Baking Soda Paints

baking soda paint

Many years ago (July 28, 2015 to be exact…this post has been updated!) we made this set of baking soda paints. It was a fun outdoor, creative painting activity and we painted on the driveway. I wanted to come back to this sensory painting idea again, because it’s such a fun way to be creative with kids. Plus, kids can mix up paints of their own and work on scooping and pouring with the ingredients and support those fine motor skills. I think it’s a fun idea you’ll want to check out!

baking soda paint

Baking Soda Paint

The amazement of watching a child’s face light up when science and discovery happens is like watching a light turn on.  

This baking soda and vinegar paint experiment is a creative painting and sensory way to explore science through painting.  My kids had so much fun exploring the chemical reaction of baking soda and vinegar with our bright and bold homemade paints. We ended up with vivid paintings and had a great time creating.

Be sure to read our article on why kids need messy play…this activity sure does support those needs!

And, this activity is a great one for adding to a messy playdate with friends. As an OT, I LOVE using this activity for so many goal areas!

STEAM Activity

One fun benefit of this activity is that it’s a STEAM activity. we’ve covered the benefits of fine motor STEM activities, but the creative painting aspect of using the baking soda paints adds an art component to the science, technology, engineering, art, and math.

We’ve use STEM activities before, including with our baking powder boats.

You might want to check out our baking soda snowmen sensory activity for another fun science activity.

Baking Soda and Vinegar Paints

This post contains affiliate links.  This post is part of our Learning with Free Materials series where we are sharing learning ideas for homeschoolers and school-extension activities using items that are free or mostly free (i.e. CHEAP or you already have in the home), and is part of the 31 Days of Homeschooling Tips as we blog along with other bloggers with learning at home tips and tools.

You’ll need just three ingredients to make these paints:

  • baking soda
  • Vinegar
  • Washable Poster Paint (This is my favorite brand of paint!)
  • Mini Muffin Tin (any containers will work, but you’ll want all of the paints near each other and enough compartments so that you can see the different shades made by slightly adjusting the amount of paint you add. 
  • Paper 
  • Popsicle sticks for mixing the paint and baking soda
  • Water 
  • Paint Brushes

How To make Baking Soda Paint

Ok, now that you’ve got your materials gathered, actually making the baking soda paint is really easy! This process is fun for kids to be involved with as well.

  1. First, mix together baking soda and water to create a thick paste.  You want it to be stir-able and moist.  Use the popsicle sticks to mix it together.
  2. Scoop the paste into the sections of the muffin tin with a spoon.  
  3. Add drops, globs, and dabs of different colored poster paint.  Adjust the amounts in the different sections so that you get a nice variety of shades.  
  4. Stir the paint into the paste.
  5. Next, pour off any excess water from the tops of the paste.  You want a nice, thick paste to remain.  

Then you are ready to paint! You can either start painting right away, OR you can let the paints harden. Allow the muffin tin paints to sit overnight. This will create a hard, tub of dried paint, almost like dry watercolors.

Baking soda and paint makes a great colorful painting mixture. We added a bit of vinegar to get a lovely fizz and pop to our paints!

This is such a fun way to explore the vinegar reaction with the baking soda paint.

Baking Soda Painting

Child mixing vinegar into baking soda paint with colorful painting on a driveway.

When you are ready to paint, you’ll need to prepare the vinegar.

Pour a small amount of vinegar into cups.  Use paint brushes to dab vinegar into the dried paints.  Watch the science reaction happen as you paint!

Mix baking soda, poster paints, and water to make baking soda paint

Adding more vinegar to the tubs of paint will give you a brighter hue as you paint.  You can get even more vivid colors by swiping chunks of moistened baking soda across the page.  And, what a textured piece of art this will be!

Child mixing vinegar in a cup with baking soda paint in a mini muffin tin

What is especially neat about these paints are that if you work quickly enough, you can see the bubbly reaction right on your art work.  Simply swipe the paint brush into the vinegar and then into the baking soda paints.  Quickly paint and your bubbles will dry onto the paper.

Child painting with baking soda paint on an easel

We taped a piece of paper onto an easel and painted on the vertical surface. This is a great activity for developing wrist stability and core strength.

Baking Soda Painting

How gorgeous is this work of art? The baking soda paint made vivid colors!

Make your own Baking Soda Vinegar reaction paints for bold and bright colored creative art for kids.
Use a mini muffin tin to make a whole set of baking soda paints. The colors are so vivid!

Looking for more baking soda experiments?  These are a few of our favorites:


Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

Snowy Farm Sensory Bin

farm sensory bin

Welcome to a winter wonderland on the farm! In today’s blog post, we’re diving into the magical world of sensory play with a snowy farm sensory bin. This delightful activity combines the charm of a farm theme with the sensory joys of winter, creating an engaging and therapeutic experience for children. This is one of our favorite winter sensory bins because you can focus on so many different underlying skills through play.

Farm sensory bin

Whether you’re a parent looking for creative winter activities or a therapist seeking effective tools for skill development, this farm sensory bin is tailored to captivate young minds while addressing various therapeutic areas. Read all about sensory bins in general as a therapy tool to support skill development.

Farm Sensory Bin

We love a great occupational therapy sensory activity because cold winter temps and less daylight hours mean you might not have a chance to get little ones outside as often as you might like. Plus, a farm sensory bin goes great with a Farm theme in preschool or in occupational therapy sessions.

This farm sensory bin has a winter theme, but you could actually set up a farm sensory bin any time of year. In fact, we loved this play dough farm activity that goes along with a farm theme and supports fine motor skills as well as sensory input.

The base of shredded paper sets the stage for a snowy landscape, providing a tactile experience that stimulates sensory exploration and fine motor skills.

This winter-themed sensory bin features a collection of farm toys and mini figures, turning the snowy setting into a farm scene ready for imaginative play.

Farm Animal Sensory Bin

The farm animal sensory bin takes the excitement a step further, introducing miniature figures of beloved farm animals. As children dive into the bin, they engage in hands-on exploration, feeling the textures of the shredded paper, maneuvering the farm toys, and creating their own farm stories.

This sensory-rich experience enhances tactile input, encouraging self-confidence as children express themselves through play.

Farm Theme Sensory Bin Setup

Setting up the farm theme sensory bin is a breeze:

  1. Begin with a large container filled with shredded paper to create a snowy base. You could also use other sensory bin base materials if you don’t have shredded paper on hand.
  2. Add farm toys such as barns, tractors, and mini figures of animals to bring the farm to life.
  3. Encourage creativity by incorporating small props like faux trees or fences. This simple yet effective setup provides a canvas for endless imaginative scenarios.

Before this weekend, we’ve had a super cool spring.  With a handful of days where it snowed.  We are ready for outside play in short sleeves, running in the yard, and grass stained knees.

But, we have been loving this fun play activity too 🙂

We had a boat load of shredded paper from doing taxes recently.  It came in pretty handy for a small world snowy farm scene!

We put some farm animals, the Little People barn, and of course, Little Guy’s construction vehicles.

(how else can the farmer move allll that snow??)

Little Guy went to farm-town with imagination stories and pretend play.

Baby Girl loves to make the animal sounds and had a blast finding them in the shredded paper.

Why This Farm Sensory Bin Helps Development

Beyond simply playing in the sensory bin, this farm sensory bin serves as a therapeutic tool to foster development in various areas.

You can target areas in:

Fine motor skills are particularly important in early childhood development, as they lay the foundation for more complex tasks in the future. 

Tactile discrimination, exploration, and sensory desensitization are effectively addressed with sensory bins as they are playful and present in a non-threatening way. The playful nature of sensory bins allows children to control their tactile experiences, fostering confidence in their interactions with materials and gradually increasing their comfort with different sensations. 

The hands-on nature of the activity promotes fine motor skills as children manipulate the farm toys and engage with the sensory materials. Communication skills blossom as they create farm narratives, fostering language development.

In addition, occupational therapy providers love sensory bins because they can offer a unique and enjoyable way to engage reluctant children who may initially be hesitant about engaging in the sensory elements of tactile defensiveness challenges.

Tactile input and sensory exploration contribute to a holistic sensory experience, supporting overall sensory processing.


My fun-loving Baby Girl instigated this little incident…
she just couldn’t help herself 🙂
What are we learning through play?

Imagination Play

Pretend Play

Learning Animals

Animal Sounds

Visual Scanning

Sensory Play


Farm Sensory Bin Ideas

You can pair this farm sensory bin with other therapy ideas, too. Use some of these tools and resources to support skills like gross motor skills, coordination, brain breaks, and more:

  • These Farm Brain Breaks can add movement and gross motor input to a child’s day and fit in great with a farm animal theme. Print off the cards and use them in the classroom or home.
  • These heavy work cards includes a set of 8 farm themed heavy work activities that can be used as a brain break or added proprioceptive input.
  • Free Farm Scissor Skills Packet
  • This barn craft is fun because kids can make a barn and use it in the farm animal sensory bin.
  • This Farm Fingerprint art activity supports visual closure, visual tracking, and visual scanning activity, too.
  • The Farm Therapy Kit has a bunch or activities to support sensory needs, handwriting, motor skills, dexterity, and more.

Get your copy of the Farm Therapy Kit.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

Baking Soda Dough Snowman

baking soda dough snowmen

This post on baking soda cornstarch dough was originally written January 22, 2014 and updated November 18, 2023.

Many years ago, we made this baking soda dough cornstarch recipe to make baking soda dough snowmen. It was a fun sensory play activity for Christmas, and one of the many Christmas occupational therapy activities that we love to do with kids to support tactile play and sensory touch. However, you could extend the play out to all of the winter months, along with our other Winter fine motor activities.

Today I have something fun to share: baking soda cornstarch dough! We tried a baking soda dough recipe and used it to make snowman in a way to help kids strengthen fine motor skills and hand strength.

Just playing with the baking soda cornstarch dough has so many benefits. Specifically, we’ve covered the fine motor benefits of play dough (and soda dough counts in that regard!)

If you’ve been a follower of this website for long, you know that we are big fans of play dough, salt dough, clay…any dough is tops in our house! It’s a great way to build fine motor skills with a fun sensory dough activity.

We’ve tried a lot of different recipes for different doughs and have our favorites, definitely.  We wanted to make some snowmen one day and tried a new (to us) recipe…Baking Soda Dough!    

Baking soda dough and soda dough snowmen to help kids build fine motor skills.

Baking Soda Cornstarch Clay


  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup water

Instructions to make Baking Soda Cornstarch Clay:

  1. In a medium-sized saucepan, whisk together the baking soda and cornstarch.
  2. Gradually add the water to the dry ingredients, stirring continuously to avoid lumps.
  3. Place the saucepan over medium heat and continue stirring the mixture. As it heats, the mixture will start to thicken.
  4. Keep stirring until the mixture reaches a clay-like consistency. It should pull away from the sides of the pan and form a soft, pliable dough.
  5. Once the desired consistency is reached, remove the saucepan from heat and allow the mixture to cool.
  6. Once the baking soda clay is cool enough to handle, transfer it to a clean surface and knead it for a few minutes to make it smooth and more pliable.

Now, your baking soda clay is ready for sensory play! Children can use it to create shapes, textures, and engage in imaginative play. It’s a great way to promote fine motor skills and sensory exploration.

If you’re using this recipe in an educational or therapeutic setting, you might consider incorporating elements that align with child development principles. For example, you could guide children to create shapes related to their fine motor skill development or use the clay to explore different textures for sensory input.

Baking Soda Dough

Add this activity to your snowman crafts and activities line-up or if you are using snowman in a therapy theme. More snowman activities can be found here:

Snowman bilateral coordination activities– Our baking soda dough snowmen make a great addition to the snowman themed bilateral coordination activities shared in a previous post. Rolling, pinching, and manipulating baking soda dough supports bilateral coordination development.

Snowman Fine Motor Craft– Add the baking soda snowmen to a fine motor theme when it comes to using snowmen in helping kids develop skills.

Baking Soda Dough is the neatest stuff to play with.  This soda dough was soft and easy to mold into little snowmen.  Rolling the balls of dough with the hands is a powerful way to help kids develop hand strength.

In fact, kids can improve intrinsic hand strength using dough by rolling small pieces with their fingertips. The kids loved playing and creating with our soda dough.  It was easy to roll little snowmen bodies and  so we made a bunch!   

lump of baking soda dough on a blue plate

 We were inspired to make soda dough before Christmas when we made thumbprint reindeer ornaments for Christmas gifts to grandparents.  Jen over at Mama.Papa.Bubba. made these Baking Soda Clay Ornaments and we thought they were beyond adorable!  They made perfect little gifts from the kids. 

It was an easy recipe to follow and perfect for little hands to mold, roll, and smash!  

child's hands pressing lump of baking soda dough on a table

We made these Soda Dough Snowmen one day when Little Nephew was over to play.  The toddlers were big fans of this dough!  They had so much fun making snowmen…we ended up making 12!

child's hand rolling baking soda dough into a snowman

  Pinching, rolling, stacking…this was great fine motor play here!  Working the dough uses the small muscles of the hand (the intrinsic muscles) that are so important for small motor activities like button management and endurance in coloring and handwriting. 

child's hand holding a ball of baking soda dough in the palm of their hand

Once we had our family of snowmen, I put them on a cookie sheet and let them dry for two days.  At the end of two days, they were still a little soft, so I then threw them into the oven set at 150 degrees F.  I let them bake for about 2 hours and they seemed to be hardened up. 

If you make snowmen like ours, keep an eye on them in the oven.  It will probably take longer if you bake them from the onset.   

Our snowmen were hardened and ready for play and pretending. 

Want more ways to boost fine motor skills with a snowman theme or winter theme? The Winter Fine Motor Kit is on sale now!

winter fine motor kit

This print-and-go winter fine motor kit includes no-prep fine motor activities to help kids develop functional grasp, dexterity, strength, and endurance. Use fun, winter-themed, fine motor activities so you can help children develop strong fine motor skills in a digital world.

More than ever, kids need the tools to help them build essential fine motor skills so they develop strong and dexterous hands so they can learn, hold & write with a pencil, and play.

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

Click here to grab the Winter Fine Motor Kit!

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to


Sensory Goop Painting

goop painting with pink goop and cookie cutters

This blog on sensory goop painting was originally published 1-23-14 and updated 11-8-23.

This goop painting activity is a creative painting idea that uses messy sensory play to build skills in a creative way. Pair this goop activity with one of our oobleck activities for more ways to foster skill-building through messy play.

You can add utensils to scoop and pour to build hand eye coordination, work on handwashing hands, or just be creative!

goop painting

Goop Painting

There are many sensory benefits of oobleck, and goop painting activities support those skills.

When you use goop painting as a therapy tool, you can support a variety of needs. Whether you are focusing on the tactile benefits listed above, or using the goop paint activity as a calming or alerting sensory medium, you can support regulation needs.

How to make Goop Paint

The goop paint that we used in the activity below actually used left over moon sand that we made using cornstarch and lotion.

The cool thing about “goop” is that as a sensory material, you can basically mix up any ingredients to get a messy sensory material.

To make this type of goop paint, use these ingredients:

  • 2 cups cornstarch (or baking soda or flour would work as well)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup glue
  • food coloring

To make the goop paint, mix all of the ingredients together. Use a spoon or craft stick to stir until they are combined.

You will need to adjust the ingredients, depending on the type of glue used and the type of dry material. You’ll want the goop mixture to be liquidly, but not too runny.

Then, you are ready to paint!

Paint with Goop

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.  We don’t normally do holiday crafts and activities this far ahead, but our Valentine’s Day Goop Painting came about from a previous material…and it was so much fun, that I was excited to share, haha! This Valentine’s Day activity is perfect to add to occupational therapy plans this time of year.
Sensory Play is so much fun.  We do a ton of sensory activities, crafts, and play every day. 
Whether the kids are messing around in the sink, exploring textures in a bin of toys and “stuff”, or crawling under blankets and cushions…sensory play happens ALL the time in a child’s daily play.  Inviting a child to try new experiences like with this goopy Valentine’s day play activity is just another way to learn through play.
Valentine's Day Goop Painting

Valentine’s Day Goop Painting

You may have seen our Candy Cane Scented Moon Dough post back around Christmas-time.  That post turned into this Valentine’s Day Goop activity (and sensory-tastic painting fun!).   When we finished up that activity back in December, I saved the red and white (turned pink once we were done playing!) moon dough in a gallon sized baggie.  This was the perfect shade of pink for a Valentine’s’ Day themed sensory activity!

Note: This post contains affiliate links.  

Valentine’s Day Sensory Activity

The powdered left-overs from our Candy Cane Moon Dough and a little water were all that we needed to make this goopy fun. 

We had about 2 cups of the powdered material…Check out the post here to see how we made it.  I added a half cup of water and got a nice goopy, messy, sensory texture to play with.  The peppermint scent was still really strong and when we were playing, Baby Girl said it “smells like candy canes, Mom”! 

I threw in a few (Amazon affiliate link) heart cookie cutters
and Baby Girl got to playing.  She liked to have a wet washcloth right next to her to wipe her hands off every once in a while.  This was some messy stuff!

We had paper and a felly roll pan next to the bin of goop and did some goop painting by stamping the cookie cutters onto the paper.  It was so meant to paint like this!  Baby Girl sat there for a LONG time stamping, and stamping, and stamping some more. 

(seriously…we had 14 pages filled with hearts!!)

Messy, sensory, goopy fun!
The goop made the heart stamps a big lumpy texture.  So much fun to stamp!  I joined Baby Girl and stamped a bunch of hearts too…

When the hearts dried, they were a pretty stamp.  However, this is not something that can be saved to decorate cards or hung on the wall.  The hearts flaked away if you touched them.  Maybe a little glue added would help to preserve these pretty hearts?  We’ll try that next time!

Let us know if you try this activity.  We would love to see your play in action!


Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

Back to School Sensory Activities

back to school sensory activities

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

back to school sensory activities

Back-to-School Sensory Activities

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

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

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

Why Use Back-to-School Sensory Activities?

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

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

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

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

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



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

Back-to-School Sensory Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sensory Activities for Back to School

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

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

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

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

4. Move desk/furniture.

5. Erase the chalkboard or dry erase board.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Classroom Sensory Strategies Toolkit

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

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

    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.

    Toilet Paper Roll Stamp

    Toilet paper tube with foam stickers and paper with stamps Text reads Paper Tube Stamps

    This toilet paper roll stamp art is a fun creative painting activity we’ve had on the website for many years. Kids love the messy sensory fun of painting with a toilet paper roll. Therapy providers love using the recycled materials in building skills like bilateral coordination, motor planning, and more!

    toilet paper roll stamp

    toilet paper roll stamp

    Therapy materials are expensive, so using items that you typically throw away are wonderful! That’s where this toilet paper roll stamp comes into play. All you need are a few toilet paper rolls or paper towel tubes and some foam stickers to get started.

    We’ve painted paper rolls and used toilet paper tubes in crafts before but have you ever painted with a toilet paper tube?

    How to make a toilet paper roll stamp

    To use a paper tube into a stamp, you’ll need just a few items:

    • Recycled paper tube (toilet paper roll or the inside of a paper towel roll)
    • Foam stickers
    • Paint
    • Paper
    • Paint brush- this item isn’t necessary unless you want to paint the foam stickers to extend fine motor skill work.

    To set up the painting with stamps activity, ask your child to help you stick the foam stickers all around the paper roll. There are so many benefits of playing with stickers and this part of the activity is another skill-builder.


    Because when kids position stickers on a paper tube, they are building several motor areas:

    After positioning the stickers onto the paper roll, pour some paint onto scrap paper or in a low tray.

    1. Show users how to roll the paper tube into the paint. This is a great exercises in graded pressure, or proprioception. If they press too hard, paint covers the whole paper tube. If they don’t press hard enough, paint will not evenly cover the foam stickers. This awareness carries over to pencil pressure when writing.
    2. Or, paint the foam stickers with a paint brush. This is a great way to work on pencil grasp with extended wrist, which pulls the muscles of the hand and wrist into an optimal position for pencil grasp through a play activity.
    3. Then, roll the paper tube onto paper. This again supports awareness of proprioception as well as bilateral awareness. If they press too hard, the paint images are squished and you can’t tell what the stamp is. If pressed too lightly, the paint doesn’t transfer to the paper. Using both hands together with equal pressure is a bilateral coordination skill that transfers to functional tasks.
    We love any painting play in this house.  Big Sister was really into this project.
    We stuck foam stickers onto an empty paper roll and she got busy painting them.
    (I love her concentration here…)

    After the foam stickers are painted, roll away!
    Pretty Prints!
    An easy and fun little painting craft!

    Working on fine motor skills? Grab one of our Therapy Kits for printable activities that build finger dexterity, fine motor strength, and coordination needed for tasks like using scissors or pencil grasp.

    Working on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, or scissor skills? Our Fine Motor Kits cover all of these areas and more.

    Check out the seasonal Fine Motor Kits that kids love:

    Or, grab one of our themed Fine Motor Kits to target skills with fun themes:

    Want access to all of these kits…and more being added each month? Join The OT Toolbox Member’s Club!

    Writing Trays for Handwriting

    Child's fingertips drawing a letter S in sand. Text reads sand writing tray

    Writing trays are a fantastic way to help kids work on handwriting, letter formation, and pre-writing skills.  There are so many benefits to a sand tray (or other sensory writing materials) in helping with letter formation and handwriting. There is a reason that writing trays are a popular way to encourage fine motor skills and an introduction to handwriting; They use a tactile sensory strategy to encourage movement in learning in a multi-sensory way.  Writing Trays make letter formation fun and meaningful in a play-based manner.

    Try this easy rice writing tray for a simple sensory writing experience.

    Writing trays are sensory activities to teach handwriting

    Amazon affiliate links are included in this blog post. As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

    What is a writing tray?

    I’ve used writing trays in my occupational therapy interventions and with my own kids for years. Writing trays are such a powerful tool to add a multi-sensory component and moveemnt to learning to write.

    Writing trays are a dry or wet sensory material in a low tray or bin type of container. Children can use their finger or a tool such as a pencil, paint brush, or other item to draw, write letters, or form numbers into the sensory material.

    Writing Trays are a creative way to help kids learn to write letters, numbers, shapes, and pre-writing strokes.  There are a ton of different ways that writing trays can be set up and used in letter formation. Essentially, a writing tray uses a low container (or TRAY) and a medium that can be moved and shifted for writing.

    Sensory writing trays can contain sensory fillers of any type. If you are able to move the material in a way that letters can be drawn in the tray, then the sensory writing tray is a success. With a sensory writing tray, children can write letters independently or copy letters from a visual letter card.

    You can find them used in schools, clinics, preschools, early learning centers, and homeschool dinging rooms.  

    Writing trays are one tool to support development of Near point copy skills skills.

    Writing tray sensory filler ideas for handwriting

    Writing Tray Sensory Filler Material

    Affiliate links are included in this post.

    What is in a Writing Tray? (Writing Tray Fillers)

    Writing Trays are filled with a filler that us manipulated and shifted so that letters or writing lines are visible.  Some ideas for filling a writing tray include the sensory materials listed below.

    Sand (affiliate link)
    Colored Sand (affiliate link)
    Dyed Rice
    Dyed Rice
    Play Dough (affiliate link)
    Other Doughs
    Slime (Check out the fun we had with slime in a writing tray!)
    Spices (affiliate link)
    Crushed Chalk (affiliate link)

    While sometimes, a child can use their finger to form the lines in their writing tray, a writing tool is typically recommended. (More on that below.)
    Use writing trays for handwriting and letter formation

    Sensory Writing Tray Benefits

    Kids can use writing trays to practice letter formation, or pencil control and stroke sequence in writing letters.  
    Typically, they will be provided with a visual cue or cue card for copying the letters/numbers/shapes.  
    Other times, kids can form the letter/number/shape independently when prompted to make a specific letter. This is a great way to work on visual memory and independent letter formation.
    Be sure to verbally prompt children to form letters or build letters with correct stroke sequence.  This is essential for carryover of accuracy with letter formation in handwriting.  
    Otherwise, the child is simply playing in the sensory tray and not effectively using the writing tray as a tool for improved handwriting.  
    Encouraging the child who is learning pre-writing strokes and beginning letter formation can use a writing tray as a base for forming letters independently. Try using visual and verbal cues to promote correct letter construction.
    A few more must-dos when using a writing tray for addressing letter formation:
    • Make sure letters are not formed in parts.  In other words, don’t allow kids to make a circle and then a line to form an “a”. 
    • Make sure letters are formed from top to bottom. 
    • Realize that the motor plan to form letters with your finger is different than the motor plan to form letters with a pencil or other pencil-like writing tool.

    The nice thing about writing trays is that they are very versatile. Students of all ages can use writing trays to work on different levels of handwriting. Some ways to work on handwriting include:

    • Copying pre-writing lines
    • Copying shapes 
    • Letter identification
    • Uppercase letter formation
    • Lowercase letter formation
    • Letter copying
    • Letter writing from memory
    • Cursive letter formation
    • Cursive letter writing from memory
    • Word copying
    • Sight word writing
    • Spelling word writing
    Writing trays for handwriting, letter formation, and fine motor skills.


    Fine Motor Skills and Writing Trays

    A writing tray can be an effective tool in boosting fine motor skills.  Kids can use their finger to form lines and letters while strengthening finger isolation and separation of the two sides of the hand, including an opportunity for the ulnar side fingers to tuck into the palm for a more effective pencil grasp when writing.
    Children can also use a tool to form letters in a writing tray.  This can be an opportunity to develop pencil grasp.  
    However.  There are a few items that should be mentioned about using a writing tray to address pencil grasp and appropriate motor plan for letter formation.
    Writing Trays are a common tool.  But if you just place a writing tray in front of a child, you will likely see an inefficient writing activity.  You will probably see most kids forming letters with an awkward grasp on the writing tool, a flexed and deviated wrist, an abducted shoulder, and generally ineffective positioning.  

    Positioning absolutely carries over to letter formation and handwriting.
    A writing tray can be used to address pencil grasp and handwriting needs.  However, it is essential to use the tray in a proper manner.  There are a few ways to do this:
    • Place the writing tray on a slight slant. Try using a DIY slant board.
    • Use a low edged tray.
    • Use verbal, physical, and visual cues for appropriate positioning. 
    • Position the writing tool in your child’s hand with an appropriate tripod or modified tripod grasp.
    • Show the child how to hold the tool at the end of the tool as if they were holding a pencil.
    Once you’ve got your writing tray set up and positioning taken care of, it’s on to the fun stuff…making a writing tray!

    How to make a Writing Tray

    Making a writing tray to gain benefits of teaching sensory handwriting is easy. You can use materials found around the home.

    The options are limitless when it comes to writing tray combinations! You can create a writing tray in any theme or to meet any need. You’ll need just a few items: a container, a filler, a tool, and letter cards.

    Writing Tray Ideas

    First, you’ll need a low tray, basket, bin, or other container. We’ve used a variety of containers in our sensory writing trays. You’ll want a container that will hold the sensory writing material within its edges.

    In some cases, you can even scatter the sensory material on a flat surface like a table or a plastic table cloth on the floor. For example, we used dyed rice right on the kiddie picnic table for a pre-writing and hand strengthening activity.

    Kids will be using a tool or their hands to write letters and the sensory material can scatter. Some specific ideas include:

    • Kitchen baking trays (jelly roll pan or cookie sheet with edges)
    • Food storage containers
    • Melissa and Doug wooden puzzle boxes
    • Cardboard boxes cut low on the sides
    • 9×11 cake pan
    • Shirt box
    • Tray
    • Low basket

    Writing Tray Tools

    Next, you’ll need a tool to use to write the letters. This can be items found in the home as well.  Some writing tray tools include:

    • Finger
    • Eraser end of a pencil
    • Paint brush
    • Feather
    • Straw
    • Pointer stick
    • Stick from a tree
    • Craft stick
    • Chopsticks
    • Toothpick (Incorporate our toothpick holder activity to further fine motor skills!)
    • Craft pom pom attached to a clothes pin

    Writing Tray Letter Cards

    Next, an important part of a writing tray is the letter model. As mentioned above, writing trays are great for copying pre-writing lines, shapes, letters, numbers, and words. 

    Cards can be used as a visual model for forming letters or words. Some cards include direction arrows. Others might include a sight word or spelling word for the child to copy. These cards can be positioned in different positions to address different needs. 

    • Position the letter cards right in the tray for near-point copying.
    • Position the writing tray cards in a vertical position near the writing tray to challenge vision shift. 
    • Hang the writing cards on a wall for far point copying to work on visual shift, visual attention, visual memory, and copying from a distance. 

    Writing Tray Fillers

    You’ll also need a sensory material to act as a filler. This is the material that the child will actually “write” in. When we say “write”, they are using the tool to form letters as the sensory filler moves in the tray. They will not actually write a letter with a pencil or other marking device. Sensory filler material can be as creative as you let it. Some writing tray fillers include these materials:

    Click each link for ideas on how to set up these creative writing trays.

    Dyed Rice
    As you can see, the ideas are limitless when it comes to sensory handwriting! Use a theme or materials that meet the needs of your child or client and are motivating and fun!

    More sensory Handwriting Activities

    Sensory Writing Bag

    Sensory Handwriting Camp at Home

    Teach letters with sensory textures

    Pencil pressure activities




    Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

    Sand Writing Tray

    One very easy way to create a sand writing tray is to use a child’s picnic table placed either outside in a sandbox or over a tarp (or outdoor space where it’s ok that sand goes into the ground and lawn).

    We loved using our kid’s picnic table in this way to make a sand writing tray.

    sand writing tray

    For this sand writing tray, we made it super simple and just dumped a thin layer of sand onto our (Amazon link) Little Tykes picnic table. Then, I invited the kids to all sit down and draw in the sand using their fingertips. This is a great exercise in finger isolation.

    sand writing tray

    Practicing letters in a sensory surface like writing and drawing in sand on a picnic table surface is a motivating and fun activity for kids because it’s not something they typically do.

    Kids learn new skills well with a multisensory learning experience and a sand writing tray is a great, inexpensive way to do just that.

    To encourage vocabulary and verbal expression, tell stories on the table surface and ask questions that extend the story further. Then, while practicing lines and drawing shapes and figures, gently smooth the sand with the palm of your hand and start over again!

    sand writing tray for preschool

    Preschoolers can practice pre-handwriting lines, while older kids can form letters and numbers in the sand. They can also copy and trace letters to improve their penmanship skills.

    Sensory Egg Dying Activities

    sensory egg dying

    There are many sensory activities that can be used to dye Easter eggs. In this blog post, you’ll find several sensory ways to dye eggs. Whether you are using natural egg dyes, movement activities to dye eggs, or using a rice shake egg dye activity, the sensory egg activities are perfect for adding movement that meets sensory needs. Add these sensory egg ideas to your Easter occupational therapy ideas!

    sensory egg dying activities

    Sensory Egg Activities

    These sensory egg activities are fun and use all the senses! First, let’s explore the various senses that can be used when coloring eggs. Start by reading our resource on sensory play. You’ll see that there are 9 sensory systems at work at any given time:

    1. Tactile
    2. Vision
    3. Taste (Gustatory)
    4. Sound (Auditory)
    5. Smell (Olfactory
    6. Vestibular
    7. Proprioception

    This sensory processing booklet is a good place to start in understanding sensory processing.

    Take a look on Pinterest, and you can find SO MANY different ways to dye Easter Eggs.  We didn’t see any collections that centered on Sensory Exploration while dying eggs.
    These are some fun, creative ways to dye eggs with a Sensory twist.

    Movement sensory egg ideas

    These ideas use movement to dye eggs. When shaking an egg in a paint bag, or shaking an egg in a bag of glitter or shaving cream, kids can use several sensory components:

    • Vestibular input by jumping or shaking
    • Bilateral coordination to use both hands together in coordinated manner to shake a plastic bag
    • Tactile sensory input to utilize several textures.
    • Visual sensory input with bright and colorful visual input.
    Craftaholics Anonymous made glitter eggs. You can use a hardboiled egg and use any egg dye kit. Place the egg in a plastic baggie of glitter and shake, shake, shake!
    The Chocolate Muffin Tree used crayon shavings to decorate. Can’t you just smell the crayons by looking at this picture? Use the same plastic baggie technique listed above but add crayon shavings. This is just another benefit of coloring and reason why coloring is such a great activity for kids!
    Martha Stewart shows us how to decorate with thread to make a textured egg. This is a great bilateral coordination activity when wrapping string around an egg. But is this a sensory activity? 
    When you consider the kinesthetic input of wrapping string around and egg, plus the other contributions: visual input, motor coordination, proprioception, then yes!
    You could make melted crayon shaving eggs.  These look so textured and fun! 
    Adding crayon shavings offers a specific scent, or olfactory input. 
     Creaative Green Living decorated patterned eggs using silks. This sensory egg dying technique offers tactile sensory input.
    Lovely Indeed explores patterns and textures using Washi tape. Peeling tape adds fine motor proprioceptive input through the joints in the fingers. This is a great pincer grasp activity.
    Add stickers to work on fine motor skills…pinching little stickers on the eggs.  This site shares some natural dying techniques, too. There are many reasons why playing with stickers supports development. This is a great sensory egg activity!
    Toddler Approved used baking soda and vinegar to make these fun eggs.
     Explore those senses while dying eggs!

    More sensory egg ideas for dying Easter Eggs

    These ideas use tactile sensory input, movement (Vestibular sensory), visual sensory input. Each of these ideas are fun and creative was to color eggs!

    1. Natural Dyes: You can use natural dyes to color your Easter eggs. For example, beetroot juice will give a pink hue, turmeric can give a yellow hue, and red cabbage can give a blue hue.

    2. Kool-Aid: You can use Kool-Aid to dye your Easter eggs. Kool-Aid comes in a variety of colors and smells, and can be a fun sensory experience for kids.

    3. Shaving Cream: You can create a marbled effect on your Easter eggs by using shaving cream. Simply apply a layer of shaving cream to a shallow dish, add a few drops of food coloring or liquid watercolors, and swirl the colors together with a toothpick. Then, roll your egg through the shaving cream and let it sit for a few minutes before wiping it clean. Then, use those toothpicks to work on precision and dexterity using our toothpick holder activity.

    4. Glitter: You can add some sparkle to your Easter eggs by using glitter. Simply brush some glue onto your egg, sprinkle glitter over it, and let it dry.

    5. Rice Shake: You can use rice and food coloring to create a sensory egg dyeing experience. Fill a sealable plastic bag with uncooked rice, add a few drops of food coloring, and shake the bag until the rice is evenly coated. Then, place your egg inside the bag, seal it, and shake it until the egg is evenly coated.

    Many of these sensory activities for dying eggs can add sensory input to support self-regulation or to a functional sensory diet, and more!



    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 has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

    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.  

    For more information on this theory, please do read our resource on Ayres Sensory Integration for an understanding of what is happening in our nervous systems that results in the motor or behavioral output. It’s truly fascinating!

    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. 

    Amazon affiliate links are in this list below.

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