Fidget Kits for Travel and On-the- Go Sensory

fidget kits

Do you know a kiddo that LOVES all things fidget toys? This Fidget Kit is a DIY Travel Sensory Kit that is perfect for on-the-go sensory needs for kids with Sensory Processing Disorders children or those who are Autistic and prefer sensory fidget items. Let’s cover fidget kits, just one occupational therapy kit that meets specific needs.

Read on for tips to help with sensory issues while out and about, how to use and set up a fidget kit, and why fidget kits are a great sensory tool for self-regulation, a sensory diet (based on meaningful and motivating sensory strategies (aka a sensory lifestyle), or sensory needs. 

Sensory fidget kits

What are Fidget Kits

A fidget kit is essentially a collection of fidgets that can be used to meet sensory needs and can be used as a movement break to incorporate specific sensory motor actions into daily functional tasks. Fidget kits may contain squeeze toys, fidget items, pop toys, putty, slap bracelets, Rubix cubes, stress balls, and many other fidget items. These sensory items can be housed in a box, bin, tote bag, shoe box, or any small carrying case. Fidget kits can be used by occupational therapy professionals with a whole caseload of clients, or a fidget kit can be individualized based on one person’s specific sensory preferences.

Fidget toys support self-regulation and sensory needs so that kids can pay attention, focus, learn, and interact with others. Some fidgets offer heavy work through the hands. Others offer movement for the hands or body.

A fidget kit can be used in many different ways:

  1. A fidget kit can be used in a sensory corner of a classroom as a calm down area.
  2. Or, a collection of sensory fidgets can be used by one individual for meeting various needs.
  3. Other times, a fidget kit is used as a choice, where use of a sensory tool is selected from a bin or bag of sensory fidget items. In this case, a visual schedule may be incorporated into the fidget toolbox.

We’ve shared various collections of fidget toy recommendations here on the website in previous years.

These types of fidget toys are all excellent additions to a fidget kit:

Occupational Therapy Fidget Kits

Occupational therapy practitioners know the benefit of carrying a collection of intervention tools in their therapy bag. They create a collection of materials designed to meet various needs on their caseloads. OTs make handwriting kits, scissor skills kits, auditory kits, functional skills kits, and even themed OT kits, or seasonal kits. Each therapy kit contains materials and activities designed to make therapy sessions fun and innovative. A fidget kit is no different!

Why use fidget kits?

Have you ever been out shopping the day before Christmas Eve when the entire city is packing everything from pineapples to pickles in their carts?  And while you wear your itchy winter coat and drippy boots, the carts bump into aisles, people are talking everywhere, and buzzes, dings, and noise are everywhere.  

It is utterly unorganized chaos.   Now imagine you have difficulty ignoring those beeps and buzzes.  That itchy wool coat is SO there.  The people talk and talk and you hear them all.  The utterly unorganized chaos makes you feel so out of sorts that you can’t help but breakdown, throwing yourself on the floor, and trying to make it all go away.  

Children who live with a Sensory Processing Disorder experience situations like this every day.  It doesn’t have to be a busy holiday for the environment to be too much for their body to organize.  It is everyday life for SPD kiddos.  They over or under process environmental stimulation at the bus stop, in the library, in a restaurant, or while waiting with Mom at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The disruption of typical processing can occur at minor or severe levels, but is always a struggle.     

Use of a specialized sensory diet can help with over or under sensory responses while out and about.  Specific sensory inputs can help to organize these inappropriate sensory responses.

Treatment of Sensory Processing Disorder with a Sensory Diet To treat these responses to input, Occupational Therapists perform an assessment of individual abilities and needs.  Using information from evaluation, they establish a diet of sensory integration activities to organize sensory systems so that appropriate and meaningful responses occur. Function and purposeful responses to sensory input in all settings are the goals of sensory integration and sensory diets.  

A sensory diet is highly specific to the needs of a child with sensory processing disorder.  Sensory diet activities should be specialized to the meet the child’s regulation needs.  Items that are often times found on a sensory diet include activities like wall push-ups, jumping on a trampoline, vacuuming, pillow sandwiches, and kneading play dough (among tons of other ideas!)    But how do you do these sensory diet activities while in a classroom, car, restaurant, or in a while waiting for appointments? 

This is where a fidget kit comes into play, that can help with sensory needs and can go anywhere.

How to set up classroom fidget kits

How to use a fidget kit in schools

When I started working in school-based therapy in 2000, long before the craze of fidget toys, I created a set of fidget kits for each classroom in one school that I served.

As the occupational therapist in this school, I worked with many of the children in various classrooms on my caseload. However, I knew the benefit of using fidget items during specified times in the classroom.

The kits were contained within a clear plastic shoebox with a lid. There would be a list of materials in the kit and a sign out sheet if students removed an item to use at their desk.

Because I knew the students on my caseload in each classroom, and their sensory preferences, I was able to select specific sensory tools to place in each classroom’s fidget kit. Then, I added additional materials that may benefit the general population of the classroom. These items included things like stress balls, a string of paperclips, a bead on a keychain ring, a fidget desk strip, wacky tracks (clicking string of blocks), finger trap, and Koosh ball.

I offered a quick in-service to each teacher on the fidget kit that I created for their own classroom. I introduced the fidget kit, showed them the items in the kit and how to use them, and quickly explained the benefits of using a fidget kit to support attention, focus, sensory, and regulation needs in the classroom.

I explained preferred sensory tools for the students on my caseload and when they may use the materials to best support their education.

I also quickly explained that we all (whether receiving OT services or not) use sensory strategies all day long throughout our day to regulation, to focus, attend, deal with anxiety, or even boredom. For most of us, this fidgeting, or sensory breaks, looks like getting a cool drink of water, standing up after sitting for a long time, taking a deep breath, sitting up strait, stretching, clicking out pen, or jiggling a leg.

Finally, I instructed teachers to use the supports as they deemed fit within their classroom. This way, the kit was used correctly within the classroom.

Consult time with students was spent identifying needs and making changes to the individual student’s items and supports.

At the end of the school year, I collected all of the kits and saved them for the next school year. These sensory kits were a success with every teacher and were requested again at the start of the next school year.

How to make a sensory kit

Sensory fidgeting breaks support learning and paying attention for all individuals and using a kit of fidget tools can support the entire classroom. Plus, another benefit to using a kit with the whole classroom is the normalization of the fidget tools as a generalized support, and using the tools correctly, and not as a means to gain attention. Still other students may feel as if they are being watched when using the fidget tools and when the entire classroom has fidget time, the use is less ostracizing.

The benefit of creating fidget kits for schools is that you can put the items in any container that suits the needs of the students. Some can even travel from classroom to classroom. Try these ideas:

  • Plastic shoe box
  • Mini tote bag
  • Pencil box
  • Pencil pouch

fidget kit

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sensory fidget kit

This travel sensory diet is perfect for on-the-go sensory needs.  We made a small tote bag with fun paint and used it to create a travel sensory diet.  A tote of this size can be slid into a big purse, carried by the child, or carted around in the minivan.  

The best thing about this travel sensory diet is that you can switch out activities so that new regulating items are added in and old favorites remain.    

Travel Sensory Diet Bag for on-the-go-sensory needs

What goes in a fidget Kit?

 A fidget kit can be made up of any sensory motor item!

Some common sensory items include movement based fine motor or activities that offer heavy work through the hands, or Proprioception Activities Related articles: Proprioception and the hands impacts pencil pressure, and can be a great way to add a quick heavy work brain break.

  • Bungee cord or Exercise band.  These can be used by arms or legs while sitting or standing. 
  • 1 pound wrist weight:  This is an important addition to a travel sensory bag.  The weight provides proprioceptive input as the child carries the bag. Sometimes, just carrying the tote bag can be enough to regulate sensory needs. 
  • Other ideas include wearing the weight on the wrist, ankle, placed on the lap, or draped over shoulders.
  • Use the weight of the bag as input: While seated, hang the loop of the handles over a knee for weight down through the calf and into the foot.  Switch legs after a while.
  • Hang the bag on one shoulder, then the other.
  • Hold the loops of the bag by the hand as if carrying a suitcase. Switch hands often.
  • Hold the loops of the bag by individual fingers.

Oral Fidget Items

  • Sugar free hard candy
  • Sugar Free gum
  • Eat dried fruit, bagel pieces, popcorn, pretzels, or raisins
  • Kazoo
    (take the paper out for less noise!)
  • Chew Toy ” or Chew Necklace

Scent Fidget Tools

  • Small bottle of scented lotion

Tactile Fidgets

  • Fidget with sensory koosh balls.
  • Pipe cleaners twisted together make a great fidget toy.
  • Beaded Keychain Friends
    for fidgeting
  • Small Scrub Brush
    (The pictured brush is used in the Wilbarger Brushing Protocol.  An Occupational Therapist should train you in this treatment
  • Baby wipe to wipe the face, arms, hands to “wake up” the skin.
  • Fidget items– The nice thing that is different than in 2000 is that Amazon now has large kits of items available that can be distributed into various smaller kits and recirculated among classrooms.

Vestibular Fidgets

  • Heavy work activity cards
  • Hang the head and arms down between the legs to touch the floor.
  • Arm windmills
  • Twisting walks: Twist at the waist as the child walks.

Other sensory diet ideas that work while on-the-go

These are fidget kit ideas to have on hand that don’t require any equipment. these are sensory strategies that can be “pulled out” anywhere to support attention, focus, emotional needs, or sensory needs.

  • Carry grocery bags.
  • Push shopping carts.
  • Bend over hand hang the head and arms down to the ground.
  • Find a wall for wall push-ups.
  • Hug from a loved one.
  • Chew gum.
  • Drink from a straw.
  • Carry a sports bottle with crushed ice for resistive sucking and chewing ice.
  • March down a hallway.
  • Duck walks.
  • Find stairs and climb them.
  • “Mountain Climb” up a stairwell banister.
  • Use a coat as a sensory wrapper.  Wrap the child up like a sensory burrito with an extra coat.
  • “Prayer Stretch”  Press the palms of the hands together and press hard.
  • “Spider Finger” Stretches” Place fingertips of both hands together and stretch fingers up and down.
  • Spin in a chair (if at a doctor’s office).
  • Chair Push ups.
  • Weighted vest for situations that you know will cause sensory overload.
  • Headphones to cut out background noise.  
Travel Sensory Diet Bag for on-the-go-sensory needs

  This on-the-go travel sensory bag can go everywhere from the doctor’s office with the too-hot waiting room and buzzing fluorescent lights to the hair salon with the noisy dryers and itchy hair clippings.  

Travel Sensory Diet Bag for on-the-go-sensory needs


This post is part of our 31 Days of Occupational Therapy series where you can find free or almost free treatment activities and ideas.  Stop by every day!  You’ll find more fun ideas each day in October.

Looking for more sensory integration ideas?  These are some of my favorite:

Dinosaur-Sized Sensory Feelings and Proprioception Activities

  Oobleck in the Marble Run

Oobleck in the Marble Run

 Alphabet Discovery Bottle

Alphabet Discovery Bottle

Fidgeting During Homework

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.

 
 

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Goals of a Sensory Diet

benefits of a sensory diet
Have you ever had a professional mention the term “sensory diet”?  Have you wondered why a sensory diet would be used with kids?  This post describes the goals of a sensory diet for kids with sensory processing needs. 
 
This resource on how to create a sensory diet is a good place to begin when it comes to creating a sensory plan that helps kids thrive and function in their daily tasks.
 
Why do kids need a sensory diet to help with sensory processing problems?
 

Sensory strategies that are motivating can be a big help for some kids. Try these train themed sensory activity ideas.

Why Use a Sensory Diet?

To begin, read this blog on what is a sensory diet. You’ll discover that sensory diets are a commonly known strategy for addressing
sensory needs.  The term “sensory diet” was coined by Patricia Wilbarger in 1984 to explain how certain sensory experiences
can improve occupational performance and help to remediate disruption of the sensory processing systems.  
 
When it comes to benefits, a sensory diet is a means to adjust sensory input in relation to an individual’s
needs.  
 
There’s more to it, though. 
 
Sensory diets don’t need to be a strict set of prescribed structured activities for every child.  They ARE a meaningful set of strategies for developing sensory programs that are meaningful, practical, carefully
scheduled, and controlled in order to affect functioning.  
 
We use sensory diets for many reasons: 
 
Specific needs- While a sensory diet offers specific sensory input at times in preparation for periods of poor regulation, the optimal sensory diet becomes a sensory lifestyle, in which the individual has a “bank” of sensory strategies at their disposal and can use those tools in preparation before a meltdown or crash occurs.
 
Individualized needs- No two individuals are alike. And, no two individuals will experience the same sensory needs. As a result every sensory diet will differ in sensory input, timing, and various other factors. Sensory diet activities provide appropriate sensory input based on the needs of an individual. 
 
Balance- Just as a healthy diet consists of a variety of foods, a sensory diet is a balanced set of sensory information that allows an individual to function.  A person cannot survive on broccoli alone. Similarly, a child cannot function with only one type of sensory activities.
 
Sensory diets are not just for kids with identified sensory issues.  We all need a diet of sensory input. 
 
Position in Space- Our bodies and minds instinctively know that varying sensory input allows us to function appropriately.  Neuro-typical children naturally seek out a variety of proprioceptive, vestibular, and tactile sensory input.  Children that struggle because of underlying issues or developmental concerns may show difficulties with fine motor, gross motor, sensory processing, self regulation, executive function, creativity, and general life skills. It’s through a process of identifying specific sensory processing needs that these areas can be impacted. 
 
Routines and Transitions- Having a better understanding of transitions, routines, and schedules may allow children to know what to expect in their day. A sensory diet offers this opportunity.
 
Confidence- When we offer children strategies that support their needs, they thrive. This is true for children of all abilities and skill levels. Involving kids in movement based and sensory activities allows them to connect with others, and learn about the world around them, how their body moves and interacts in daily tasks, and this offers confidnce and further skill-building, as well as overall competence.
 
 
Regulation Needs- As a result, they are able to accept and regulate other sensory input such as a seam in their shirt, a
lawnmower running outside their classroom, or the scent of chicken cooking in the
kitchen.
 

Why Sensory Diets?

 
Studies support the use of active participation in multi-sensory activities for at least 90 minutes per week to improve occupational performance and autism symptoms and behaviors (Fazlioglu & Baran, 2008; Thompson, 2011; Woo & Leon, 2013; Wuang, Wang, Huang, & Su
2010).  
 
Children who have a toolbox of sensory activities available to them for daily use may benefit from prescribed sensory activities.  These activities can be a part of and incorporated into the day in a natural way.


Related Read: Here are more sensory-based tricks and tips that help with meltdowns.


What is a sensory diet?

 
A sensory diet is a set of activities that are appropriate
for an individual’s needs.  Specific and individualized activities that are specifically scheduled into a child’s day are used to assist with regulation of activity levels, attention, and adaptive responses.  
 
Sensory diet activities are prescribed based on the individual’s specific sensory needs.   Just as there are no two people that are alike, there are no two sensory diets that are alike.  
 
Every sensory diet will meet the specific needs whether in activity, position, intensity, time, sensory system, or type.  Additionally, a sensory diet can be modified throughout the day and based on variances in tasks.
 
A sensory diet needs to be specific with thoughtful regard to timing, frequency, intensity, and duration of sensory input.
 
Goals of a sensory diet


Goals of a sensory diet are to:

 
  1. Provide the child with predictable sensory information
    which helps organize the central nervous system.
  2. Support social engagement, self-regulation, behavior organization, perceived competence, self-esteem, and self-confidence.
  3.  Inhibit and/or improve modulation of sensation within daily routines and environments.
  4. Assist the child in processing a more organized response
    to sensory stimuli.

Add these resources to the ones you can find here under sensory diet vestibular activities to meet the sensory needs of all kids. 

 
Reference:
Fazlioglu, Y., & Baran, G. (2008). A sensory integration therapy program on sensory problems for children
with autism
. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 106, 415–422. http://dx.doi.org/10.2466/PMS.106.2.415-422
 

Read more on sensory processing information here:

 
Sensory processing red flags for parents to help identify sensory needs in kids
 
 

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.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Outdoor Sensory Activities

outdoor sensory activities

Have you ever considered what a wealth of sensory input there is in outdoor sensory play? Here, you’ll find outdoor sensory activities that would make a great addition to outdoor occupational therapy sessions, or just sensory input through playing outdoors! Consider taking the benefits of sensory play and moving them to an environment with differences in sounds, temperatures, textures, surfaces. You end up with a functional space that invites motor and sensory development!

Previously, we’ve shared how to go on a sensory nature walk, but this resource covers much more in the way of outdoor occupational therapy activities to support needs.

Outdoor sensory activities to support sensory processing

Outdoor Sensory Activities

The outdoor sensory ideas listed below include sensory activities that can naturally be found outdoors!


It’s a fact that kids are spending less time playing outdoors. From after-school schedules to two working parents, to unsafe conditions, to increased digital screen time, to less outdoor recess time…kids just get less natural play in the outdoors.

Research on outdoor sensory play tells us that playing outdoors supports development through areas such as: developmental and primary tasks that children must achieve can be effectively improved through outdoor play. These include: exploring, risk-taking, fine and gross motor development, absorption of basic knowledge, social skills, self-confidence, attention, language skills, among others.

In fact, one study found a sensory diet in outdoor play along with sensory integration therapy resulted in better functional behavior of kids with ADHD (Sahoo & Senapati). 

Some therapists have connected the dots between less outdoor play and increased sensory struggles and attention difficulties in learning. Knowing this, it can be powerful to have a list of outdoor sensory activities that can be recommended as therapy home programing and family activities that meet underlying needs.

A note about using outdoor activities in sensory diets (and creating a sensory lifestyle…)

Sensory activities can be prescribed according to need along with environment in order to maximize sensory input within a child’s day such at home, within the community, during transitions, or within the school day. Outdoors are part of our everyday. Whether it’s walking to the car or school bus, travelling down a sidewalk, or spending time outside in the yard, there are many opportunities to support sensory and emotional regulation needs with outdoor play.

Using authentic sensory input within the child’s environment plays into the whole child that we must understand when focusing on any goal toward improved functional independence.

We’ve been talking a lot about sensory diets here on The OT Toolbox recently. Understanding what a sensory diet is and how it can be used within a sensory lifestyle is a big part of integrating sensory activities and sensory play into needed sensory input that a child needs to self-regulation, cope with his or her environment, and to attend or focus despite sensory overload or distractions.

You’ll find more outdoor sensory diet activities like these outdoor sensory diet activities for the backyard coming to the site very soon!

For specifics on how to get started with a sensory diet, and how to use these outdoor sensory processing strategies in a sensory plan, start here with this resource on how to create a sensory diet.

Outdoor sensory activities can be specific to sensory system like proprioception activities, auditory processing, vestibular sensory diet activities, and the rest of the sensory systems.

Use these outdoor sensory activities to help kids with sensory processing needs

Outdoor occupational therapy

When therapists develop a specific and highly individualized sensory diet, it’s not just throwing together a day filled with sensory input. It’s activities based on sensory need and strategizing. Each of the nature-based sensory activities above should meet specific needs of the child.

outdoor occupational therapy activities and reasoning

Imagine a world with more creative outdoor play that involves a variety of enriching sensory input. The proprioceptive input from running and jumping into puddles can calm the child who is typically overactive.

Outdoor occupational therapy supports the development of skills in a functional and natural space. When OTs venture outdoors for therapy practice, the world opens up in the way of sensory input, motor experiences, emotional regulation, and skill-building.

Occupational therapists practice outdoors for many reasons:

  • Develop confidence
  • Social skill building
  • Independence with clothing
  • Attention
  • Focus
  • Body awareness
  • Problem solving
  • Executive functioning skills
  • Safety skills
  • Motor planning
  • Sensory processing
  • Connection with others

Through outdoor occupational therapy, individuals experience all that nature has to offer while developing skills, just like one would in traditional occupational therapy services.

Below, you’ll find specifically sensory occupational therapy activities that can occur outdoors.

Sensory Activities for Outdoors

Nature, playing outdoors, and experiencing everything the outdoors has to offer supports all of the sensory systems. Let’s break this concept down:

  1. Visual System- Outside, we can see details in the trees, notice differences in plants, spot items hidden in the grass. Vision is more than just acuity. It’s through the visual sense that we learn, communicate. Visual motor activities and visual processing tasks occur naturally through play and experiencing the outdoors.

Try some of these outdoor activities to support the visual system:

  • Play I Spy
  • Hide objects and find them
  • Play tag (visual tracking and visual scanning)
  • Collect rocks or leaves (visual figure ground)
  • Watch the clouds (visual attention)
  • Look for birds
  • Collect items from nature and notice differences

2. Proprioceptive System- Another of the “Big 3” sensory systems (explained in detail in our book, The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook), is the proprioceptive system.

There are so many proprioceptive activities supported by the outdoors. Try some of these:

  • Hike of inclines or declines
  • Animal walks in the grass
  • Relay races
  • Pound and smash ice
  • Lift and carry rocks or logs

3. Vestibular System- The vestibular benefits of slowing swaying side to side on a tree vine can organize the child who is challenged by sensory overload.

Try these outdoor vestibular activities:

4. Interoceptive System- There is a connection with interoception, too. This sensory system is responsible for hunger, thirst, fatigue, digestion, sleep, toileting, and other internal systems. Sensory activities like going outdoors, experiencing differences in temperature and texture (warmth of the sun, cool breeze, wet rain drops, damp soil, etc.) on the skin receptors can impact how we feel, how mindful we are, and how the interoception system responds.

Outdoor sensory activities that impact the interoceptive system include:

  • Running/walking/crawling
  • Playing in wet sand, soil, grass
  • Feeling the breeze on skin
  • Feeling the warmth of sun on skin
  • Playing on swings
  • Going up or down a slide
  • Laying on the ground (pressure on the stomach and internal organs)
  • Rolling on the grass (vestibular and proprioceptive systems)

5. Auditory System- Outdoors, you can rest your state of mind just by listening. The outdoors offer a great mindset strategy for emotional regulation and is a way to calm the body. These backyard auditory processing activities will get you started. Try these outdoor auditory processing strategies for regulation and sensory needs:

  • Listen for birds
  • Mimic sounds
  • Play “I hear” (just like I Spy for sounds)

6. Tactile System- The outdoors offer so many tactile experiences. From walking in grass without shoes on, to playing the variety of natural tactile sources, there are so many ways to support the tactile system outdoors.

Try some of these calming or alerting sensory activities for the tactile sense:

  • Walk barefoot in grass
  • Play in a sandbox
  • Climb a damp tree
  • Pick grass
  • Dig in dirt
  • Play with messy, sensory play outside
  • Pick flowers
  • Feel and crunch leaves (also great for the auditory sense)
  • Create a tactile nature walk collection

7. Gustatory System- The gustatory sense, or the sense of taste can be incorporated into the outdoors. Think about your experience with picking berries, tasting a cool and sweet popsicle on a hot day. There are so many sensory-based memories involving tastes. Try some of these gustatory sensory activities in the outdoors:

  • Grow a sensory garden with fruits and vegetables that can be eaten outdoors
  • Eat a juicy watermelon outside- This is a great tactile activity, too
  • Make ice pops, smoothies, or ice cream using fresh fruits.

9. Olfactory System- This is the sense of smell. Outside, there are so many scents that occur and may change every day (and even based on the time of day!) Consider these olfactory sensory ideas:

  • Smell flowers
  • Smell grass
  • Identify odors and scents by location
  • Name the type of plant based on scent
  • Garden- Plant herbs such as mint, parsley, basil, lavender, etc. These are powerful scents that can be calming.
These outdoor sensory diet activities are great for occupational therapists to use in development of a sensory diet for kids with sensory needs, using outdoor play ideas.


Outdoor Sensory Play

There are so many outdoor activities that incorporate play naturally while meeting underlying needs in the great outdoors! The ideas you’ll find below are naturally occurring play ideas using items found in nature, natural environments. They are outdoor activities that kids can try without any additional equipment or specialty therapy items.

The point with these outdoor occupational therapy strategies is to support motor skill development, motor planning, visual motor skills, and overall development through the natural environment of the outdoors.

Ideas for outdoor occupational therapy:

  • Hike
  • Play in the woods
  • Roll down hills
  • Balance beam on logs
  • Climb trees
  • Collect nature
  • Play at the beach
  • Nature walk
  • Play in the backyard
  • Climb on stumps
  • Jump in puddles
  • Driveway or pavement play activities
  • Swing on tree vines
  • Sensory play on a porch or enclosed space
  • Collect sticks
  • Leaf hunt
  • Water table
  • Move and carry rocks of various sizes
  • Hide and seek
  • Create with nature
  • Outdoor water play
  • Collect fireflies
  • Pour rocks
  • Build with rocks, stumps, sticks, small logs
  • Mix and create nature soup (mud, sticks, flower petals, grass clippings)
  • Mud play
  • Use more of the ideas in our Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards

The outdoor world is full of sensory input that can meet individual needs of every child. The kids with sensory needs as well as those who present as neurotypical will benefit from a lifestyle of sensory play and experiences in the outdoors.

These outdoor sensory diet activities are great for occupational therapists to use in development of a sensory diet for kids with sensory needs, using outdoor play ideas.

As always, these activities should be looked over and utilized along with assessment and intervention of an occupational therapist, as each child differs so very vastly.

Some of the ideas above are going to be described in more detail here on The OT Toolbox. Watch this space for more outdoor sensory play ideas based on the following outdoor play spaces:

Sensory diets and specific sensory input or sensory challenges are a big part of addressing sensory needs of children who struggle with sensory processing issues.

Incorporating a schedule of sensory input (sensory diet) into a lifestyle of naturally occurring and meaningful activities is so very valuable for the child with sensory needs.   

That’s why I’ve worked to create a book on creating an authentic and meaningful sensory lifestyle that addresses sensory needs. The book is now released as a digital e-book or softcover print book, available on Amazon.   

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook walks you through sensory diet creation, set-up, and carry through. Not only that, but the book helps you take a sensory diet and weave it into a sensory lifestyle that supports the needs of a child with sensory processing challenges and the whohttps://www.theottoolbox.com/product/the-sensory-lifestyle-handbook/le family.  

Get The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook here.

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a resource for creating sensory diets and turning them into a lifestyle of sensory success through meaningful and motivating sensory enrichment.

How to Create a Sensory Diet

How to create a sensory diet

Here you’ll discover how to create a sensory diet through information on sensory diets as well as a powerful resource to set up and establish an effective sensory diet lifestyle that works for kids. We’ve shared a lot of information about creating a sensory diet. There is a valid reason. Besides the growing need for sensory support for kids with sensory processing disorder or sensory challenges, there is a real need for parents and teachers to understand exactly what a sensory diet is and how it can help address sensory needs.  

The tips below are strategies for creating a sensory diet that can be effective and helpful in enabling a successful sensory lifestyle. Understanding how does a sensory diet help is many times, the first step in addressing sensory related needs!

How to Create a Sensory Diet

Whether you are wondering exactly what a sensory diet entails or why a sensory diet can be effective in addressing underlying sensory needs, knowing how to create a sensory diet using the tools a child needs is essential. 

Below, you’ll find answers to questions about how to create a sensory diet and what exactly a sensory diet is. If you are wondering how does a sensory diet work, then read on! 

 

Wondering how to create a sensory diet? Use these steps to create a sensory diet for children with sensory needs that result in meltdowns, attention challenges, struggles with regulation, and other sensory processing related difficulties. Perfect for the occupational therapist who works with kids with sensory needs.

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a resource for creating sensory diets and turning them into a lifestyle of sensory success through meaningful and motivating sensory enrichment.

What is a sensory diet? 

First, it can be helpful to explain exactly what a sensory diet is. A sensory diet is a specific set of sensory activities designed to meet specific needs of the individual. Creation of a sensory diet requires assessment and trial followed by analysis and continued monitoring of strategies and their effectiveness. 

Studies support the use of active participation in multi-sensory activities for at least 90 minutes per week to improve occupational performance and autism symptoms and behaviors (Fazlioglu & Baran, 2008; Thompson, 2011; Woo & Leon, 2013; Wuang, Wang, Huang, & Su 2010).

Children who have a toolbox of sensory activities available to them for daily use may benefit from prescribed sensory activities. A sensory-based strategy guide can help.

Sensory diets are a commonly known strategy for addressing sensory needs. The term “sensory diet” was coined by Patricia Wilbarger in 1984 to explain how certain sensory experiences can improve occupational performance and help to remediate disruption of the sensory processing systems. A sensory diet is a means to adjust sensory input in relation to an individual’s needs.

Sensory diets can include various sensory strategies and supports that help the individual to regulate. Some additional movements, or activities can include:

A sensory diet is a meaningful set of strategies for developing sensory programs that are practical, carefully scheduled, and controlled in order to affect functioning. Sensory diet activities provide appropriate sensory input based on the needs of an individual.

Just as a healthy diet consists of a variety of foods, a sensory diet is a balanced set of sensory information that allows an individual to function. A person cannot survive on broccoli alone. Similarly, a child cannot function with only one type of sensory activities.

Wondering how to create a sensory diet? Use these steps to create a sensory diet for children with sensory needs that result in meltdowns, attention challenges, struggles with regulation, and other sensory processing related difficulties. Perfect for the occupational therapist who works with kids with sensory needs.

Why Create a sensory diet?


There are many reasons why a sensory diet should be used to support specific needs. This resource covers the goals of a sensory diet.

Sensory diets are effective for addressing many sensory-related behaviors. Just a few reasons for using a sensory diet may include:

  • Emotional overreaction
  • Meltdowns
  • Aggression
  • Hyper-attention
  • Difficulty with transitions
  • Inattention
  • Sleep issues
  • Impulsivity
  • Sensory-seeking behaviors
  • Sensory-resisting behaviors
  • Resistance to textures/food/clothing
  • Poor social Interactions

This blog post on sensory processing includes a sensory processing disorder checklist that covers many reasons and reactions that can be impacted by sensory needs.

Wondering how to create a sensory diet? Use these steps to create a sensory diet for children with sensory needs that result in meltdowns, attention challenges, struggles with regulation, and other sensory processing related difficulties. Perfect for the occupational therapist who works with kids with sensory needs.

Make a Sensory Diet Template


One important piece of the sensory diet puzzle is the successful implementation of strategies. This is the part of actually using sensory activities, brain break, movement activities, calm down corners, sensory tools, etc.

We’ll go into how this looks in more detail below, but it’s important to remember that the sensory diet template plays a big role. Actually scheduling strategies and implementing them into day to day tasks is part of the sensory lifestyle.

There is more to a sensory diet than applying sensory input or encouraging a child to participate in sensory play activities. Knowing how and why a sensory diet should be created is essential to success, safety, and carryover of sensory strategies.

As individuals, we tend to choose activities and experiences that are pleasurable. We enjoy snuggling up under a thick blanket at the end of the day. We tend to shy away from unpleasant sensations such as a static shock that happens every time we use that certain blanket.

Likewise, some of us are thrill seekers and enjoy experiences like jumping from airplanes or bungee jumping. Others like to stay firmly on the ground and play it safe when it comes to leisure activities.

Similarly, our clients or children who struggle with sensory processing can present with different preferences, as discussed in The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook.

Steps to Create a Sensory Diet


The key to successful integration of a sensory diet is ensuring the clinical strategizing and application are fit into the specific needs of the individual. However, combining the needs of an individual with interests and preference along with application of specific steps ensures successful creation of a sensory diet.

There are specific steps to creating a sensory diet. Let’s go through the process:

  1. Analyze/Identify
  2. Strategize
  3. Sensory Diet Template/ Apply Sensory Strategies
  4. Monitor

Step 1: Analyze/Identify- The first level in creation of a sensory diet requires identification of sensory related behaviors, attention issues related to impaired sensory input, challenges with focus or emotional regulation as a result of sensory needs, or meltdowns that impair functioning.

This level of sensory diet creation requires assessment and identification of each challenging issue. Sensory behaviors should be identified and charted. This includes jotting down when specific behaviors occur, the setting where meltdowns occur, and antecedent to the behavior.

Make detailed notes that describe the action, the environment, the disabilities, and the impact on function, safety, learning, social participation, etc. When taking the time to analyze sensory impact on function, it’s important to look for issues that may be impacting the individual’s functional performance.

Make notes on things such as:

  • Actions/behaviors- how is the individual responding in situations?
  • Environment- where is the situation occurring
  • Timing- when does the behavior occurring? What happens just before the behavior or actions?
  • Co-existing considerations- what else is occurring during the behavior or action?

Sensory related issues can be charted in a methodological manner or they can simply be written down on a scrap paper. The point is to identify the issues through analyzation and to record them.

Identifying sensory needs when beginning the sensory diet process is much like keeping track of a food diary or sleep diary. In these situations, you’ll also want to mark down every detail including how one is feeling emotionally, physically, and other considerations. Just like these types of diaries help to identify what is really going on in a food diet, a sensory diary can help to support and identify needs for creating a sensory diet.

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook contains printable data collection forms that can be used to analyze and identify sensory-related actions, behaviors, and resulting issues.

After dysfunctional behaviors are identified, the reason behind the behaviors should be described.

Step 2: Strategize/Reasoning- The next level in creating a sensory diet involves identifying the “why” behind the behaviors. Think about why the individual may be responding, or reacting to sensory input or environmental input in the way that they are. Can you come up with rationale that describes actions?

Ask yourself questions to strategize on the “why” behind sensory-related behaviors:

  • Is it an unmet sensory need that causes a child to bolt down the hallway?
  • Is the reason the child chews on all of their clothes because they need more proprioceptive input?
  • Did the child not get enough sleep?
  • Is the routine off?
  • Was a transition done without warning or preparation?
  • Was the individual at a level of stress?

Use this information to come up with predictions and opportunities to support the individual with specific accommodations or modifications to the environment.

In The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook, you will find printable sensory-based behavior screening tools that can be used to identify the underlying sensory needs leading to a behavior or action.

Additionally, resources in the book allow for strategizing to address existing sensory challenges for an individual. The best part is that the pages can be printed off and used over and over again for a single individual or for many individuals. 

Step 3: Create a Sensory Diet Template and Apply/Trial Various Sensory Strategies- In this stage of sensory diet development, strategies need to be trialed for effectiveness within the lifestyle of the child and family. Sensory strategies need to be incorporated as indicated across a variety of settings, based on various sensory needs as they change throughout the day.

Scheduling sensory diet strategies is an important step. If a box of sensory supplies is offered, but no schedule put into place, the sensory diet immediately is set up for failure.

Each strategy should be assessed for effectiveness. A simple checklist can be completed in the classroom or at home. When a sensory strategy is determined to work, that activity can be added to the child’s sensory diet.

If a particular sensory activity is determined to be ineffective, return to level one.

Remember that this part of the sensory diet creation process is very fluid! There will be trials, adjustments, periods of re-trialing, and monitoring. It can seem like this stage goes on and on! The thing to remember is to persist and don’t give up!

As adults who work with or raise children, we know the fluidity of childhood. Needs, strengths, interests, environment, and other areas can change as a child develops and grows. In the same manner, a sensory diet needs fluidity. Applying various strategies at different levels of growth in a child is a must.

Readers of The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook will find the Sensory Diet Schedule in the Addendum of the book to be a useful tool in creating a checklist for sensory diet activities. This is another series of printable pages that can be utilized over and over again as needed.

Step 4: Monitor- At this stage in development of a sensory diet, strategies should be monitored for effectiveness. Strategies should be monitored on a frequent basis with regard to effectiveness. As part of the monitoring process, a subjective assessment can be completed by adults who oversee the child’s sensory diet strategies.

Additionally, carryover of sensory strategies must be monitored. A list of prescribed activities that are not completed because they require exhaustive effort are not an effective strategy within the life of a family.

Carryover of sensory strategies is extremely important in both the home and in the classroom. If activities are not able to be carried out, then a different sensory strategy should be incorporated into the child’s sensory diet.

When using The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook to create and monitor sensory diets, users will find the Daily Sensory Diet Sheet and the Sensory Diet Schedule to be effective tools for carryover and monitoring strategies.

Use the Sensory Diet Effectiveness Tool, found in the Addendum of this book, to monitor sensory diet results and strategies. This form should be completed after a sensory diet has been in effect for two weeks. 


If creating a sensory diet and turning it into a sensory lifestyle sounds like a strategy that is needed in your home, classroom, or clinic, then The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a tool that you may need to get there! Check out more on The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook HERE. 

Wondering how to create a sensory diet? Use these steps to create a sensory diet for children with sensory needs that result in meltdowns, attention challenges, struggles with regulation, and other sensory processing related difficulties. Perfect for the occupational therapist who works with kids with sensory needs.


The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a strategy guide for sensory processing needs. With valuable insight into the sensory system and the whole child, the book details how sensory diets can be incorporated into a lifestyle of sensory success. 

The tools in this book provide intervention strategies to support and challenge the sensory systems through meaningful and authentic sensory diet tactics based on the environment, interests, and sensory needs of each individual child.   

Wondering how to create a sensory diet? Use these steps to create a sensory diet for children with sensory needs that result in meltdowns, attention challenges, struggles with regulation, and other sensory processing related difficulties. Perfect for the occupational therapist who works with kids with sensory needs.


So often, we hear that sensory recommendations are not carried over into the home or classroom. The tips and tools in The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook uses child-led interests and daily life interactions so kids WANT to participate in sensory diet activities their bodies need…because it’s part of play!

Get The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook here.

Using a sensory diet in various environments

A sensory diet is an important strategy and tool to support learning needs in the classroom environment. Here is a resource on creating sensory diets for the classroom.

Occupational therapists can be a great resource for sensory diets that flow from the home to the school environment.

In fact, using a set of sensory diet cards as a resource where the student pulls various sensory supports to use at specific times or during transitions in the classroom can be very helpful.

The best type of sensory diet utilizes sensory aspects of everyday functional tasks within the activity as it occurs. This is covered specifically in the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook. But consider this: if one is outside or in the home and needs to address regulation needs, using activities and everyday objects is ideal. These backyard sensory diet strategies is one way to incorporate the outdoors into sensory needs.

Related, a sensory diet can include recess activities as a tool to support emotional or sensory regulation needs. This resource on recess sensory diets covers this concept in more detail. Running on a blacktop surface at recess, playing with hula hoops, balls, or building blocks at a key part of the day is scheduled into the students’ schedules every day they are at school. When you think about it, each student has a sensory diet of their own in the way of recess!

At home, recess isn’t an option, but heading outside is! The outdoor sensory diet strategies can really impact self-regulation, emotional needs, attention, and sensory processing needs.

Another environmental consideration is the playground. A park or playground area offers sensory diet equipment and tools that can be used on a scheduled basis. Consider adding a trip to the playground to the schedule on specific days of the week. Maybe a visit to the playground is in order for Friday afternoons after the student’s spelling test and the end of the school week. Or, a playground visit can occur every Sunday afternoon as a way to wrap up the weekend. Perhaps a walk to a local park can occur each evening after dinner. It’s all about what the individual needs and what works for the family’s lifestyle.

Another location for sensory diets can be the woods or a wooded outdoor area. This is a great way to incorporate nature into sensory needs, and should be scheduled according to availability, time available, and family lifestyle.

Another related resource on this site is the concept of sensory diets at the beach. When we travel, there can be a lot of different or novel sensory experiences. When hot weather, wind, and scratchy sand impact sensory needs at the beach, these are all important considerations.

Another support for travel is the sensory diet on the go! This easy to create sensory support is individualized and includes the materials and strategies that support the individual’s needs. Read how to create a travel sensory diet toolbox.

Sensory Blanket Activity

sensory tortilla blanket

This sensory blanket activity is a simple home sensory diet activity that offers heavy work input using only a blanket. Did you know you can use a blanket as a calming sensory tool? One way that I love to help regulate and calm down over-responsive sensory systems is through heavy work activities

Use a tortilla blanket (or any blanket) to make this sensory blanket burrito as a sensory tool for kids.

Calming Proprioception Activity with a Blanket

Using a blanket as a sensory tool is one of the easiest ways to offer heavy work , or proprioceptive input, through the whole body as a calming strategy.

There are a few reasons why using a blanket works to calm the sensory systems.

Rolling a child up in a blanket is a great way to provide deep input to a child’s whole body. This is calming and organizing.

Additionally, the warm temperature helps to calm the body.

A benefit to this sensory strategy is that every home has a blanket of some type. 

Use this proprioceptive activity to offer calming input to help self-regulate emotions and sensory needs by rolling up in a blanket, either on the floor or with additional heavy work input. Check out all of our proprioception activities here.

How to use a blanket for calming sensory input:

  1. Grab a blankets and spread it out on the floor.  
  2. Ask the child to lay down on the blanket, near one edge.
  3. Roll your child up like a burrito. Keep rolling until the whole blanket is used. Wrap the blanket tightly.  
  4. Add additional proprioceptive input for calming and regulating by piling pillows on top of your child after they’ve been wrapped up in the blanket.  Press evenly and gently, but firmly, with both hands to provide deep pressure input.

 

Tortilla Blanket Sensory Activity

Have you seen the (Amazon affiliate link) tortilla blankets? These are a great, fuzzy blanket to use in this sensory blanket activity! Kids can be the burrito as they are wrapped up in the tortilla blanket. Plus, the warmth from this fleece blanket is extra cozy and calming!

Use the tortilla blanket to make a kid-sized burrito that adds calming sensory input!

Another sensory activity using blankets is to use the blanket roll as a balance beam  or to lay on (without the child inside).

For more heavy work activities using materials already found in the home, check out these low-prep heavy work exercises!

Heavy Work Exercise Cards
Heavy Work Exercise Cards- 50% off!

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

DIY Whisper Phone

DIY whisper phone
One of our more popular posts here on The OT Toolbox is our post on classroom sensory strategies. For kids who struggle with attention challenges, general sensory processing needs, auditory processing, self-regulation, or other needs, a whisper phone can be a power tool when it comes to reading or processing auditory information. Below, you’ll find information on how to make a DIY whisper phone for only $3 and how a whisper phone helps kids of all ages! Plus, we’re sharing where we got this awesome idea to make a whisper phone that kids will love! For more sensory play ideas, stick around!!
 
Affiliate links are included in this post. 
 
Make a DIY whisper phone to address reading comprehension, letter sounds, and sensory processing needs.
 

DIY Whisper Phone

When it comes to therapy tools and equipment, finding the best deals is ideal. But even better is when you can make your own therapy tools at a fraction of the cost and still benefit from the therapeutic benefits. This DIY whisper phone is just the example. In fact, a whisper phone on Amazon costs more than $6 so when you are shopping to fill the needs of a classroom or caseload, the DIY version can be a fun alternative. 
Auditory processing activities may include whisper and volume of voice, including using a whisper phone in therapy.
 

What is a Whisper Phone

First, you may be wondering “What is a whisper phone“…read on to find out what exactly a whisper phone is and how they can be so beneficial to so many kids. 
 
Typically, a whisper phone is a tube shaped like a phone that can be held at the child’s ear and mouth. They can whisper sounds and words and clearly hear individual sounds without background noise. 
 
They are a great tool for kids with auditory needs AND kids without auditory processing issues. Whisper phones can be so helpful in teaching any child to recognize sounds of letters! Kids can use a whisper phone to hear themselves read, which helps them with comprehension and fluency through auditory feedback.
 
A whisper phone is a tool that can be so helpful for kids with auditory processing needs or other concerns that interfere with a child’s ability to focus on auditory input. These kids sometimes struggle with pulling out important information from auditory input. 
 
Other times, a whisper phone is used in reading to help kids recognize sounds in words, including pronunciation, fluency, and reading comprehension. This can be helpful for kids without auditory processing needs too! 
 
Make a DIY whisper phone to address reading comprehension, letter sounds, and sensory processing needs.
 

How to use a Whisper Phone to help with Auditory Processing

Auditory processing challenges can look like a variety of things:
  • Poor listening skills
  • Difficulty with language comprehension
  • Auditory sensory sensitivities
  • Other listening concerns
 
Using a whisper phone can help with skills like:
  • Auditory discrimination
  • Auditory sequencing
  • Auditory memory
  • Auditory figure-ground

 

Here are more auditory processing activities that can help.
 
Make a DIY whisper phone to address reading comprehension, letter sounds, and sensory processing needs.
 
A whisper phone can be used in many ways:
Sound out letters to help kids recognize the sounds associated with each letter. This is SO important in kids whom we later see in therapy who can not associate letter formation and struggle with handwriting and formation!
 
  1. Sound out words to identify parts of words.
  2. Auditory feedback when reading.
  3. Provide a calming sensory diet activity.
  4. Improve self-confidence with reading skills.
  5. Discriminate between sounds and background noise.
  6. Identify tone and volume of speech.
  7. So much more!
 
Make a DIY whisper phone to address reading comprehension, letter sounds, and sensory processing needs.

How to make a DIY Whisper Phone

We were inspired to make a DIY whisper phone when we saw a fun activity in the new STEAM Learn and Play Book. This whisper phone is not the traditional hand-held style, but more like the traditional can phones from the therapist’s childhood! 
 
We made a whisper phone that can be used with two children and is a fun way to address the needs described above. 
 
To make a DIY whisper phone, you’ll need just three items. We gathered these items at our Dollar store, making the DIY whisper phone a great deal! 
  • Two small funnels
  • One tube
To make the DIY whisper phone, just connect the funnels to a tube. The bendy tube that we used was long enough to reach between two friends. 
 
If the tube doesn’t fit exactly, use a bit of tape to hold the tube in place. 
 
Then, play and learn! 
 
Make a DIY whisper phone to address reading comprehension, letter sounds, and sensory processing needs.
 
This whisper phone is so easy to make that kids can make it themselves. In fact, it would be a great group activity for a small group in a camp setting. 
 

STEAM Play & Learn Book

We got the idea to make a whisper phone from the new STEAM Play & Learn book written by Ana at Babble Dabble Do. What a fun book this is for hands-on activities that kids will WANT to do while learning and playing. 
 
Each page is full of colorful activities that teach.
 
 
 
 
There are so many fun ways to explore science, technology, engineering, art, and math with this book. For parents or teachers looking for a complement to a specific curriculum, this book is it. Kid can explore so many areas while learning through hands-on play.
 
The OT in my LOVES the tactile experiences shared in this book! Check out some of the ideas below:
 
 
 

Looking for more ways to address sensory needs? 

You will love our Printable Sensory Diet Cards that cover so many areas! There are activities and ideas to address auditory processing needs, plus every other sensory system. Grab our Sensory Diet Cards for a complete packet of sensory activities. You’ll find 24 pages of 345 sensory diet activities including:

  • Calming and alerting movement activities
  • Heavy work fine motor activities for pre-writing needs or fidgeting needs
  • Sensory activities
  • Sensory support cards
These sensory diet cards can be used in the home, classroom, or clinic. They are available now for $9.99 on The OT Toolbox shop
Use printable sensory diet cards to encouraging sensory input through play
 
 
Fall Leaf themed auditory processing activities for sensory needs in kids.Auditory processing dominoes made with bells are perfect for a color matching activity, and can be graded to meet the auditory needs of all ages.Auditory processing sensory ideas for backyard summer sensory play, perfect for sensory diet ideas for kids.Baby Sensory bottles using recycled spice jars
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

More ways to use a Whisper phone in auditory processing skills

Many of the activities in the Auditory Processing Kit can be used with a DIY whisper phone or a commercial version.

The Auditory Processing Kit is a tool to support learners by building skills in listening comprehension, auditory processing needs, and much more. The tools offer support to learners with hyper-responsive or hypo-responsive auditory systems. Therapists love the hands-on activities to support learning and active listening through play and handwriting tasks.

  • Listening Comprehension
  • Fine Motor Listening Skills
  • How to Improve Listening Skills Poster
  • Clap It Out Syllables Orthographic Activities
  • Beginning Sounds Letter Activity
  • Rhyming Words Activity
  • Activity Listening Activity
  • Hearing Skills Activity
  • Auditory Memory Strategies
  • What Does Active Listening Look Like?
  • Whole Body Listening Activity
  • Whole Body Listening Poster
  • Listening and Motor Skills Game
  • 2 Step Direction Cards
  • How to Support Hyper-Responsiveness of the Auditory Sense (handout and info sheet)
  • How to Support Hypo-responsiveness of the Auditory Sense (handout and info sheet)
  • Auditory Processing Tools Cards
  • Auditory Processing Speed -2 Digit Numbers
  • Auditory Processing Speed -3 Digit Numbers
  • Auditory Processing Speed -4 Digit Numbers

Use the handouts and posters to teach about the auditory system and auditory sensitivities, with strategies to support individualized needs. Get your copy of the Auditory Processing Kit today.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

How to Support Sensory Issues with Hair Brushing

Sensory hair brushing

For many children, hair brushing is a challenging task due to difficulties with sensory regulation. Using tools such as a sensory brush or a sensory diet can help support sensory issues that impact hair brushing. Individuals with sensory challenges related to their scalp can be further exacerbated by knots, pulling of hair, shampooing, or daily stress when it comes to this hygiene task. Fortunately there are some tips to help sensory needs and hair brushing.

NOTE: The information and strategies in this blog post on sensory hair brushing will not be appropriate for all types of hair and all sensory issues.

Sensory Hair Brushing

Individuals with sensory processing sensitivities may feel that getting their brushed hurts, or may find it overstimulating.

Other children may have challenges with hair brushing as it signals the morning routine is almost complete. They associate hair brushing with having to go to school or daycare, which increases their anxiety. Whatever the reason your child dislikes having their hair brushed, it can be very disruptive to your child’s routine, and anyone else in the home as well.

Sensory Hair Brushing Tips

Check out the tips below to help alleviate stress with hair brushing. 

Tip #1: Brush hair while in the tub or sink

When you brush your child’s hair in the tub or sink:

  • You can build on the relaxed mood to complete a stressful task
  • Warm water temperature offers calming sensory input.
  • Having probably just washed your child’s hair, the conditioner/oil (depending on hair type) will help to allow a comb to slip through your child’s hair with ease.
  • You will also be able to work out any larger knots they may have with your fingers much easier as the water runs in the direction of hair growth.
  • Your child will more than likely be distracted with toys that are in the tub/activity occurring around the sink area, keeping the focus off having their hair brushed.
  • Make sure to braid or put it into a top knot if your child’s hair is long, to prevent tangles in the morning. 
  • Bonus Tip! Don’t have time to wash your child’s hair every night, or don’t take a bath daily? Use a spray bottle to moisten your child’s hair, then brush it out. You can use a detangle to bring an extra element of fun to it too! 

When it comes to brushing, the most important thing is to set up a routine, using the hair brushing techniques that work for the child’s hair type. Stick to that routine. Consider using a visual schedule, written schedule, or checklist.

Tip # 2: Turn hair brushing into a Game 

Using humor and distraction in the form of a game is another great way to help your child feel less stress and sensory issues during hair brushing. You can have them “earn” points for each stroke or set of strokes, have a countdown, or sing a silly song.

Tip # 3: Use Role Play in Hair Brushing 

Children learn best through play! Practice with a doll or let them brush your hair. As you do this, talk about how they are feeling and acting when they are brushing your hair. Are they being gentle? What can they do if they hit a knot? 

It will also be helpful if you talk to them about how you’re feeling or how the doll might be feeling while having their hair brushed. Do you feel calm? Is getting your hair brushed hurting you?

Make sure that you emphasize the positives as well! You can use real terms such as sensory issues with hair brushing, and explain what is happening.

Share with your child how good it feels to have your hair brushed, that it makes you feel clean, and that it makes you look ready for the day. 

Tip # 4: Let Your Child Do it Themselves

When you give your child control of an activity, you take away fear of the unknown, or in this case, give back control over what you are asking to be done.

This works well for children who say that you’re pulling too hard, their scalp is super sensitive, or they dread having to work out knots. By letting them brush their own hair, they are in charge of the pressure, pace and how they work through knots in their hair.

Your children may also be more willing to participate if they know that they are in control of the situation. Be on standby in case they need help! 

If the whole hair brushing process can’t be done by the child, let them participate in some aspect. That might be applying conditioner/oil. It might be that they hand the brush or comb to the person brushing. The main concept here is taking ownership in the task through active participation.

Tip # 5: Use a Wide Tooth Comb 

A wide tooth comb will slide through hair much easier, and with less resistance than a traditional brush.

Another perk to a wide tooth comb is that it doesn’t have bristles, which many kids find irritating to their scalp, and often gets caught easily in long hair. 

Amazon (affiliate links) has several different types of brushes and combs for sensitive scalps. They also have detangling brushes. Just type “sensitive scalp brush” into the search box.

Or try a comb with wider teeth, depending on the hair type.

Tip # 6: Hold Hair Close to the Scalp 

Whether your child has long or short hair, holding hair close to the scalp or placing your other hand on their head can help to limit the amount of tugging they feel during hair brushing.

Limiting the tugging sensation by keeping their head stabilized will also prevent activation of the inner ear, which can be alerting or cause dizziness. If they are particularly sensitive to the tugging sensation, or have poor head/neck control, they may be compensating by letting their head drop back with the slightest of tugs. 

This is particularly important for children with long hair, as brushing down the back can elicit the startle reflex.

Tip # 7: Use a Timer 

Using a timer is a fail safe tip for working on tolerance of any activity. Set the a timer to see how long your child can tolerate having their hair brushed as a baseline, then add 5 seconds once a week until you are able to thoroughly brush their hair.

A countdown timer is very effective. You can use the timer on your phone or you can look for a visual timer app to add an extra layer of fun. Many visual apps have surprises at the end or turn colors as the app is counting down. 

If you do not want the added input of electronics during this calming time of day, a separate timer is best.

Tip # 8: Use a Social Story 

A social story is a book created about any activity that your child has challenges with. The story talks about what’s going to happen, how it will feel, and the appropriate social responses that your child should have with the activity. Read the story to them right before completing hair brushing to maximize its effect! 

Don’t have a social story? Ask your therapist to help you create one. You can also find free social story generators online, or use a premade one. 

Bonus Tip! If a social story is too long or advanced for your child, try using a visual schedule! This is a simplified version of the social story and can be adjusted based on your child’s abilities. 

Implementing Tips for sensory issues and hair brushing

These tips can help to break any negative behaviors or emotions that may surround your child’s sensory issues with hair brushing, and give you a foundation to start a fresh routine.

Start by trying one recommendation that you think will work for your child, give it a week, and if it’s still not working, try another.

Working through hair brushing challenges takes time, and is a trial-and-error process. Hopefully you will find these tips helpful!

Looking for more resources?

The OT Toolbox has a great resource called The Sensory Resource Handbook for tackling sensory issues related to hair brushing and creating a sensory diet for the many difficulties you are your child may be facing.

One of our new bloggers has a great resource on Amazon called Seeing Your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes. This is a new manual for parents, therapists, and caregivers to understand, accommodate, and treat tricky sensory situations and community settings with real life strategies, tips, and understanding.

Contributor: Kaylee is a pediatric occupational therapist with a bachelors in Health Science from Syracuse University at Utica College, and a Masters in Occupational Therapy from Utica College. Kaylee has been working with children with special needs for 8 years, and practicing occupational therapy for 4 years, primarily in a private clinic, but has home health experience as well. Kaylee has a passion for working with the areas of feeding, visual development, and motor integration.

Pencil Pressure When Writing

If you’ve worked with kids teaching handwriting or fixing handwriting issues, they you probably have come across a common handwriting problem area…Pencil pressure when writing. Handwriting pressure can play a huge role in legibility, whether pressing too hard when writing or writing too lightly. 

Pencil Pressure in Handwriting

Some kids press too hard on the pencil. They may press so hard on the pencil that the pencil tears the paper when they write. When they try to erase, there are smudges that never really go away.

Other students use too little force when writing. Or, you might see pencil pressure that is so light that you can’t discern letters from one another.

Either way, pencil pressure plays a big part in handwriting legibility.

Here are tips for pressing too hard when writing…and tips for helping kids write darker. Scroll down for everything you need to know about writing with that “just write” pencil pressure…Typo intended  🙂

These writing tips are great for kids that press too hard when writing or write too lightly.

 

Pencil Pressure with Writing

Learning to write is a complex task.  Choosing a hand to hold the pencil with, pencil grasp, managing the paper with the assisting hand, sitting up straight.

And then there is the physical task of marking letters: letter formation, line awareness, letter size… this is multi-level functioning for a child!  

Yet another aspect to consider is the pressure one exerts on the paper when writing.  Press too lightly and the words are barely able to be seen.  Press too hard, and the letters are very dark, the pencil point breaks, lines are smudged, and when mistakes are erased, they don’t really erase all the way, the paper tears, and frustration ensues!  

Sometimes, when it comes to pencil pressure, simply helping kids become aware that they are writing too lightly or writing with too much pressure can make a big difference. Here is one simple activity to work on pencil pressure. All you need is a sheet of foam crafting paper. 

Pencil pressure is dependent on proprioception, one of the sensory systems.  With October being Sensory Processing Awareness month, this is the perfect time to talk sensory and handwriting!
 
As an occupational therapist in the school setting, I’ve come across many school-aged children showing difficulty with pencil pressure.  There are reasons for these dark pencil marks and some tips and tools for helping with this handwriting difficulty. 

 

 
Tips and tools for kids who write with too much pressure in handwriting.  Does your child write or color so hard that the pencil breaks?  Writing too hard makes handwriting difficult to read and effectively write.
 
 
 
This post contains affiliate links.  

 

Proprioception and Handwriting


The proprioceptive system receives input from the muscles and joints about body position, weight, pressure, stretch, movement and changes in position in space.  Our bodies are able to grade and coordinate movements based on the way muscles move, stretch, and contract. 

Proprioception allows us to apply more or less pressure and force in a task. Instinctively, we know that lifting a feather requires very little pressure and effort, while moving a large backpack requires more work.  

We are able to coordinate our movements effectively to manage our day’s activities with the proprioceptive system.  The brain also must coordinate input about gravity, movement, and balance involving the vestibular system.


When we write, the pencil is held with the index finger, middle finger, and thumb, and supported by the ring and pinkie finger as the hand moves across a page.  

A functioning proprioceptive system allows us to move the small muscles of the hand to move the pencil in fluid movements and with “just right” pressure.  

We are able to mark lines on the paper, erase mistakes, move the paper with our supporting arm, turn pages in a notebook fluidly, and keep the paper in one piece.

Heavy Pencil Pressure

When students press too hard on the pencil, handwriting suffers. Sometimes, children hold their pencil very tightly. Other times, they are seeking sensory feedback.  You’ll see some common signs of heavy pencil pressure:

  • They press so hard on the paper, that lines are very dark when writing.  
  • The pencil point breaks.  
  • When erasing, the pencil marks don’t completely erase, and the paper is torn.  
  • The non-dominant, assisting hand moves the paper so roughly that the paper crumbles.  
  • When turning pages in a notebook, the pages tear or crumble.
  • Movements are not fluid or efficient. 
  • Handwriting takes so much effort, that the child becomes fatigued, frustrated, and sore.  
  • It may take so much effort to write a single word, that handwriting is slow and difficult. 

All of these signs of heavy pencil pressure are red flags for pencil pressure issues. They are not functional handwriting

Below, we’ll cover ways to reduce  pencil pressure? 

Writing Pressure: Too Light

The other side of the coin is pencil pressure that is too light.

Writing with too little pencil pressure is another form of non-functional handwriting. Some signs of too little pencil pressure include:

  • Kids may write so lightly that you can’t read the overall writing sample.
  • You can’t discern between certain letters.
  • The writing pressure is just so light that the child’s hand or sleeve smudges the pencil lines and the writing sample is totally not functional or legible.
  • The student starts out writing at a legible pencil pressure, but with hand fatigue, the writing gets lighter and lighter.

All of these signs of too light pencil pressure and too much force when writing can be addressed with some simple tips. Working on proprioceptive input and hand strengthening can help with too light pencil pressure. Try some of the writing tips listed below.

Pencil pressure and Messy handwriting

Messy handwriting can be contributed to many factors.  Decreased hand strength, Visual motor difficulty, motor planning issues, visual memory difficulties, or impaired proprioception. 

Difficulty with grading the movements required in drawing or making letters in a coordinated way may present as messy, smudged, illegible handwriting.
 

Writing Tips for Pencil Pressure

Bringing the writer aware of what’s occurring is one way to support pencil pressure issues. Proprioceptive activities allow the muscles to “wake up” with heavy pressure.

Moving against resistance by pushing or pulling gives the muscles and joints an opportunity to modulate pressure.  

Resistive activities before and during a handwriting task can be beneficial for children who press hard on the pencil. 

 

Pencil Pressure Activities:

Some of these pencil pressure activities are writing strategies to help kids become more aware of the amount of pressure they are using when writing.

Others are tools for helping the hands with sensory needs. Still others are tools for strengthening the hands. Try some or a mixture of the following ideas to addressing handwriting needs.

  • Stress balls or fidget toys can help to strengthen pinch and grip strength. 
  • Use carbon paper or transfer paper to help kids become more aware of the amount of pressure they are exerting through the pencil when writing. Here is some easy ways to use a Dollar Store find to use carbon paper to work on handwriting
  • resistive bands- Use these as an arm warm-up to “wake up” the muscles of the whole upper body. They are great for positioning warm ups too. 
  • theraputty with graded amount of resistance (speak to a license occupational therapist about the amount of resistance needed for your child. An individual evaluation and recommendations will be needed for your child’s specific strengths/needs). 
  • Gross grasp activities- These activities can be a big help in adjusting the grasp on the pencil, helping the hands with sensory input and strengthening the hands to help with endurance when writing. 
  • Some children will benefit from using a liquid gel pen for fluid handwriting marks. The gel ink will provide feedback when gobs of ink are dispensed when writing too hard.
  • Still others will benefit from a gel pen, marker, or using a dry erase marker on a dry erase board. This can be beneficial as a tool for teaching about pencil pressure or as an accommodation for those writing too lightly.
  • Pencil Weights or Weighted Pencils- Weighted pencils can be helpful in providing sensory feedback through the hands.
  • A vibrating pen provides sensory feedback to the fingers and hand and helps to keep children focused on the task. 
  • Practice handwriting by placing a sheet of paper over a piece of sandpaper. The resistance of the sandpaper is great heavy work for small muscles of the hand. 
  • Practice writing on a dry erase board with dry erase markers to work on consistent pencil pressure- Pressing too hard will make the marker lines wider and press down on the tip of the marker. Can the learner keep a consistent line with their writing or drawing?
  • Use a grease pencil- These pencils are commonly used to marking wood or used in construction. The lead of the pencil is very soft and can be a great alternative for those that press too hard on pencils.
  • Cheap eyeliner pencil- One cheap alternative to a grease pencil is using an inexpensive eye liner pencil from the dollar store. Get the kind that you sharpen with a turn sharpener (almost like a hand held pencil sharpener). Kids can use that pencil to draw lines and match the amount of pressure they are using. This is a good activity for those that press too hard when writing, too.
  • Practice Ghost Writing: Encourage the child to write very lightly on paper and then erase the words without leaving any marks. The adult can try to read the words after they’ve been erased. If the words are not able to be read, the writer wins the game. 
  • Hand exercises are a great way to “wake up” the hands before a handwriting task. Encourage the child to squeeze their hand into a fist as tight as he can. Then relax and stretch the hand and fingers. Repeat the exercise several times. Practice holding the pencil with the same type of tight and relaxed exercises Practice writing on tissue paper. A very light hand is needed to prevent tears. Discuss the amount of pressure needed for writing on the tissue paper. 
  • This will provide the child with awareness and words for the way they are holding the pencil. 
  • Wrap a bit of play dough or putty around the pencil as a grip. Encourage the child to hold the pencil with a grasp that does not press deeply into the dough. Encourage using a “just right” pressure. 
  • Provide terms for they way they write. Encourage “just right” writing and not “too hard” or “too soft” marks. 
  • Use a lead pencil to color in a small picture, using light gray, medium gray, and dark gray. Talk about how using different amounts of pressure changes the shade of gray. 
  • Instead of writing on a notebook, pull a single sheet from the pages and place on a hard table or desk surface. The firm surface will limit the amount of pressure. You can also slip a clipboard between pages of a notebook to provide that hard surface, if sheets must remain in a notebook.
 
Help kids with pencil pressure and handwriting problems with these writing tips to work on heavy pencil pressure or writing too light.

Need more tips and tools for addressing handwriting needs? Be sure to check out all of our handwriting activities here on The OT Toolbox.

More Handwriting Tips

For a comprehensive resource on handwriting, check out The Handwriting Book. This e-book was written by pediatric occupational therapists and physical therapists who focus on function and take a developmental look at handwriting.

In The Handwriting Book, you’ll find practical suggestions to meet all needs that arise with messy or sloppy handwriting. The developmental-based approach to teaching handwriting focuses on strategies to support common issues with written work.

Click here for more information on The Handwriting Book.

The handwriting Book

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.