Repeat this process as you slowly trace up and down the sections of the pumpkin.

    What’s happening with this pumpkin breathing exercise?

    Several sensory systems are at work here when using a real pumpkin in this Halloween mindfulness strategy:

    Heavy Work- The weight of the pumpkin on the arches of the palm of the hand= PROPRIOCEPTIVE sensory system.

    Calming Tactile Cues- Engaging the tactile sensory system to trace the ridges of a smooth surface. Think about how some individuals like rubbing specific textures like a silky blanket or the calming strips of a fidget tool. Running a finger along the groove of a smooth pumpkin surface engages that calming tactile input.

    Belly Breathing- Deep breaths combined with a visual focus offers proprioceptive input through the lungs and diaphragm. Engage belly breathing by taking in fully breaths to fully engage the lungs. Then hold the breath for a second or two before releasing the breath. When belly breathing is engaged, the lungs continue to expand for a moment and add further pressure throughout the ribcage and internal organs. This breath control evokes the interoceptive system.

    Bilateral Coordination- When holding the pumpkin and tracing with a finger on the other hand, both sides of the body are at work in a coordinated manner, otherwise known as bilateral coordination. Holding the pumpkin with one hand and tracing with the other hand engages bilateral use of both sides of the body.

    Whether you are using a pumpkin picture or real pumpkin, show kids how to use deep breathing as a coping tool by taking calming breaths while they trace the lines of the pumpkin.

    Pumpkin deep breathing poster and coloring page
    Pumpkin deep breathing poster and coloring page

    Halloween Deep Breathing Poster

    In this newest update to our calming breathing exercise, we created both a pumpkin deep breathing poster and a coloring page.

    1. The poster can be printed out and hung in a classroom, therapy clinic or home.

    2. Use the deep breathing exercise as a brain break during the month of October.

    3. It’s a great tool for using during Halloween parties as a therapist- approved activity that supports underlying needs, too.

    4. Many times, children can become overstimulated during classroom Halloween parties, and the days leading up to Halloween. Use the pumpkin deep breathing visual as a tool for the whole classroom to organize their sensory systems and focus on the learning that still needs to happen.

    5. This printable page is full color and makes a great addition to a calm down corner this time of year.

    6. You can even add the pumpkin breathing poster to our Fall Sensory Stations, and include this in a hallway or therapy clinic this time of year.

    7. One final way to use this pumpkin mindfulness exercise is during the actual trick or treating. Kids with sensory or self-regulation needs can become overstimulated during trick or treating on Halloween. There is a lot of sensory stimulation out there! From lights, to fog machines, children running in the streets, and lots of strangers in the neighborhood, trick-or-treating is an overloading environment for many kids and adults! Print off a copy of this pumpkin deep breathing tool and use it calm down, engage focused breathing strategies, and cope as needed!

    Pumpkin Breathing Coloring Page

    In the new download below, you’ll also find a page that is a pumpkin breathing coloring page. We know there are many benefits of coloring and one is the calming ability that coloring has.

    Adding heavy work by coloring in pages can be a great way to calm the sensory system through heavy work in the hands.

    Print off the coloring page and use it in several ways this time of year:

    • Color in at occupational therapy sessions
    • Use as a whole class activity
    • Kids can color in the breathing exercise page and use them as individual brain break tools
    • Hang the coloring page on a bulletin board for Halloween that explains sensory self-regulation strategies
    • Include in a Halloween party
    Use a pumpkin as a deep breathing exercise for a coping strategy for kids.

    This printable Halloween mindfulness activity supports coping needs.

    Free Pumpkin Deep Breathing Exercise

    Want to get this free Pumpkin breathing exercise in both a color Poster format AND a coloring page? You’ve got it! Just enter your email address into the form below to access both printable pages.

    This resource is also inside our Member’s Club. Members can log into their accounts and download the file directly without the need to enter an email address. The printable pages are located on our Pumpkin Therapy Theme page and our Mindfulness Toolbox.

    Not a member of the Member’s Club yet? JOIN US HERE.

    Pumpkin Deep Breathing Exercise

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      Grab the Pumpkin Fine Motor Kit for more coloring, cutting, and eye-hand coordination activities with a Pumpkin theme! It includes:

      • 7 digital products that can be used any time of year- has a “pumpkins” theme
      • 5 pumpkin scissor skills cutting strips
      • Pumpkin scissor skills shapes- use in sensory bins, math, sorting, pattern activities
      • 2 pumpkin visual perception mazes with writing activity
      • Pumpkin “I Spy” sheet – color in the outline shapes to build pencil control and fine motor strength
      • Pumpkin Lacing cards – print, color, and hole punch to build bilateral coordination skills
      • 2 Pumpkin theme handwriting pages – single and double rule bold lined paper for handwriting practice

      Work on underlying fine motor and visual motor integration skills so you can help students excel in handwriting, learning, and motor skill development.

      You can grab this Pumpkin Fine Motor kit for just $6!

      Halloween Mindfulness Activities

      Use this printable pumpkin deep breathing exercise as a Halloween mindfulness activity. Other printable Halloween mindfulness activities include:

      Halloween Hand Breathing Technique

      We also have a new deep breathing exercise for the Fall or Halloween season. If using a printable to achieve Halloween coping skills isn’t ideal (sometimes you don’t have the printable version with you…or for some kids it might be hard for them to picture a pumpkin as they are coping with some self-regulation needs…), then having another tool in your toolbox is a must.

      We’ve come up with a Halloween Hand Breathing Technique to fit the bill!

      All you need is your hands and fingers to using this hand tracing breathing strategy.

      We talk a bit about using the Hand Breathing Technique for a self-reset to address coping skills, mindset, offset worries or anxiety, and as a deep breathing strategy.

      Check out our video over on YouTube, or you can see it below. If you can’t view the video due to blockers on your computer or device, check out our Pumpkin Hand Breathing Technique over on YouTube.

      To complete the Halloween Hand breathing technique, you can use the same pumpkin deep breathing strategy, but trace a pumpkin on the palm of your hand. We also included a pumpkin tracing task to create a motor plan for the pumpkin shape that is incorporated with deep breaths in and out.

      Have fun!

      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 contact@theottoolbox.com.

      Beach Ball Wiggle Cushion

      beach ball sensory seat

      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.

      As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

      beach ball sensory seat

      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?

      Let’s explain…

      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
      • Other

      However alternatives to seating can be pricy. That’s why having a few DIY flexible seating options are handy.

      Affiliate links are included in this post.

      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 (affiliate link) of different sizes, and even giant therapy balls (affiliate link), 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 seating hack to help kids with attention, fidgeting needs, and sensory vestibular sensory input needs. This sensory hack is perfect for kids with SPD, and neurotypical children, too.

       

      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.  

      Ready?  

      1. Grab a beach ball from your nearest dollar store.  
      2. Inflate it with only one or two breaths.  
      3. 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. 

       Cheap sensory seating hack to help kids with attention, fidgeting needs, and sensory vestibular sensory input needs. This sensory hack is perfect for kids with SPD, and neurotypical children, too.



      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 (affiliate link) to the surface of the seat to keep the beach ball from sliding.

      Cheap sensory seating hack to help kids with attention, fidgeting needs, and sensory vestibular sensory input needs. This sensory hack is perfect for kids with SPD, and neurotypical children, too.
       
       
      Are you looking for more information on Sensory Processing or any of the body’s sensory systems and how they affect functional skills and behavior?  This book, Sensory Lifestyle Handbook, will explain it all.  
       
      Activities and Resources are included.  Get it today and never struggle to understand or explain Sensory Integration again.  Shop HERE.
       

      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 contact@theottoolbox.com.

      Back to School Sensory Activities

      back to school sensory activities

      It’s that time of year and having a few back to school sensory activities up your sleeve can make all the difference in a stuffy, hot classroom when kids need self-regulation tools after a long summer break. Whether you are looking for classroom sensory diet strategies, or sensory strategies for the school-based OT, putting a back-to-school spin on “sensory” is a hit during the Fall months.

      back to school sensory activities

      Back-to-School Sensory Activities

      The back-to-school season is a prime time to dust off those sensory cobwebs and consider how sensory motor input supports students.

      In this blog post, you’ll find a list of ways to support sensory needs using a back-to-school theme. The ideas are great for this time of year when welcoming a new roster of students into the classroom.

      • Our free sensory strategy toolkit is another great resource that supports school-based OTs, educators, and parents of students with sensory needs.
      • You’ll also find many resources, including a printable sensory activity sheet here on this article about calm down strategies for school.
      • These ideas for sensory seekers can be adapted to meet school-based needs (or used in the home for homework time, the after-school period, or homeschooling)

      Why Use Back-to-School Sensory Activities?

      Heading back into the school year can throw some kids for a spin.  The first few weeks can be a change in routine from the safety of home. For kids who are starting up on a homeschool routine, it can be difficult to pay attention when sensory needs and distractions are in the next room. This can lead to self-regulation needs that support the student’s ability to concentrate and learn after a summer off from the routines of school.

      Other reasons for using sensory strategies during the back-to-school season include:

      • Earlier wake-up times after a summer of staying up late and sleeping in. A quick sensory motor brain break can make all the difference.
      • A new routine may throw some students for a loop.
      • The transition period can be a real challenge for some children. It might be the early alarm clock or using time management in the morning that is a challenge. For other kids, moving to a new school, or even just going back to the classroom in general can be a challenge. Try these transition strategies to support these needs.
      • Distractions and Technology: With the prevalence of screen time in kids, and the use of technology/devices, students may find it difficult to focus on schoolwork without being distracted by social media, video games, or other online activities. A quick sensory break can help with attention and distractions.
      • Social-emotional needs: Social emotional dynamics can change over the summer, and students may feel pressure to fit in or establish their social identity when school resumes. This pressure can affect their self-esteem and confidence. The ability to regulate emotions might lead to challenges with learning due to the emotional regulation and executive function connection.

      You may have a child of your own that “crashes” after a week of school during this time of year. There is a lot happening that is just exhausting during the return to school. Sometimes, all it takes for an easy transition into the back to school days is a sensory strategy that meets the needs of the sensory child. Let’s explore these ideas below…

        Classroom sensory activities and sensory strategies for back to school or throughout the school year.

       
       
       

       

      back to school sensory ideas and strategies for the classroom that teachers can use with sensory kids.




      Back-to-School Sensory Ideas

      These sensory activities are ones that can easily be used in the classroom or homeschool room.  They are strategies that can be incorporated into the student’s daily routine within the school environment.  

      These school sensory activities are presented in list form for ease and planning, but they can be used in a classroom sensory diet or in various strategies.  

      The ideas below are ones that easily allow the child to meet their sensory needs in a natural way, so that it is not an interruption to the classroom or other students.  

      Rather, some of these sensory strategies are movement and heavy work-based ideas that can easily be adapted for the whole classroom for brain break type of activities. 

      As always, these sensory ideas are ONLY ideas and should be regarded as a reference.  Every child is different and has different sensory needs.

      The ideas presented below are not regarded as Occupational Therapy treatment and should only be used in addition to and along with an individualized Occupational Therapy plan made following assessment. 

      Sensory Activities for Back to School

      This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

      1. Wall Push-Ups- Show the student how to push against the wall while doing “push-ups” from a standing position.  This is a great heavy work activity, or a quick “brain break” activity that provides proprioceptive input for heavy work for improved focus, calming, and self-regulation.

      2. Desk Fidget- Use a DIY fidget or a store bought hand fidget toy (affiliate link) to allow the child tactile sensory or proprioceptive input to the hands for improved attention and focus while sitting and performing desk work.

      3. Chair Push-Ups- Allow the child to push up from the seat with his arms, keeping the elbows strait.  Pushing up through the arms provides proprioceptive heavy work through the upper body.

      4. Move desk/furniture.

      5. Erase the chalkboard or dry erase board.

      6. Sensory errand- Carry milk crates or plastic bins full of books or supplies from center to center around the classroom or from room to room in the building. Some schools have an “important message” to other classrooms or the office in the form of a folder. Just moving, taking a quick walk through the hallway, to deliver a note or other message can offer a much-needed sensory break. For more heavy work input, add a tote bag filled with books or ask the student to push a cart with materials.

      7. Shoe laces fidget-  Add a couple of beads to the child’s shoe laces for a fidget toy that can be used discretely while sitting in floor circle time or during desk work.

      8. Manual Pencil Sharpener-  Turning and sharpening pencils with a manual pencil sharpener provides proprioception to bilateral upper extremities.  This can be a good task prior to writing tasks.

      9. Backpack for carrying supplies from room to room-  Students can carry supplies to other classrooms in a backpack for heavy input.  This can be a calming strategy while walking the hallways to other areas in the school as well, such as while walking to the lunch room or special classes. The hallway can be an overwhelming and high-sensory environment so deep pressure to center the child can be helpful.

      10. Stapler heavy work- Staple paper or remove staples from a bulletin board for upper body proprioceptive input.


      11. Sensory seat- Air cushion seating such as a wiggle seat cushion (affiliate link) or a frugal, DIY version using a $1 wiggle seat cushion option. Here are more ideas for alternative seating options and even some DIY flexible seating ideas.

      12. Place chairs on rugs.  Sliding chairs on classroom floors can lead to auditory overload for some sensory kids.  Try using carpet squares under each individual chair.  When the child pushes his chair out, he can slide the chair right on the carpet square out from the desk.  

      13. Hallway March-  Get the whole class involved in a “walk this way” activity.  They can march from the classroom to specials or the lunchroom.  Try other brain break and whole body movements while walking in the line down the hallway, too: Try high knee lifts, toe walking, heel walking, elbows to knees, and patting the knees while walking.

      14. Sports bottles for drinking- Sipping water through a long straw or sports bottle (affiliate link) can allow the students to focus and attend given proprioceptive input through the mouth. This is a great whole classroom strategy for helping with attention and self-regulation. Read more about using a water bottle as a sensory tool.

      15. Movement breaks in the gym or classroom- A quick brain break can help kids focus during periods of desk work.

      16. Push mats in the gym- Moving those big gym mats is a great whole body proprioception activity. Or, ask students to move desks or other equipment that uses the whole body.

      17. Auditory support- Headphones for limiting auditory stimulation during center work or times when there is a lot of chatter in the classroom. Here are more tips for auditory sensitivity in the classroom.

      18. Visual picture list- Knowing what to expect is a non-traditional sensory strategy. But when you think about it, the visual input is a support when it comes to knowing what is next, how much time is left until lunch, and how much longer the day will last. A visual schedule can be a benefit for the whole classroom.  Try this daily pocket chart schedule. (affiliate link)

      19. Simon Says Spelling-  Try practicing spelling words with a movement and vestibular sensory input Simon Says version. Try these Simon Says commands if there are a few extra minutes to use up during the school day or between transitions.

      20. Play dough math for proprioceptive input through the hands.  Try a math smash type of activity and use a heavy resistive dough like this DIY proprioception dough. There are many benefits of play dough and sensory input is just one of them!

      21. Kneaded eraser for sensory input through the hands- Use a kneaded pencil eraser (affiliate link) for a hand-held fidget that doubles as an eraser with proprioceptive input.

      22. Crunchy snack break- Try snacks like pretzels, crackers, kale chips, popcorn, or roasted chickpeas for an alerting snack. Oral motor exercises offer calming or alerting input and using a crunchy (or chewy) snack can support these needs.

      23.  Sensory bin for math or sight words-  Create a sight word sensory bin or even use a sensory bin for math or spelling words. This can be a fun and unexpected way to dive back into spelling after the summer break! Add tactile sensory input to learning using a variety of sensory bin fillers.  Ideas include shaving cream, shredded paper, crafting pom poms, among many other ideas.

      24. Vibrating pen rainbow writing for sight word or spelling practice-  Proprioceptive input to the hands can be very helpful for many kids, especially if they are writing with too much pencil pressure.

      25. Jump/move/hop in hallway- Take a movement and brain break with a hallway movement activity.  Add learning aspect with spelling, facts, or math.

      26. Roll a ball on the legs-  Add a vestibular aspect to vocabulary or themed learning, including history, English language arts, or science.  Kids can answer questions and when they answer the question, they roll the ball along their legs by bending down to roll the ball on their thighs.

      27. Hopscotch Math-  Add a hopping proprioception activity to the classroom with a hopscotch board created right in the classroom using masking tape.

      28.  Graph Paper Writing-  Add a visual sensory twist to handwriting, math, spelling, or any written work by using graph paper.  The added lines can be just the visual spatial prompt needed for kids with visual sensory processing concerns. Here are more sensory based reasons to use graph paper.

      29. Make a desk sensory diet box-  Use a dollar store pencil case to create customized sensory diet bins that can fit right into the desk. Items would be used specific to the child’s needs, but might include resistive putty, paper clips for fidgeting, or movable toys (affiliate link). Use these occupational therapy kits for more ideas.

      30. Wash desks with spray bottles. Squeezing a spray bottle to wash desks or water plants offers heavy work through the hands.

      31. Cut classroom decorations from oaktag. Heavy input through the hands by cutting thicker paper is a great way to add a quick and functional movement break. Students will love to see their handiwork on the walls, too.

      32. Create a calm down corner in the classroom This can include fidgets, mindfulness centers, books, and many more sensory tools. Plus try these other calm down strategies for school.

      33. Try a sensory swing- Sensory swings for modulation can be used when applicable and recommended by an occupational therapy provider. Sometimes, you’ll see these in a sensory room or in a therapy room in the school. Here is more information on types of sensory swings.

      34. Use the playground! Getting those students outside can make a great sensory movement break. Check out how to use the playground for sensory input and read this resource on sensory diets at the playground.

      All of these ideas support sensory needs and are great activities to use during the back-to-school time. We love that they are fun, functional, and the whole classroom can benefit!

      Want more ideas to support sensory needs at school? Grab a free copy of our Classroom Sensory Strategy Packet.

      Free Classroom Sensory Strategies Toolkit

        Are you interested in resources on (check all that apply):
        We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

        Related resources include our blog post on Ayres Sensory Integration. This is a great place to start with gathering information on the sensory processing systems and the related behavioral, emotional, physical, and cognitive responses that we see.

        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 contact@theottoolbox.com.

        The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook walks you through sensory processing information, each step of creating a meaningful and motivating sensory diet, that is guided by the individual’s personal interests and preferences.

        The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is not just about creating a sensory diet to meet sensory processing needs. This handbook is your key to creating an active and thriving lifestyle based on a deep understanding of sensory processing.

        Sensory Strategies for Road Trips

        road trips for sensory kids

        To the child with sensory sensitivities, a family road trip can mean sensory overload. Summer break brings long car rides as the family road trip is an essential during the summer months. But how do you prevent sensory dysregulation on a long car ride? In this blog post, you’ll find sensory strategies for road trips including ideas for road trip tips for kids with sensory issues and an oral motor sensory break that helps with sensory needs during car rides.

        Get ready for your next road trip while addressing sensory needs!

        sensory strategies for family road trips

        Sensory Strategies for Family Road Trips

        Surviving a long family road trip when a member of the family has sensory sensitivities can make a long car ride challenging. For those with sensory processing disorder, Autism, ADHD or other neurodiversities, sensory sensitivities can make long car rides difficult.

        Preparing in advance to support the sensory sensitive individual can make all the difference! In fact, the sensory strategies listed below can support any individual, as we all have differing sensory needs.

        These sensory activities for car rides can be used for any age. This is a plan to have in place to prepare for the long car ride when sensory processing needs impact the ability to sit in the car to get to the destination.

        • Create a sensory story to talk about the trip in advance. Use the travel sensory story to guide use of sensory tools during the road trip.
        • Pack preferred sensory tools. These items can be placed in the vehicle or alongside the child while travelling so they can access the sensory tools during the roadtrip. 
        • Movement breaks! Stopping in advance of breakdowns is critical. Plan out stops in advance so you know when the next stop is. If possible, plan out stops according to location. Use local playgrounds as areas to run and play during road trip stops.
        • Chew on a straw
        • Plan on brain breaks at stops
        • Blow through a straw
        • Play car games such as I Spy, or find items in the scenery and make a story.
        • Create a sensory lifestyle with built-in sensory breaks based on motivation and meaningful activities (outlined in our Sensory Lifestyle Handbook)
        • Eat crunchy snacks like pretzels
        • Offer chewy snacks like beef jerky, dry raisins/cranberries, or fruit leather
        • Drink a smoothie through a sippy cup with a straw-type top
        • Make a DIY road trip busy bag.
        • Use a “crazy straw” in a cup.  The smaller opening is great for oral motor input.
        • Make a sensory kit with fidgets or other sensory tools
        • Play “Simon Says” with mouth exercises: Suck cheeks in/puff cheeks out/Make a big “O” shape/Stretch out the tongue. You’ll find many on our Simon Says commands blog post.
        • Chew gum
        • Create a sensory diet specifically for the trip
        • Use a straw to suck and pick up pieces of paper.  Transfer them carefully to a cup using only the straw.
        • Weighted blanket or throw
        • Make a chewy snack holder (below) along with the kids to plan for sensory needs during the long car ride.
        • Use a partially deflated beach ball as a sensory cushion on the floor. The individual can move their feet on the wiggle cushion.
        sensory strategies for road trips.

        Oral motor sensory break for road trips

        If you’ve ever taken a road trip with kids then you know how nerve wracking a long trip can be for the kids and the parents.  Long road trips with the family are definitely fun.  They are certainly stressful and chaotic times with sibling love and revelry, but definitely memory-making.  Whether you have one child or 6, a road trip involves planning, especially when sensory needs are at play.

        You prepare the books, the activities, the snacks, the music, or videos.  You can prep it all, but no matter what, there will be craziness that only kids can bring. There are the potty emergencies that happen 20 minutes after you left the rest stop.  There are the drink spills that saturate the car seats.  There are spilled toys and fights that break out among sisters.  But through it all, you’re plowing 65 miles an hour to memories.  

        But, when all of this chaos is happening, you can take mini-sensory breaks that will give the kids a chance to calm down the fidgets and the wiggles.  

        As an occupational therapist in the school-based setting, I often times made recommendations to parents and teachers for kids who needed to move during the span of a class or school-day.  

        Unfortunately, when you are travelling long distances in a car on a road trip, you can’t always stop and get out to move and stretch.  There are definitely times that a rest stop is needed and those are the perfect times for kids to get out of the car and run a bit.  

        But, when you are stuck in a van or car for a while, sometimes kids just need to have a sensory break.  This is true for typical kids or kids with sensory processing disorders (and parents, too)!

        We made these snack bottles to help with calming sensory input using Twizzlers Twists.  

        Sensory Processing Disorder (and types of sensory needs, outlined in our Sensory Lifestyle Handbook) in children can present with many different sensory needs due to difficulties with modulating sensory input.  

        The long car ride of a family vacation can cause sensory overload or a lack of sensory input to kids who need help regulating input. Whether a child with sensory processing disorder is sensory seeking, under-responsive to sensory input, or sensory defensive, oral motor sensory integration activities like chewy beef jerky sticks, twizzlers, licorice chews, or fruit leather can help.  

        The repetition of chewing a licorice twist can help to calm and regulate sensory needs.  

        Related, please check out our resource on Ayres Sensory Integration for an understanding on the theory of what is happening in our sensory systems.

        Oral motor sensory input for kids with sensory processing disorder or typical kids who need a sensory break and proprioceptive input during long car rides.
         
         
         
         

        How To make a Road Trip Sensory Snack

        With kids, a road trip almost guarantees a messy car with crumbs and spills.  We wanted to create a container that would hold our Twizzlers  or licorice twists and keep the mess on the lower end.  A cute container is bonus, so we pulled out the ribbons and glue gun.  

        These snack holders will keep our Twizzlers or fruit chews ready for kids (and the parents) that need a quick sensory break during a long trip:

        Oral motor sensory input for kids with sensory processing disorder or typical kids who need a sensory break and proprioceptive input during long car rides.

         

        Gather a few tall plastic jars from the recycle bin.  We used recycled peanut jars and loved that the lids coordinated with our Twizzlers Twists!  

        Grab a strand of ribbon and the glue gun to make these jars something special.

        Oral motor sensory input for kids with sensory processing disorder or typical kids who need a sensory break and proprioceptive input during long car rides.
         
        Cut the ribbon to fit around the jar.  Using the hot glue gun, attach the ribbon.  You can layer on colors, or get the kids involved in decorating by using decorative tape or even permanent markers to decorate the snack containers.
         
         
         
        Now you’ll need Twizzlers candy.  We grabbed our Twizzlers Twists and  Twizzlers Pull N Peels along with all of the other must-haves for our vacation.
         
        Oral motor sensory input for kids with sensory processing disorder or typical kids who need a sensory break and proprioceptive input during long car rides.
         
        Fill the containers with Twizzlers Twists and Twizzlers Pull N Peels.  They are ready to grab and go on your next road trip with the family!
         
        Oral motor sensory input for kids with sensory processing disorder or typical kids who need a sensory break and proprioceptive input during long car rides.
         
        Oral motor sensory input for kids with sensory processing disorder or typical kids who need a sensory break and proprioceptive input during long car rides.

        More Sensory Strategies for Road Trips

        You’ll find more tools to survive Summer road trips with a sensory sensitive child that meet the interests of the child in our book, The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook. The book supports interests and motivating activities that occur naturally during the day to day tasks like a long car ride!

         

        The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a comprehensive resource offering a strategy guide to create sensory diets and turn them into a lifestyle of sensory success!

        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 contact@theottoolbox.com.

        Forest Sensory Path

        forest sensory path

        If taking a break is a must, but getting outside is tricky, then this Forest Sensory Path hits the mark! We’ve created another fun printable to our collection of free sensory paths with all of the calming benefits of nature and being in the woods. This printable forest sensory walk is perfect for bringing the calming input of nature into the indoors. Be sure to read this resource on sensory nature walks to read up on those calming and organizing self-regulation benefits of woods and nature.

        Forest sensory path printables

        Forest Sensory Path

        It seems life is getting more chaotic since the pandemic.  This may stem from isolation, lack of exposure, too much electronic use, stressors, or a sudden thrust back into “real life”.  Compounding this is the fact that learners do not know how to combat these environmental stressors, or self regulate.  It seems learners need instruction on how to take a break. That’s where these Forest Themed Sensory Path stations come in, which provide a structured sensory break, to help reorganize thoughts and body.

        Sensory paths and sensory stations became popular with the addition of expensive stickers set up around the school. These are awesome as a self-regulation activity and to address mindfulness with kids!  If you don’t have the budget or space for these custom stickers, try one of the sensory walk stations offered by the OT Toolbox.

        This month the Forest Sensory Path will fit in perfectly with your fall leaves occupational therapy theme.  Add your email below to be sent this FREE download.

        How does the FOrest sensory path work?

        Sensory activities like this Forest Sensory Walk Station offer tasks to promote body and mind regulation.  The initial response to a learner out of sync is to tell them to calm down. 

        What does “calm down” mean to you?  Adults generally have already figured out appropriate strategies to reduce anxiety, inducing a feeling of calm. 

        Children have no idea what “calm” looks like, because they rarely act this way.  They also lack the ability to calm themselves, or know what to do to slow their body/brain down. Having a strategy, movement, or action to stop, self-analyze, breathe for a moment, and take a break from the environmental or internal input, is a literal break for the brain and body. This is where we get the term brain breaks!

        Sensory stations provide the framework for self regulation.

        Printable Sensory Path: Forest Theme

        This Forest Sensory path combines deep breathing and proprioceptive input with eight different activities.  Proprioceptive exercise is a “go to” input for organizing the sensory processing system and regulating the sensory systems.

        It is alerting for those who are experiencing low arousal, and calming for those who seek additional input to get regulated.

        Connected to proprioception and interoception, deep breathing exercises slow the central nervous system, often elevated during periods of fight or flight responses. 

        The ultimate goal of sensory regulation is self-regulation.  Learners need to understand what strategies work for them, and when they are needed.  Sensory strategies are unique to each learner. 

        Just as adults have different routines they use for concentration and focus, children develop varied strategies. 

        Imagine the additional responsibility teachers take on remembering and learning  the sensory needs of each of their students. 

        When a student can advocate for themselves, this not only helps the student, but their caregivers as well.

        How to use the Forest Sensory Paths?

        • Lowest level learners need to be taken through the walk step by step
        • Middle level learners can be supervised while participating
        • Higher level learners will be able to complete this activity when instructed, or advocate for a sensory break
        • Laminate the page for reusability. This saves on resources.  Caregivers or young learners can help decorate these pages before they are laminated. 
        • Make this part of a larger lesson plan including gross motor, sensory, social, executive function, or other fine motor skills
        • Print in black and white, in color, or on colored paper for different levels of difficulty
        • Project this page onto a smart board for students to learn these activities as a group
        • More or less prompting may be needed to grade the activity to make it easier or harder.
        • Learners can explore other ways they could use this activity 
        • Explore different options for setting up this sensory station.  It could be appropriate in a classroom, hallway, gymnasium, outside the school, or walking into the cafeteria, depending on the needs of your learners

        sensory paths for elementary schools

        Some of the big budget sensory paths are thousands of dollars and require permanent installation over laminate floors. In many cases, getting approval for the purchase of a sensory path in an elementary school is just out of the question.

        The good news is that our printable sensory paths are totally free, AND you can print off the pages and switch out the themes according to the season.

        The other benefit that most therapist users see is that the printable pages can be positioned and placed according to the environment. These sensory path pages can be placed in a page protector sleeve and hung in a hallway. Or they can be laminated and placed in a calm down corner. The options are pretty limitless.

        A few other common questions about using the Forest sensory path in elementary schools or in therapy clinics can include:

        • Do sensory paths work for all learners?  No.  Sensory strategies are not one size fits all unfortunately.  Much of the treatment relies on trial and error.  If the forest sensory stations walk does not calm your learner, it is possible the treatment came too late, after the learner was already shut down.  Some learners are not able to self regulate through all parts of the sensory stations, however it is a great and simple activity for those who do.
        • How long should my learner use a sensory path?  There is no defined time frame for any self regulation strategies.  Some learners calm quickly, needing a diversion from their current state in order to regulate.  Other learners may take several minutes to calm after an upset.  Watch for signs of regulation and calming before suggesting your learner stops.  After the Forest Sensory Station Walk, take note of how long your learner is able to stay regulated.
        • How often should I use a sensory path?  Some learners need a boost of sensory regulation every twenty minutes, while others can go several hours before they need a moment to reset.  Watch for signs of disorganization and jump in with strategies before meltdown occurs.
        • Will a sensory path work consistently every time? Probably not. This worked last week, but not this week.  What happened?  Sensory strategies are not an exact science. Have a large “bag of tricks” in your toolbox to be able to offer several different strategies. 
        • How long will the effects of a sensory path last?  Every learner is different.  A very dysregulated learner may need almost constant strategies for self regulation.  A learner who is more organized and has been practicing strategies for a while, might reap the benefits of this sensory stations for two hours.  A great sensory workout can have long lasting effects.
        • Are sensory paths and sensory stations an evidenced based practice?  Because of the nature of sensory dysregulation and the strategies offered, it is very difficult to get consistent data in this area.  Use your clinical judgment and observations to determine how effective this Forest Themed Sensory Stations Walk is.

        Other Resources from the OT Toolbox

        Free Printable Forest Sensory Path

        Want to add a forest themed sensory path to your therapy toolbox? Enter your email address into the form below. This resource is also available inside The OT Toolbox Member’s Club. Members can log into their account and access this resource in the Forest Animals Therapy Theme area. Not a member of The OT Toolbox Member’s Club? Join us!

        Free Forest Printable Sensory Path

          We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

          Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

          The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook walks you through sensory processing information, each step of creating a meaningful and motivating sensory diet, that is guided by the individual’s personal interests and preferences.

          The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is not just about creating a sensory diet to meet sensory processing needs. This handbook is your key to creating an active and thriving lifestyle based on a deep understanding of sensory processing.

          Understanding Sensory Dysregulation

          Sensory dysregulation

          A term you may have heard when it comes to sensory processing is sensory dysregulation. What does this mean? Are there clues for dysregulation? We all have differing sensory needs, and dysregulation can look like different things for everyone. Have you ever wondered about specific sensory strategies for regulation to support a dysregulated sensory system? We’ll cover all of this in this post.

          Sensory dysregulation

          Sensory Dysregulation

          Remember your last temper tantrum? Do you remember what it felt like to be suddenly so sad, mad, and completely out of control? Most of us probably had our last true temper tantrum more recently than we care to admit.

          A majority of those emotional outbursts were probably exacerbated due to a number of reasons; lack of sleep, poor diet, undesirable environment, discomfort, or pain. Deciphering the difference between a tantrum and sensory meltdown is a must.

          One ongoing debate in the pediatric therapy world is discussing what behaviors are due to sensory-related reactions, and what behaviors are due to something else. How many toddlers (or teenagers!) temper tantrums may actually be related to their sensory experience? If it really is sensory-based, then what are the solutions?

          The OT Toolbox is here to do our best to answer your sensory-related questions. A great first step in determining whether unwanted behaviors are based on sensory experiences, is to learn about what sensory dysregulation is. To get started, here is an article about sensory processing red flags.

          Playing a huge role is understanding self regulation and the ability to select and implement self regulation strategies based on sensory needs.

          what is sensory dysregulation

          WHAT IS SENSORY DYSREGULATION?

          Sensory dysregulation refers to a mind or body state which occurs when the body is out of balance due to experiences in the sensory environment. Think about how sounds, textures, exercise, movement, smells, light, and other input can affect your mood. Sensory dysregulation is the result of either too much or too little stimulation for best functioning or self-regulation.

          For example, overstimulation anxiety can be a result of too much sensory stimulation that results in overwhelming worries or anxiety. This is just one way that the overload of sensory input can impact us.

          Read more about mood and affect and how these terms are connected to sensory dysregulation.

          It’s more than sensory touch and the input we receive through our skin. It’s the inability to regulate sensory input from ALL the sensory systems.

          A key component outcome of sensory dysregulation is self-regulation. There are many ways to define self-regulation, but generally, it is one’s ability to remain at an acceptable level of emotion, energy, behavior, and attention – given the demands of their environment.

           In order to achieve self-regulation, one must also have good sensory regulation. 

          Sensory dysregulation is something that anyone can experience, and most people probably have experienced a level of sensory dysregulation to some degree.

          Everyone has sensory preferences, like how loud they listen to music, or if they enjoy lots of hugs. If your preference is to have less, your systems would become out of balance with the music too loud or people getting too touchy.

          Each of us has our own limits given any situation – but once you are in tune with your body’s needs, you know when it has become too much. When the system is unbalanced, maladaptive behaviors (tantrums) occur, if no coping strategies are implemented. We covered this individualized preferences and nuances of neurodiversity in greater detail in our post on Sensory Diets for Adults.

          People with sensory processing disorder, which is an issue on a larger scale that affects a much smaller portion of the population, feel dysregulated more often and have far less ability to self-regulate. While sensory processing disorders can exist in isolation, they may be most prevalent in those with Autism or ADHD

          One example of dysregulation is the individual with sensory needs dealing with a fire drill. There are a lot of sensory inputs all at once, and navigating that stressor is distressing!

          Check out our resources at the end of this article for great coping tools! 

          WHAT DOES DYSREGULATION LOOK LIKE?

          Sensory dysregulation, much like emotional dysregulation, feels uncontrollable. Something is “wrong” and a person may not know what is causing them to feel “off”, or how to solve the problem. Sensory dysregulation may look and feel similar to emotional or behavioral dysregulation, that can cause temper tantrums.

          The main difference is that sensory experiences are the root cause of the behavioral responses – not social disagreements or the like. It is complicated to tease out whether the issue is behavior or sensory. Look first at the triggers.

          A simpler way to understand of sensory dysregulation, is by breaking it down into two categories: over-responsiveness or under-responsiveness to the environmental stimuli. 

          • Over-responsiveness may look like: sensory avoidant behaviors such as excessive covering of the ears, hiding, avoiding touch, or extreme picky eating. The body may be responding too much to the incoming information. One reaction is to avoided it to, remain at baseline. 
          • Under-responsiveness may look like: sensory seeking behaviors such as excessive or repetitive body movements, touching everything, making sounds, or licking/chewing on non-food items. Pushing other students while waiting in line. The body may be responding too little to typical input, to the point that the seeker looks for more of it to remain at baseline. 

          It is important to begin to recognize sensory over-and-under responsiveness and the role it plays in sensory regulation. Understanding what kind of behaviors a child has, will allow you to choose the right remedy. 

          • Over-responsive → Sensory Avoider → Need for less
          • Solution – calming activities, breathing exercises, variety of activities to slowly increase comfort level 
          • Under-responsive → Sensory Seeker → Need for more 
          • Solution: heavy work, brain breaks, fidget tools, variety of sensory experiences

          Resources from the OT Toolbox for Deep Breathing, Self-Regulation activities, Emotional Learning and Regulation, and the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook are a perfect starting point. 

          SENSORY DYSREGULATION IS NOT: 

          Sensory dysregulation is NOT the same as behavioral or emotional dysregulation, which may look like:

          Not sensory dysregulation:

          • Crying at the store after they were told “no”
          • Pushing their brother after he took their toy
          • Eating all foods but never what the family is eating 
          • Dumping/throwing toys after being told it’s time to clean up 
          • Covering their ears during a fire alarm
          • Screaming after a sibling teased them

          You may be thinking, wait a minute…some of those actions are sensory-based behaviors! 

          You are correct! However, just because something is related to the sensory experience, does not always mean that sensory dysregulation is occurring. 

          As an example; the sound of a fire alarm is loud auditory input, however, covering your ears during a loud sound is a normal response. If there is more of a reaction than that, for instance, if a child is inconsolable or unable to move on after the fire alarm, that may be considered sensory dysregulation.  

          Sensory Dysregulation Symptoms

          When symptoms of sensory dysregulation is in question, you should be asking:

          • What does the environment look like? Feel like? 
          • What is the child communicating with their actions? 
          • When and where does this behavior typically occur? In what similar situations does it not occur? 

          Some behaviors, like pushing, can be tricky to determine if it is sensory or behavior; Look at the trigger. The proprioceptive system can be dysregulated. Is the child pushing for sensory reasons? 

          • Bumping into things during play, crashing often, seemingly unaware of their body? Then they may have some sensory dysregulation going on that is increasing their need for input.  Pushing people who get too close, hugging too hard, or bumping into people, may also be signs of sensory dysregulation.
          • If a child pushes a friend after they did something mean, that is just poor social skills. 

          HOW CAN YOU support Sensory Dysregulation?

          If a child’s sensory system is dysregulated, there is good news: there are many ways to help! There is a catch though – there is no “one size fits all”. Trial and error is the name of the game with sensory interventions.

          Once you and your child find out what works for them and their changing environments, they will have a deeper understanding of themselves, and display improved behaviors in no time! 

          Check out these resources for sensory integration, calming exercises, self-regulation activities, and more! Also be sure to read our blog post on Ayres Sensory Integration for information on the theory behind this process, and how it all works together. It’s fascinating!

          Tactile Sensory Input:

          Heavy Work/ Propceptive Sensory Input:

          Vestibular Sensory Input:

          Combined Sensory Input:

          Deep Breathing Activities:

          Mindfulness:

          If you have tried everything, and are feeling a bit lost, you are not alone! Sensory dysregulation is tricky. It should be considered alongside many other aspects of why a child reacts a certain way. In addition to behavior, emotions, and self-regulation; history, habits, trauma, and mental status can have a powerful influence on actions, too. 

          Keep trying – some things may feel like a roadblocks but there are specific action strategies you can use!

          The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook walks you through sensory processing information, each step of creating a meaningful and motivating sensory diet, that is guided by the individual’s personal interests and preferences.

          The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is not just about creating a sensory diet to meet sensory processing needs. This handbook is your key to creating an active and thriving lifestyle based on a deep understanding of sensory processing.

          Sydney Thorson, OTR/L, is a new occupational therapist working in school-based therapy. Her
          background is in Human Development and Family Studies, and she is passionate about
          providing individualized and meaningful treatment for each child and their family. Sydney is also
          a children’s author and illustrator and is always working on new and exciting projects.

          Sensory Diets for Adults

          Do adults need a sensory diet? Yes!  A Sensory Diet for Adults is just as beneficial as it is for children. Exactly what is a sensory diet? A sensory diet supports the sensory needs of any individual, providing them with a set of sensory strategies used to assist with the regulation of activity levels, attention, and adaptive responses. We ALL have our levels of comfort when it comes to personal bubbles! Looking at this list, adults definitely NEED the ability to self-regulate, organize their sensory systems, and support their sensory and emotional needs. So how can we go about this in the midst of work, parenting, and everything the day brings?

          sensory diets for adults

          How do you create a sensory diet for adults?

          The overall goals of a sensory diet are to meet the sensory needs of an individual by preventing sensory overload, supporting self-regulation, and helping to have an organized response to sensory stimuli. Sensory diets can also help an individual recover from sensory overload, if the preventive threshold has been crossed.

          In order to create the most effective sensory diet, it is important to consider ALL of the senses, which includes proprioception, vestibular, tactile, visual, auditory, gustatory, olfactory, and interoception (more about these later in this post).

          Creating a sensory diet for adults requires consideration of the lifestyle of an adult. The steps include; analysis and identification, strategizing, applying strategies, and monitoring effectiveness, to ensure individual needs are being met. 

          Even for adults, completing a sensory checklist, questionnaire, or survey is important. It will insure all sensory areas are identified, and all interests and preferences are considered when working on the development of a sensory diet for adults.

          Use a sensory journal to track sensory processing

          Another tool to assist in creating a sensory diet for adults, is keeping a sensory diary to help identify personal needs triggers, and dislikes.

          A sensory diary, or a sensory journal, is much like a food journal might be used to figure out food triggers that impact headaches or skin issues.

          Just like a journal to identify what food stimulated a physical change in the body, a sensory journal can be a helpful tool to identify sensory predictions of regulation, organization status, calmness, or ability to participate in every day activities.

          For example, if you are a school field trip chaperone for your kindergartener’s fieldtrip to the musical instrument factory, you might be on heavy overload on auditory input in the way of loud noises, screeching children, a bumpy bus ride. This can put you into a state of headaches, difficulty focusing, disorganized thoughts, emotional state of dysregulation, and overall inability to function for the rest of the day.

          When you look back at your sensory journal, you can see that all of the auditory, vestibular input was very chaotic, abrupt, and unexpected. When you see in your sensory journal that you had a migraine and couldn’t function for the rest of the day and the next day, then it makes sense.

          Scheduling sensory diets for adults

          Knowing these, will aid in the development of an individualized and successful sensory diet. 

          The scheduling of sensory diet activities is an important part of the sensory diet design when attempting to be proactive versus reactive. Scheduling the use of sensory strategies throughout the day will help keep the senses regulated in order to avoid sensory overload.

          At times, this threshold gets crossed, sensory overload ensues, and the reactive stage happens. As an adult, this is bound to happen. The good news is, many preventive strategies can be utilized in the reactive stage as well. 

          If you are seeking a comprehensive resource that can help guide your pursuit of sensory diet creation for success, check out the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook from The OT Toolbox. It will provide you with a strategy guide to create sensory diets for adults as well as children, and incorporate these choices into a lifestyle of sensory success!

          Adult sensory diet strategies You’re probably already doing

          Adults often use sensory strategies to support their needs without even realizing they are doing so. The difference between adults and children is, adults tend to use appropriate strategies. They are not likely to be jumping on the furniture, screaming in a meeting, or licking the furniture.

          Think about the adult who:

          • clicks a pen top frequently while working in the office
          • shakes their foot excessively while seated in the church pew
          • twirls their hair while listening or concentrating
          • snuggles under a heavy blanket when getting home
          • rocks back and forth while seated
          • has to have the TV or radio on in the background
          • chews gum all the time
          • exercises daily without fail

          The OT Toolbox provides information regarding Adults with Sensory Processing Disorder if you want to further explore information on this topic. 

          effective sensory diet strategies for adults

          Sensory diets for adults are similar to ones created for children. They have the same basic design, but some of the strategies are more adult-like in form, and the environment in which they are utilized differs. 

          Recognizing the triggers and stressors that cause sensory dysregulation, will help understand how and when to implement activities, before the point of stress. There are several different sensory products available for adults, as highlighted in this post on the OT Toolbox, that can help with regulation.

          There areas proactive strategies available that can help also.

          sensory activities for adults

          These are activities that can easily be done within an adult setting, to meet targeted sensory needs. There are strategies for each of the senses, as this is key to a well rounded sensory diet.

          Vestibular sensory activities for adults

          Vestibular strategies involve movement for regulation. As the head changes positions, and the body moves, input is regulated in the inner ear. Vestibular input is the building block of all of the other systems.

          Check out the vestibular activities we have here on the site. While these are movement-based play activities for kids, you can see how the different motions impact a state of calmness or alertness.

          These vestibular sensory activities for adults work in the same way:

          • yoga
          • slow rocking in a chair
          • spinning in an office chair
          • sitting on a therapy ball
          • standing at a desk
          • windmill arm exercises
          • stretch breaks
          • brisk walks
          • dancing 

          Proprioception Sensory Activities for Adults

          Proprioceptive strategies involve deep pressure, or heavy work for regulation, as the muscles, tendons, and joints are activated with increased intensity. Deep pressure often has a calming or organizing effect.

          Here on the site we have many proprioception activities for kids, but the main concept is the same. Offering heavy work through the joints offers calming regulatory input.

          Some proprioceptive sensory tools for adults include:

          • push-ups in any form – floor, chair, wall, or desk
          • yoga poses 
          • mindfulness apps
          • Using some of the same breathing exercises that we use with kids
          • squeezing arms and legs
          • weighted lap pad or weighted blanket
          • heavy work- for adults this might be mowing the lawn, gardening, running, etc.
          • self-hugging or massage
          • resistance band exercises
          • therapy putty exercises

          Tactile Sensory Strategies for Adults

          Tactile strategies involve sensory touch stimulation for self-regulation, but it also involves tactile defensiveness too. While some adults crave this input, others respond negatively to touch. For this reason, a personalized sensory diet for adults is important.

          Some tactile strategies for adults include:

          • Sensory brushing protocol (trained by qualified individual), bean bag tapping up and down the extremities
          • calm strips, sequin items, textured clothing, or some other form of texture
          • use of a stress ball
          • Fidget toys…go ahead and pick one up. You’ll see why the kids love them!
          • applying lotion to arms and legs
          • small massager to hands, arms, and legs
          • fidget tools or DIY fidget toys, such as squeeze balls, pop its, clickety gadgets, etc. Amazon (affiliate link:) has an entire fidget toy category for adults!
          • seeking the amount of personal space needed when near others. More or less may be needed depending on the needs of the individual

          Olfactory sensory strategies for adults

          Olfactory strategies involve using the sense of smell or input to the nose to either provide calm or alertness for self-regulation. Some adults have a scent sensitivity that is related to candles, certain oils (even cooking oils), fabric softeners, or allergens. An air freshener allergy is especially common when candles, room freshener sprays, or plug in scents are supposed to be calming and soothing, they are actually disorganizing for your sensory system.

          Again, each person has their own individual needs and preferences, so a customized diet is helpful. Read about the olfactory sense here.

          Consider essential oils and lotions with the following scents:

          • lavender, vanilla, orange, and chamomile to reduce tension or stress and/or promote relaxation
          • citrus, peppermint, cinnamon, and lemon to promote increased alertness and/or concentration
          • coffee beans for a neutral scent to balance other smells
          • try deep breathing strategies (inhale gently and deeply through the nose and exhale gently and slowly through the nose, repeat as often as needed)

          Visual Strategies for adults

          Visual strategies involve visual input for self-regulation.

          • changing lighting: a lamp light for reducing visual input vs. overhead fluorescent light for increased visual stimulation
          • dimmer switch for overhead lighting, to reduce or increase light 
          • reduce or eliminate visual clutter in the setting in all planes, for increased calm
          • paint calming colors on walls for such as blue or neutral colors, and for increased alertness, think orange or red
          • use patterned rugs or curtains for alertness, or more neutral and solid colors for calming
          • work in an open space with views of action within the space for alertness, or go for a partition or desk divider to eliminate visual distractions, for a more calm and focused setting
          • take eye rest breaks when exposed to excessive amounts of computer light
          • consider a computer glare screen, blue blocking glasses, or colored screen filters to block computer lighting, and decrease visual input

          Auditory sensory ideas for adults

          Auditory strategies can reduce or eliminate noise for improved self-egulation in adults. Alternatively, they can add or increase the noise for a sensory seeker.

          • music and the type of music, can be alerting or calming
          • white noise can help provide a constant sound, making it predictable, or be bothersome to more sensitive people
          • earbuds, or ear plugs, can help block out some noise
          • noise-canceling headphones help block out as much noise as possible
          • running water from a fountain or nature sounds can feel calming
          • running fan or another humming-type device
          • foam earplugs to muffle sound without completely blocking it out

          Gustatory Strategies for adult self-regulation

          Gustatory strategies can help to alert or calm individuals, simply by the sensory input provided either through the texture or flavor of the food, or the mouth movement needed to consume it. When considering foods, try to go for healthy options when possible.

          To increase alertness, try crunchy, salty, sweet, sour, spicy, hard to chew, or cold foods and/or drinks. To calm and organize, consider smooth, warm, and softly flavored foods, and/or drinks, as these tend to be more soothing.

          Likewise, different foods and drinks can be calming. Sucking a thick drink through a straw can serve to provide proprioceptive input, being calming or alerting. Iced fluids are more alerting. Warm or hot liquids are generally more calming.

          Consider these for increasing levels of alertness:

          • Crunchy: apple slices, carrot sticks, pretzels, nuts, tortilla chips, graham crackers, or rice cakes
          • Sour: lemon flavor, cranberries, sour candy, green apples, lemonade, and tart cherries
          • Sweet: yogurt, juices, frozen fruit juice pops, smoothies, grapes, oranges, and strawberries
          • Spicy: chips and salsa, cinnamon flavor, peppers, and pretzels with spicy mustard
          • Salty: baked potato chips, salty nuts, crackers, popcorn, and pickles
          • Chewy: bubble gum, gummy bears, dried fruit, jerky, fruit leather, bagels, or granola bars
          • Sucking: sucking a smoothie through a straw or sucking another warmer liquid through a water bottle nozzle
          • Cold: Iced water, ice cream, crushed ice, frozen berries, or frozen sherbet

          Consider these for increasing calm:

          • Soft and/or softly flavored: cottage cheese, peanut butter, avocado, pudding, oatmeal, freshly baked cookies, or applesauce
          • Warm: Hot tea, warm cocoa, or soup

          Interoception strategies for an adult sensory diet

          Interoception strategies involve understanding and feeling what is going on inside of the body.  Understanding how the body feels and how it reacts to certain sensory strategies can help to identify what is alerting and calming to the individual. Consider:

          • Deep breathing
          • Mindfulness activities
          • Yoga 
          • Temperature control
          • Heavy work and alerting activities
          • Understanding of feelings and emotions
          Note: Many of the sensory strategies listed here can be scheduled throughout the adult day, or within the moment of need. If seeking further sensory strategies that might help in the pursuit of sensory diet tools, take a look at the following sensory diet examples

          Sensory Diet Example for Adults

          When it comes to creating a sensory diet for the adult with sensory needs, there are aspects of sensory processing to be considered, in order to integrate sensory diet activities into the day to day functional activities. 

          How can you incorporate sensory input into everyday tasks?

          Essentially, it is important to add movement and sensory options during activities like tedious tasks, waiting periods, or times when self-regulation is essential to the task at hand. Adding the sensory diet strategies correctly into tasks supports needs. The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a great resource to get your started. Can you get up and walk around while on the phone making an appointment? Can you take a minute to stretch and breathe deeply during traffic?

          Here are examples of sensory diet for adults

          • Wake up, stretch at the side of the bed.
          • Start the day: yoga, exercise, cool drink of water with lemon
          • Next: bathroom/hot shower, vigorous towel to dry off, compression clothing
          • Breakfast: steamy coffee, warm milk, soothing foods
          • Transport to work or school: walk or ride to day’s events while listening to calming or alerting music, reading, journaling, listening to podcasts, etc.
          • Movement breaks during the day: use fidgets, get up and move throughout the day, eat a snack, chew gum, schedule standing breaks during the day, use a standing desk, consistent water drinking, listen to alerting music while working, deep breathing, mindfulness apps, silence notifications, use ear pods while working, etc.
          • Afternoon/Evening: go for a walk, read a book, drink tea, grocery shop or complete other tasks while listening to music, call a friend or loved one, listen to audiobooks, calm down yoga, or stretching at night
          • Prepare for next day: write out schedule or to-do lists, doodle, journal, mindfulness strategies, read, watch movies or television (electronics are visually alerting and should be limited close to bedtime)
          • Sleep: Use heavy blanket or weighted blanket, heavy pillows, cool room with fan, noise machine, ear plugs, deep breathing before bed, gratitude journal, camomile tea before bed

          An adult sensory diet is heavily dependent on the lifestyle of the individual, sensory preferences, day to day tasks, and personal preferences. Using these suggestions, a sensory diet can be integrated right into the tasks that need to be accomplished each day.

          The Takeaway to Creating adult sensory diets

          An adult sensory diet is all about discovering what works for an individual, as each person’s needs are unique, and may change over time. It is important the adult get to know themselves and what they need, before making a plan (the sensory diet) to feed their body’s needs, making it simple nutrition for the brain and the body.

          Regina Allen

          Regina Parsons-Allen is a school-based certified occupational therapy assistant. She has a pediatrics practice area of emphasis from the NBCOT. She graduated from the OTA program at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute in Hudson, North Carolina with an A.A.S degree in occupational therapy assistant. She has been practicing occupational therapy in the same school district for 20 years. She loves her children, husband, OT, working with children and teaching Sunday school. She is passionate about engaging, empowering, and enabling children to reach their maximum potential in ALL of their occupations as well assuring them that God loves them!