Best Sensory Toys

sensory toys and sensory tools

If you are looking for the very best sensory toys to challenge sensory exploration, tactile play, or to offer sensory input to calm or alert a child, then you are in the right place. This gift guide of toys for sensory play cover many aspects of sensory processing in fun and engaging ways. Whether you need to add a few components to a sensory diet through play, or you are looking for a gift idea that develops specific skill areas, these occupational therapy toys, sensory toys, fidget toys, and movement toys cover all the bases.

When it comes to sensory toys, many of the ideas in our gross motor toy suggestions will hit on movement and heavy work input, so be sure to check that gift list out as well. Today is all about the sensory motor play.  

First, let’s talk Sensory Tools and Toys!

Sensory toys and sensory tools for kids

The Best Sensory Toys

We had so much fun putting together our recent Gift Guide Toys to Improve Pencil Grasp, that we decided to put together this gift guide for Toys to Inspire Sensory Play.  If you follow our blog posts, you know that we LOVE messy, sensory, textural play.  


There are so many benefits to sensory play for young children.  They can explore textures, colors, scents while manipulating with their hands, expanding language skills, developing self-confidence, and so much more.  And while they are playing, they are exploring, exploring, investigating, and creating!  


This gift guide provides ideas to incorporate sensory play into daily play.  We wanted to provide a list of gift ideas so that sensory play can be done easily once you have all of the needed items.  What better time to stock the activity bin/closet/box than during the holidays?  


Maybe a relative is asking for gift ideas and there is something you would LOVE your kids to play with for sensory experiences.  Direct them to this gift guide for ideas to encourage sensory play!

Sensory Tools

First let’s cover a bit about how these toys are sensory tools. When it comes to kids, play is their primary occupation. It’s their main job. Through play, kids learn about the world around them, they practice and develop skills, and they interact with others.

Play is also a prime way to incorporate movement and sensory experiences, allowing kids to regulate their nervous system, calm down, focus, attend to tasks, and remember important experiences.

Sensory tools are means of facilitating sensory input. Whether that input is calming, alerting, or something else, it’s through experiences or sensory tools that a child gains sensory input. Sensory tools can offer movement, tactile input, visual input, or input through the olfactory system, gustatory system, auditory system and interoceptive system.

Check out this resource on sensory processing for more information on all of the senses and how they integrate to enable functional participation in day to day tasks.

The specifically selected toys and tools below incorporate sensory input in one way or another.

Amazon affiliate links are included below.

Sensory Toys and sensory tools ideas for kids

Light Tables as a Sensory TOOL

Have you ever used a light table in therapy? It’s a fun sensory experience for kids to challenge fine motor skills, as well as cognitive skills, and even posture or balance, all with the sensory input of a light table and manipulatives.

Light Panel in Sensory Play:
This Portable Light Panel is great for visual sensory exploration.  Tracing and tactile manipulation can enhance math, handwriting, spatial relationships, and more through sensory play.

You could add a few Light Table Pattern Blocks or even magnetic Imaginarium Letters & Numbers like we did in our DIY Sensory Light Box post.  Explore the shapes and textures of leaves, petals, and so much more with a light table!

Messy Sensory Toys

Our kids LOVE to get messy!  Not all kids do, however, and may need gradual experiences to build up their tolerance to sensory touch and manipulate different textures.  Some of our favorite messy play materials are:

Kinetic Sand (such a cool texture…but be warned, Moon Dough is VERY messy!)

Educational Insights Playfoam (such a neat textural experience!)

Aqua Sand Polar Playground is another super messy but very cool play experience.  The wet sand dries immediately, how fun!

Glow in The Dark Slime is slimy, messy, and glow in the dark.  Add a few Marbles and you’ve got a super sensory texture. The slime and the marbles would make fun stocking stuffers!

Scented Sensory Toys

Scented Play is a fun way to engage and alert the senses through sensory toys.

Remember these Mr. Sketch Scented Markers from grade school?  I can still remember that blueberry scent!  What a great way to explore the sense of smell while playing and creating art.  Have the kids draw with the markers and then spray the art work with a water bottle to see the colors run.  This would be a great sensory and process art project for kids of all ages!

This Scented Balls Set sounds so neat!  We’ve never played with these before, but they each come in a different scent and would make an awesome stocking stuffer!

Sensory Bin Toys

There are so many ways to use a sensory bin in sensory play. You can offer texture challenges that meet the needs of the child AND incorporate learning opportunities.

Color Changing Tablets for Sensory Play:
The sense of sight is such an immediate one!  A sensory experience can be set up for the kids and as soon as they see a bright green bin of water with scoops or foam pieces, they are excited for play! 

These Color My Bath Color Changing Bath Tablets are great for setting the stage for multi-sensory play.  We’ve used them in our Swamp Water Bin Sensory Play activity.  Watching the colors fizz and mix is such a fun experience!

Throw these tablets into the bath tub along with a few unexpected items (Paint Brushes, fun eye droppers like these Learning Resources Twisty Droppers , or a Funnel Set) and you’ve got a great sensory play environment!

Manipulatives In Sensory Play:
Sensory play is such a fun way to play and learn any topic.  Exploring textures with sensory input can really instill learning. So what can you put in the sensory bin, or water bin, or in the shaving cream on a tray?  The possibilities are endless!

Try a jungle theme and add Jungle Animal Counters.  Maybe your child LOVES dinosaurs and would go crazy to play with Mini Dinosaurs
in a tub of birdseed.  Any theme or subject can be added to sensory play. 

Water Beads in Sensory Play:
There is nothing more fun than this sensory play item!  Water Beads are typically used as a vase filler because once soaked in water, they expand and become a super sensory, fun, fine motor medium. 

We’ve used them in sensory bins of all kinds.  This set from Bundle Monster is great deal and comes in so many fun colors.  (Note: always be sure to supervise children when playing with water beads!)

Water Tables In Sensory Play:
Water tables are great for sensory play.  Despite it’s name, water tables are not JUST for water!  There are so many possibilities for messy play with a water table.  Goop, moon dough, birdseed,  shaving cream…the possibilities for sensory and textural play are endless! A water table is not just for outdoor play during the summer months.  We love bringing our sand and water table indoors during the cooler months and playing with bigger items like seashells, animal figures in play dough, mixing flour and a bit of water. 

We love this Step2 Water Table for its large basin, the added water wheel (How fun to pour sand and watch it fall!). So many senses can be addressed with water table play.  We explored the textures of fall with a Fall Themed Water Table.  Since we’ve added our water table to our play, we’ve had so much sensory play fun!

Sensory Tools in a sensory bin

There are many materials that can be added to a bin or low tray and used as a sensory tool. Some of these can be very inexpensive, making them great tools for sensory exploration. Incorporate these materials into multisensory learning, too.

More Ideas for sensory play:
shaving cream
food coloring
scoops
birdseed
field corn
split peas
dry beans
colored rice
colored sand
cotton balls
tinsel

Sensory Fidget Toys

Fidget toys are a fun (and popular) way to address attention needs through small scale sensory input. Each of these fidget toys promote fine motor development by encouraging finger isolation, bilateral coordination, precision, and eye-hand coordination.

Great stocking stuffers for sensory play:

Sensory Balls

Textured Sensory Fidget Toy– Great for bilateral coordination and fine moor skills.

Wooden Puzzle Fidget

Pull and Stretch Bounce Ball

Sensory Toys for Calming Input

The ideas below make great gift ideas because they add heavy work input, or calming movement input, through the proprioceptive system and vestibular sensory system. These sensory tools can be a great addition to the home.

Alerting Sensory Toys

These toy ideas van be alerting activities that “wake up” the sensory system. For others, through, they can calm the system, because the child gains a sensory work out when using them. Be sure to contact an occupational therapist for a sensory evaluation and suggestions for the needs of each individual.

So, if you are looking for a few ideas to add some sensory fun to your gift giving this holiday…or have family and friends asking for gift ideas…maybe one of these sensory play toys will be just right for your little one!  This list is by no means exclusive.  There are limitless ways to encourage sensory exploration into play.  We just wanted to provide a few ideas.  Happy playing!

More Movement sensory toy ideas

The lists of toy suggestions in the following blog posts are geared toward specific developmental areas. But, when it comes to movement, there are many sensory components intrinsically incorporated into the play. Check out these specific toy ideas:

  1. Fine Motor Toys
  2. Gross Motor Toys
  3. Pencil Grasp Toys
  4. Toys for Reluctant Writers
  5. Toys for Spatial Awareness
  6. Toys for Visual Tracking
  7. Toys for Sensory Play
  8. Bilateral Coordination Toys 
  9. Games for Executive Functioning Skills 
  10. Toys and Tools to Improve Visual Perception 
  11. Toys to Help with Scissors Skills 
  12. Toys for Attention and Focus 

Printable List of Toys for SENSORY NEEDS

Want a printable copy of our therapist-recommended toys to support sensory processing?

As therapy professionals, we LOVE to recommend therapy toys that build skills! This toy list is done for you so you don’t need to recreate the wheel.

Your therapy caseload will love these SENSORY toy recommendations. (There’s space on this handout for you to write in your own toy suggestions, to meet the client’s individual needs, too!)

Enter your email address into the form below. The OT Toolbox Member’s Club Members can access this handout inside the dashboard, under Educational Handouts. Just be sure to log into your account, first!

Therapist-Recommended
SENSORY TOYS HANDOUT

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    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.

    Therapy for Picky Eaters

    food therapy for extremely picky eaters

    In this blog post, we are covering therapy for picky eaters. Occupational therapists and speech therapy practitioners often cover extremely picky eating in therapy sessions, but how do they know where to begin with food therapy? Let’s cover specifically how to help extremely picky eaters, food for picky eaters, and therapy suggestions for extremely picky picky eating disorder.

    Therapy for Picky Eaters

    Fifty years ago, feeding therapy this would not have been a popular topic. Children ate what was provided, like it or not.  Sometimes parents would spare the child and leave the offending objects off of the plate. More often than not, children over the age of four were expected to eat what everyone else was eating.

    Fast forward to 2022. There has been a huge rise in allergies, picky eaters, and problem feeders. How to help extremely picky eaters  has become the forefront of many occupational therapy sessions and referrals.

    There has been a marked rise in food sensitivity (gluten intolerance, lactose intolerance) or allergies to certain foods.  This goes hand in hand with the rise of anxiety, illness, ADHD, autism, and poor immune response. 

    Picky Eater List

    There is a difference between oral motor skills that impact feeding abilities and a child’s picky eating. Foods that make the “picky eater’s list” might include certain food texture issues, food mixtures, food sensory issues like crunchy foods, and even foods that require utensils. 

    A short list of some foods that are not on the plate of extremely picky eaters might include:

    • Sandwiches
    • Rice
    • Chicken breast or other meats
    • Carrots
    • Cheese
    • Sauces
    • Vegetables
    • Fruits

    Obviously this is a short list and any number of foods, food types can be on a picky eater list. Any other number of foods or food combinations

    Looking at this list, you can see the limitations in nutrients, vitamins, proteins, and brain-building foods that are missing from the plate of an extremely picky eater.

    It is not productive to get stuck in the “why is my child a picky eater”, but move forward to “what can I do about picky eating”.  I am not just an experienced feeding therapist, I too had two picky eaters who survived on 3-4 different foods in their second and third year of development.  

    In order to help my daughters, I had to remove my thoughts impacting how I approached tackling that picky eater list for each child. That includes putting aside parenting/worry/anxiety/they’re starving persona, and put on my therapist hat.  I am happy to report they are thriving adults who eat a huge variety of foods!

     NOTE*The term, “learner” is used throughout this post for readability and inclusion. Not all picky eaters are children. This information is relevant for students, patients, clients, preschoolers, kids/children of all ages and stages or whomever could benefit from these resources. The term “they” is used instead of he/she to be inclusive.

     How to help extremely picky eaters 

    To learn how to help extremely picky eaters, it is important to define it first.  

    Picky eating is different from problem feeding.  Often, but not always, extremely picky eating is actually a problem feeding disorder. This has recently been renamed Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder ARFID.  ARFID is not classified with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, as persons with ARFID or problem feeding do not restrict their intake due to body image.

    The term picky eating includes:

    • Selective eating habits
    • Eats 10-20 different foods (preferred foods)
    • Will often eat more if hungry
    • Not missing entire food groups
    • Can often be bribed or rewarded for good eating
    • Can be distracted into eating
    • Adds new foods to their diet

    Problem feeding (extremely picky eating) refers to:

    • Refusal to eat
    • Rigid eating habits (no food touching, specific brand, same plate, cut a certain way)
    • Eats less than 10 different foods
    • Will starve before they eat unwanted foods
    • Missing entire food groups 
    • Behavioral reactions: gagging, vomiting, crying, anxiety, refusal to sit at the table
    • Increased sensitivity to the taste and/or texture of foods
    • No amount of rewards, bribing, punishing will magically make this go away
    • Does not recognize hunger
    • Food jags, will lose foods once eaten regularly

    What is the difference between picky eating and problem feeding?                

    The picky eater will survive.  They are likely to consume at least one meat, fruit, and vegetable and a bunch of carbs.  

    Continue to put out expected foods on the plate and encourage tasting of new foods.  The problem feeder on the other hand, is not consuming enough calories, or getting the right nutrition.  

    A person surviving on four foods often gets tired of one of them, eating only three foods now.  This is more of a dire situation and the treatment is complicated.

    If you have a problem feeder, seek treatment from a therapist who is certified or has attended classes in feeding therapy.  There is a lot that can go wrong working with problem feeders.

    The Sequential Oral Sensory course, Beckman Oral Motor Therapy, and Mealtime Miseries are popular courses. Having this information can help in identifying whether extremely picky eating is related to sensory or oral motor difficulties.

    Therapy for Extremely Picky Eating

    After viewing the list, if you feel the learner is more of a picky eater, there are several strategies that can help.

    Following a feeding evaluation, feeding therapy can begin. Start a structured feeding problem including the following:

    1. Feeding Therapy Interview

    Interview the caregiver to determine the following:       

    • What foods the learner eats – a specific list will determine texture, variety, color, or patterns. Are all the foods crunchy? Are they all brown?
    • How many foods the learner eats – less than 10 is a problem, 10-15 is picky, and above 20 is average. Count two different cookies as two items, two cereals as two items.
    • Medical history – Is there a history of reflux, G-tube, or NG-tube, swallowing issues?
    • Time frame for eating – A typical meal should last 20-30 minutes for a child.
    • Where the learner eats – Does the learner eat at the table or in front of the television? Do they run around the room catching a bite here and there?
    • Behavioral reactions during meal times – Does the child flee the table? Turn their whole body away from the food, vomit, cry, refuse to open their mouth, gag, spit out food?

    Record information from caregivers and look for clues to feeding issues, other than the exhibited behavior. The person may have a history of reflux that makes eating very uncomfortable.  They may have been verbally abused and shamed during mealtime, making eating an unpleasant experience. Perhaps the child has never had structure or routine during meal time, thus not making eating a priority. 

    2. Planning for Feeding therapy

    Start treatment planning                

    Begin with the provided list of preferred foods to determine what foods to try first.  A Food Inventory Questionnaire can be used for this step.

    If the learner eats: crackers, pancakes, waffles, bread, and dry cereal, they may have a preference for white/brown foods that are dry. Some are crunchy foods and some are soft foods, but all are dry. 

    The next in order would be another dry brown food such as toast, bagel, cookie, or different type of cracker. 

    Once the child tolerates more brown dry foods the next texture in the same color family would be a banana or plain macaroni. 

    For the learner who eats only purees or smooth foods like pudding, yogurt, and baby food, the next step would be to try different flavors of yogurt or pudding. For a learner who only eats smooth foods, it is important not to vary the texture yet. After the child tolerates this texture, then a trial of applesauce may work.

    Adding flavor choices and additional nutrients can be found in sauces or dips. While this can be a source of refusal for some kids, others prefer dips such as ketchup or ranch dressing.

    Take a look at what the individual is gaining from these dips. Both can be high in sodium and that salt intake is preferred. Can you offer other foods to dip into the preferred choices?

    Think about other similar options that may offer a similar sensory input through texture or taste:

    • butter for pasta rather than sauces
    • pizza sauce in place of ketchup

    3. Feeding Therapy Treatment session              

    Ask the learner or their caregiver to provide two favored foods and 2-3 non favored foods. Having preferred foods decreases anxiety as  the child is not presented with a plate of non favored foods.  

    It is important for the learner/caregiver to provide the food.  Possible allergic reactions are diminished, as the caregiver is more aware of the learner’s diet. There may be cultural or dietary foods that the family prefers.

    It doesn’t do any good for the therapist to work for weeks on waffles and applesauce, if the family does not offer these foods.

    Food presentation – Present all foods on the plate in small portions, or a choice of two options with small bites of each. Avoid huge piles of non-preferred food, as it increases anxiety or aversion.

    Divided plates help ease anxiety, as do small portions. It can help to present the food as snacks, using a snack plate or small tea plate.

    Food exploration- Start to encourage eating, or at least food exploration.  Have the learner look at the food, touch the food, touch it to their face, give a kiss, give a lick, take a bite, chew, and swallow. This resource on sensory touch can offer more information and strategies to support tactile exploration.

    There are 27 steps to eating from being in the same room as the food, to chewing and swallowing it.  This makes learning to eat new foods challenging. 

    Offer food options- Allow the child to touch foods or use their fingertips to pick up and eat or taste the foods. In some cases, muscles and coordination are not appropriate for utensil use, limiting options.

    Read about suggestions to improve how to hold a spoon and fork.

    Offer various food temperatures. Consider the sensory input offered by cooked carrots vs. raw carrots. 

    Offer various food cuts. Consider the amount of force needed to bite baby carrots vs. shredded carrots.

    Food Therapy Progression

    Food therapy interventions are about progressing through with small incremental changes to food offerings with observation and food challenges. Some food therapy goal banks are included below.

    Learner is able to:

    1. Be in the same room as the food, then in the same area as the food.
    2. Sit near the food, then in front of the food without turning away.
    3. Look at food, touch the non preferred item, smell the food.
    4. Touch  the food to face, then lips, then give it a kiss.
    5. Lick the food, take a bite and spit it out, chew the food with the option to take it out.

    While presenting and working on the feeding portion, observe for signs of oral motor issues that might indicate oral motor development considerations.

    • Does the learner chew from side to side or munch up and down?
    • Do they have good lip closure?
    • Do they have an intense gag reflex?
    • Can they move the food around effectively?
    • Can they bite into the food?

    4. Carryover of Therapy for Picky Eaters

    The ultimate goal is to carryover skills achieved in therapy sessions into a functional environment. Discuss techniques with caregivers and encourage them to try the same foods later in the day.

    Remind them to be calm and not emotional during feeding time. The goal is to have fun with food and find mealtime enjoyable.

    For more information on how to help extremely picky eaters, I have also published a helpful resource book (Amazon affiliate link) Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes for to understand different environments that may be impacting the eating habits of your child/clients, including the cafeteria, kitchen, restaurants, and more.  

    Feeding and toileting are two of the most frustrating, anxiety producing stages of childhood. Children start to exert their free will at this stage and can no longer be forced to do certain things.

    Encourage parents, educate yourself on this topic, and spread the word, so problem feeding does not continue to rise along with other scary diagnoses. 

    This post is part of a series on feeding disorders/picky eating. Other resources you will find helpful include:

    Victoria Wood

    Victoria Wood, OTR/L 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.

    Sensory Touch

    sensory touch

    One of the first postnatal senses to develop is sensory touch.  There are eight senses to sensory processing, with touch being one of the more important ones.  The tactile system helps the brain understand and make sense of the world around it. Starting in infancy, people use touch to explore objects, protect themselves from danger, and safely navigate their world. Sensory touch is an important piece to looking at a sensory processing disorder checklist.

    Sensory touch

    Sensory touch

    According to what we know about sensory processing, and looking at the sensory processing disorder chart, The body sends tactile information to the somatosensory cortex through neural pathways to the spinal cord, the brain stem, and the thalamus.

    The primary somatosensory cortex is the primary receptive area for touch sensations and is located in the lateral postcentral gyrus, a prominent structure in the parietal lobe of the human brain.

    Think of sensory touch and the tactile system as a set of wired pathways, similar to the inner workings of a machine. In a typical body, the wires are the correct size, go the right direction, and send the appropriate information from the touch receptors to the brain. 

    Types of sensory touch

    Three Types of sensory touch

    There are three types of touch; light touch, deep pressure, and discriminative touch.  

    • Light touch is alerting.  It may alert you to danger such as something touching the skin, or brushing against a spider web. For those with sensory sensitivity, light touch can be bothersome, painful, and elicit negative emotions. 
    • Deep pressure tends to be calming.  Hugs, weighted blankets, and compression clothing, offer external deep pressure sensory touch. Deep pressure can also alert the body about how tight something is, if there is too much pressure, or not enough. 
    • Discriminative touch alerts the body/brain to the type of sensory touch.  It helps describe the incoming information.  Was it sticky, wet, dry, rough, bumpy, hot/cold, or smooth?

    Sensory Touch Issues

    How does this affect people with sensory touch difficulties?

    If the sensory touch system is not functioning optimally, the wiring can be off. Some wires might be too large, sending too much information at once (sensitivity). 

    Other wires may be too small, not sending enough information (sensory seeking). 

    Sometimes the wires are too long, taking it longer for the messages to be sent to the brain and registered.

    Other times the wires don’t go where they are supposed to, and misinformation is sent.

    Slow responses to touch sensory input, or the wiring may be too long/send misinformation:

    • Doesn’t notice if hands or face are messy or dirty
    • Doesn’t cry when seriously hurt and isn’t bothered by minor injuries
    • May not notice if bumped or pushed

    Seeking out touch sensory input or the wiring is too small:

    • Touching people to the point of irritating them
    • Loves messy play
    • Likes haircuts
    • Constantly touching objects, running their hands along the walls, or playing in the dirt

    Sensitivity to touch sensory input or the wiring is too big:

    • Dislikes having hair cut or brushed
    • Difficulty with toe and fingernail cutting
    • Fussy with food textures
    • Avoids getting messy, wants to wash hands immediately
    • Does not explore with touch
    • Irritated with certain clothing textures, labels and seams and socks. Avoids new clothes

    Sensory Touch and Function

    So, how does touch affect functional tasks?

    Touch is critical to making sense of the world. Along with the other senses, it teaches the brain the characteristics of an object or situation.

    This is the reason babies and young children touch everything!  They can not understand a new object without physically exploring it.  

    Let’s break down the definition of sensory touch terminology:

    • Stereognosis – a fancy word meaning; the ability to feel an object, and know what it is without seeing it.  An example of stereognosis is reaching into a bag to find a set of keys. 
    • Dyspraxia – difficulty with motor movements. Without the correct sensory touch information, movements and motor planning can be difficult.  Is that sand going to be soft and squishy, how close to the wall am I walking, how much force do I use when petting this puppy?
    • Tactile defensiveness Inability to tolerate touching food, wearing certain clothes, standing in line, being touched, exploring the environment, or experiencing new tactile sensations.

    Another component of touch that impacts functional performance is the information about touch that keeps us safe and gives us information about the world around us. This includes touch information such as:

    • Where is a particular item touching me?
    • The sensory touch awareness that “disappears” over time (feeling your socks on your feet when you put them on, but then not constantly feeling the “feel” of the socks on your feet). This awareness isn’t always present in Autistic individuals.
    • Is this item hot or cold?
    • Is a particular item too sharp or dangerous?

    Somatosensory Touch

    Somatosensory touch is a physiological body process which includes several aspects of sensory touch:

    • Exteroception input which can include touch sensitivity, thermoreceptive input (heat and temperature awareness), pain receptors
    • Interoceptive perception– awareness of pressure or feelings inside the body
    • Proprioceptive perception– feelings and awareness of joints and body awareness.

    Research about the somatosensory touch sense

    There are several research articles available on the somatosensory or tactile system:

    1. This article covers the sensory neurons of touch, including important information about the somatosensory system which serves three major functions; exteroreceptive (perception of sensory stimuli outside the body and on the skin), interoceptive (perception of internal stimuli inside the body), and proprioceptive functions (for the perception and control of body position and balance). Of important mention is the inclusion of
    2. This article which covers the development of touch.
    3. This article which discusses the common influences of the visual and tactile systems in using similar cognitive processes to enable humans to rely merely on one modality in the absence of another to recognize surrounding objects.
    4. This article discusses how Meissner’s corpuscles work in sensory touch, and how the location and presence of the number and distribution of Meissner’s corpuscles occurs in different locations on the human body.

    These are scientific journal articles which provide facts and research on theories about the sensory touch aspect of sensory processing.  To the layperson, they are difficult to read and decipher. Using the wiring example above, along with concrete examples may prove to be more beneficial to caregivers.

    Sensory Integration and Touch

    Sensory integration is the ability to correctly receive and interpret information from the senses. Difficulty with sensory integration, often labeled sensory processing disorder, results in misinformation about incoming information. It can be in one or more of the senses.  

    Why do babies touch everything?

    Babies and toddlers explore with touch.  A person who has not integrated this sense, may need to explore with touch long beyond the acceptable time frame. Learners who are developmentally delayed may exhibit “inappropriate” sensory behaviors because their system is functioning at a much lower level. 

    A four year old functioning at a one year old level would be expected to explore with taste and touch. 

    Infants and children who are born prematurely may also have difficulty with sensory regulation.  Their sensory systems were not developed well in utero, and it is almost impossible to mimic the womb sensations in an external NICU. 

    Premature children may be especially vulnerable to sensory challenges.

    Sensory Touch Preferences

    Everyone has their own set of sensory preferences.  You might dislike wearing jeans, cut the tags in your clothing, love snuggling under a heavy blanket, or prefer not to get messy. 

    These can be normal reactions to touch.  It becomes a problem when the reaction to sensory input impacts function. 

    The person who can not wear any clothes, is not able to be around people who might touch them, or has a panic attack stepping on the sand, are on the further ends of the typical spectrum.

    Their ability to lead a productive life is being compromised by their sensory difficulties. These are the people who may benefit from treatment.

    What can I do about this?

    The first step is understanding. Understanding a child is not “bad” or being difficult on purpose. Provide good tactile experiences to nurture and build the sensory system. 

    Hands on strategies to support sensory touch:

    Understanding sensory touch, along with the other seven senses is tricky and complicated. What seems like a basic human function, can be a tangled web of crossed wires and misinformation.

    NOTE*The term, “learner” is used throughout this post for readability and inclusion. This information is relevant for students, patients, clients, preschoolers, kids/children of all ages and stages or whomever could benefit from these resources. The term “they” is used instead of he/she to be inclusive.

    Victoria Wood

    Victoria Wood, OTR/L 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.

    Thanksgiving Mindfulness Activity

    Turkey exercise for a mindful thanksgiving

    Having a mindful Thanksgiving is so important, but have you ever considered HOW to achieve Thanksgiving mindfulness during a time when abundance is everywhere? Today, we have a few tips on holiday mindfulness, but also a great turkey exercise. This Thanksgiving deep breathing exercise is a tool to use when the overwhelming feelings of a big holiday event can overcome emotions and behaviors. Add this turkey activity to your Thanksgiving occupational therapy plans.

    Thanksgiving Mindfulness

    This time of year, being mindful is a huge part of the gratitude of Thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving Mindfulness activity doubles as a deep breathing coping strategy but also is helpful in teaching kids to be mindful during a time of year when the holidays can get the best of them.

    A few weeks ago, you may have seen a Pumpkin deep breathing exercise on The OT Toolbox. This mindfulness strategy is inline with that coping tool. Use it to talk to the kids about mindfulness or as a sensory strategy.

    Thanksgiving mindfulness activity with deep breathing exercise to use as a coping strategy with kids.

    During the time of year when signs of a feast is everywhere (from a family get together to a feast in the classroom), it can be easy to become overwhelmed by tensions, boundaries of others, and even the over-abundance.

    For our kiddos with sensory needs, we see this play out in emotions, behavioral meltdowns, and sensory regulation needs.  

    However, for ALL of us, sometimes having an open mind and mindful strategies can support a complex season. 

    Mindfulness for kids can be a creative way to address common concerns with attention, self-regulation, self-awareness, coping skills, and concentration.

    Mindfulness activities can be a way for kids to be more present in the moment, and more aware of themselves in every situation, including in the home, in the classroom, and while performing everyday activities.

    With the turkey exercise below, we use a few areas of mindful attention:

    • Deep breathing
    • Coloring (if using the coloring page)

    Deep breathing exercises can improve a child’s attention, emotional regulation through mindful attention to Breath Control

    Breathing exercises are a coping tool to support relaxation by attentive breathing. When focused breathing occurs with breath control to inhale a deep, diaphragmatic breathing strategy, and then held for a moment to hold the breath at full capacity, there are many calming benefits, which can slow a racing mind. This relaxation breathing is a breath control mechanism.

    Mindfulness Strategies for Big Holidays

    There are many ways to incorporate mindfulness into holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas. You can still honor the spirit of Thanksgiving or other big holidays even when overwhelm and a racing mind are at play.

    Here are some of our favorite mindfulness tools for holidays:

    • Fun Mindfulness activities for kids–  creative mindfulness exercises that can help kids feel better, reduce stress, address anxiety, and have a greater awareness of their body and mind. Mindfulness activities for kids can be used as a self-regulation tool or a coping strategy. 
    • Go for a quick walk to add movement, heavy work through the body, and the opportunity to take a few deep breaths.
    • Make a list of things you are grateful for. Use that gratitude to pray, give thanks, or use in gratitude meditation.
    • Talk about gratitude with kids. This Bear Says Thanks activity is a great hands-on activity for this lesson.
    • Take a walk in nature and practice gratitude while walking
    • Talk about gratitude. You don’t need to save thankfulness for the Thanksgiving table. Talk about the things you are thankful for each day.
    • Consider mindful eating during big meals or family meals.
    • Winter Theme Mindfulness Activities–  Use these tips for mindfulness in the classroom and creative mindfulness exercises with a winter theme. 
    • Mindfulness Videos on YouTube– Use these YouTube videos to help kids pay attention and responding to input from the world around us, including emotionally and cognitively. 
    • Make gratitude and mindfulness a habit. 
    • Adding a quick morning meditation can help with overall wellbeing.
    • Hug your friends and family. Did you know there are benefits to giving and receiving hugs? Not only do they offer proprioceptive input through deep pressure, but they can be very calming.

    Turkey Exercise for Mindfulness

    This mindfulness activity is a fun one for kids this time of year. Like our pumpkin deep breathing exercise, we used a visual graphic of a turkey paired with directions to breathe deeply as a sensory coping strategy. Use the turkey deep breathing activity to teach kids mindfulness and awareness.

    Use the printable along with these free Thankful Turkey Templates for hands-on play.

    What better activity is there for Thanksgiving and the season of gratitude?

    • Kids can use this Thanksgiving mindfulness activity to wind down after a busy day, cope with sensory overload, and be more aware of things they can express gratitude for.
    • Use the printable turkey exercise as a breathing tool during the chaos of a family dinner.
    • Use this Thanksgiving themed mindfulness tool to address sensory issues such as sensory overload. It’s a great way to add a mini-sensory break into busy days filled with family and festivities. Simply taking a few moments to add deep breathing exercises can help with feelings of overwhelming sensory overload and add the calming moment a child might need.
    • It works for kids of all ages, too…take a few moments with your kiddos to step back, breathe deeply, and express gratitude or awareness.

    It’s a great way to introduce mindfulness to children with a visual representation of the deep breathing strategy and awareness of the world around them.

    Ok, so how does this work? Let’s try this mindfulness meditation task!

    How to Use this Turkey Exercise for Mindfulness

    Print off the turkey exercise by entering your email address into the form below. This resource is also available in our OT Toolbox Member’s Club, on the Thanksgiving Therapy Theme page.

    1. Use the visual graphic to follow the arrows as you take deep breaths in and out.
    2. Pair the deep breathing with thoughts of things that you are thankful for with each breath.
    3. For each feather on the turkey, you will concentrate on one thing, person, or aspect that you are thankful for. Maybe it’s a warm house. Maybe you are thankful for the sun shining outside. Maybe it’s a frantic house filled with family and friends. Maybe it’s a job that pays the bills.

    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.

    Use the Thanksgiving mindfulness 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 thankful for. Then, quietly say an item with each breath break.

    Use the Turkey Deep Breathing Exercise in a Group

    This exercise is a great addition to group gratitude activities.

    As a mindfulness group activity, use the turkey graphic and explain that they will be pairing deep breathing with a focus on gratitude. Come up with a list of things the group is thankful for and as you work through he deep breathing exercise, the children in the group can focus on things that they are thankful for personally.

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

    Adding the deep breathing exercise with intentional thoughts makes this a Thanksgiving Mindfulness activity that can be so helpful for kids (and adults) of all ages!

    Thanksgiving mindfulness activity for kids

    Free Thanksgiving Mindfulness Exercise

    You can print off a version of this turkey exercise deep breathing tool. Enter your email address into the form below. The OT Toolbox Member’s Club members can access this resource inside our Member’s Club on the Thanksgiving Therapy Theme page.

    Free Thanksgiving Mindfulness Turkey Exercise

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      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.

      Bat Template Fine Motor Activity

      Bat stencil template

      This bat template is a fine motor activity, perfect for building motor skills with a Halloween twist. Use the bat printable as a stencil to cut out, trace, and then use in fine motor work. Add this to your Halloween occupational therapy activities!

      Bat Template

      Fall is here and that means it’s time to pull out the Halloween crafts! This bat Halloween craft is a favorite in our house, and it’s actually a fun way to celebrate Halloween with kids without spooky decorations.

      We also used this bat template in a Stellaluna activity that also challenged visual processing skills. Be sure to check that activity out for another way to use this printable bat stencil.

      The nice thing about using our bat template is that it becomes an open-ended Halloween craft idea is one that doesn’t need a lot of materials. In fact, it’s a simple craft idea that is big on the fine motor skill development! When kids make this bat craft, they will be boosting skills such as fine motor strength and dexterity in a big way.

      For more Halloween craft ideas, check out some of the ideas at the bottom of this post…it’s the perfect addition if you’re looking for Halloween crafts for toddlers or Halloween crafts for preschool parties.

      Related, check out these spider activities for more spooky but fun ideas.

      Printable bat stencil to use in fine motor crafts for Halloween


      Bat Template Craft

      We made this bat craft with a fun sensory twist.  And, since we have a certain second grader that is cursive handwriting obsessed, we decided to add a cursive handwriting twist to this activity.  This activity could work to help kids with letter formation of upper case letters, lowercase letters, or numbers too. The possibilities are endless. 

      We arranged the bat template so you can print out one bat printable page and then get 3 bats from the one page.

      Or, if you are using the bat templates with a group of kids like in a classroom Halloween party activity, you can easily cut the bat template page into three sections with one bat stencil for each child.

      This post contains affiliate links.

      Cut out bat template and trace onto black paper with yarn

      Bat Printable

      To make your bat craft, you’ll need just a few materials.

      Affiliate links are included.

      • Bat printable (get your copy below)
      • black cardstock 
      • black yarn 
      • Glue 
      • Scissors (THIS is my favorite brand and the ones that I always recommended as an Occupational Therapist!)
      • Pencil or marker

      This is a great Halloween craft for preschoolers because it’s a fantastic way to work on scissor skills with a Halloween activity.

      Make the Bat Template

      1. First print out the Pat printable onto printer paper.
      2. Cut out the bat templates on the page. Each template has three bats. Students can cut out the bat printable or the adult can do this as preparation work.
      3. Trace the bat template onto cardstock or black construction paper. This is another good task for students to do as tracing the bat template supports development of bilateral coordination skills, eye-hand coordination, crossing midline, and pencil control skills.  
      4. Cut out the bat template.

      Kids can cut out the shape using their Scissors for great scissor skill work.  The bat shape is a complex cutting shape and can be done by Elementary aged students.  

      Cutting the angled wings and curves can be difficult, but by using the cardstock, kids will get a bit fore proprioceptive feedback from the thicker resistance of the paper material.  

      To make the task easier, cut wings without the jagged lines or use thicker cutting lines when you draw the bat shape.  

      Decorate the Bat Cutout

      Once you have the bat, you’ll need to cut pieces of the black yarn.  Have your child cut long or short pieces, it doesn’t really matter what length they wish to cut for their bat’s texture.  

      1. Cut black yarn for the bat cutout.

      Cutting the yarn is a great material to practice appropriate scissor positioning and bilateral hand coordination.  

      If a child is holding the scissors on an angle, cutting the yarn will be more difficult.  (You may see them trying to “saw” at the yarn!) Encourage them to hold the scissors straight up and down and the blades of the scissors at a 90 degree angle to the yarn.  You can find more of our Scissor Skills activities.

      Child dipping black yarn into glue to stick to the bat printable

      2. Next, pour some glue into a shallow dish or plate.  Show your child how to drag the yarn through the glue and get it nice and saturated with the glue.  Use both hands to pinch and “scrape” off excess glue from the piece of yarn.  

      3. Next, drape the black yarn on the bat shape.  You can let your child get as creative as they wish with this part.  Some might like to outline the bat shape and others, just pile it up on the bat.  

      4. Let the glue and yarn harden and you’ll have a textured bat craft to use in Halloween decorations this Fall.  You will have to wait for the glue to dry, probably overnight.

      Use the Bat Printable in Handwriting Practice

      Occupational therapy practitioners know the value of using a single activity or material to develop a variety of skill areas. That is the case with this bat printable…use it to work on handwriting skills too!

      We used those saturated yarn pieces to build cursive letters, but you could build printed letters as well, using our letter construction method.

      This would be an excellent way to practice cursive letter formation in our Creative Cursive handwriting journal activity.

      Make letters with yarn and decorate the bat printable.

      Use this Bat Craft for kids to work on letter formation of any kind. It’s a creative writing activity that they will be sure to remember. Work on forming individual letters, spelling sight words, or making Halloween words.

      Bat template and letters made with black yarn.

      Use the Bat Printable in Learning

      This would work as a very fun…and very sensory…classroom Halloween party idea or learning activity for this time of year, while working on team work skills, and learning components.

      1. Split kids up into teams. Give each team a collection of cut black yarn and a bowl of glue.
      2. Write a spelling word, or a Halloween word on the board or hold up a sign with a Halloween word.
      3. Each team has to work together to use the cut yarn and glue to spell the Halloween word on a piece of paper or cardboard.
      4. Once a team has completed the word, they have to hold up their paper or cardboard. The first team to spell the word with the letters sticking wins! (Too much glue or not enough glue will make this a fun race for Halloween parties for kids of all ages.)
      Use black yarn to decorate the bat printable template and then write words with black yarn.

      Build printed letters with the glue yarn, too.  We had a lot of fun with this Halloween craft and it was a hit with all of my kids…from preschool on up to grade school.

      Check out some of these other Halloween activities and crafts:

      Free Bat Template

      Want a copy of this free bat template printable? Enter your email address into the form below to get a copy of this Halloween printable. This activity is also available inside The OT Toolbox Member’s Club under our Bat Therapy Theme. Members can log in and get the bat template there without entering an email address. Not a member yet? Join us today.

      Free Bat Stencil

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        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.

        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! 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.

        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!

          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.

          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

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            Victoria Wood

            Victoria Wood, OTR/L 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? What are 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.

            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.

            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

            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. 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! 

            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.