Tactile Defensiveness

Tactile defensiveness and what you need to know about tactile sensitivities

Today, I have an update on a very old blog post for a specific reason. This fake snow messy sensory play activity is a valuable tool in addressing tactile defensiveness, or tactile sensitivity. In general descriptions, this simply means an over-sensitivity to touch, or over-responsiveness to touch sensations. For kids with sensory issues, this can be a very big deal. Tactile defensiveness can mean poor tolerance to certain clothing, textures, food sensitivities, closeness of others, wearing socks or the feel of seams or clothing. Sensitivity to these touch sensations can look like many different things! Today we are discussing all about tactile sensitivity, what that looks like in children, and a sensory challenge that can be used for tactile sensitivity.

If you are looking for more information on sensory processing, start here with our free sensory processing information booklet.

tactile sensitivity sensory challenge with fake snow

What is Tactile Defensiveness

I briefly explained the meaning of tactile defensiveness above, but let’s break this down further.

The tactile system is one of our 8 sensory systems: touch, taste, smell, sight, hearing, proprioception, vestibular, and interoception. The sense of touch is a very big piece of the whole picture.

The Tactile Sensory System is one of the earliest developed
senses of the body, with studies telling us this sensory system begins to develop at around 8 weeks in utero. The sense of touch completes its development at around 30 weeks in utero when pain, temperature, and pressure sensations are developed.

Types of touch

The skin performs unique duties for the body, based on different types of touch input, and tactile sensitivity can be considered to occur in the various aspects of touch. These types of touch include: light touch, pressure, discrimitive touch, pain, temperature.

Most importantly for our ancient ancestors, especially, the skin protects and alerts us to danger and discriminates sensation with regard to location and identification. This is important because touch sensations alerts us to both discrimination and danger. These two levels of sensation work together yet are distinctively important. And furthermore, the skin is the largest and the most prevalent organ.

Touch discrimination- Discrimination of touch allows us to sense where on our body and what is touching us. With discrimination, we are able to
discern a fly that lands on our arm. We are able to sense and use our fingertips in fine motor tasks. We are able to touch and discern temperatures, vibrations, mount of pressure, and textures and shapes of objects.

Danger perception– The second level of the tactile system alerts us to danger. It allows us to jump in response to the “fight or flight” response
when we perceive a spider crawling on our arm. With this aspect of touch, we are able to discern temperature to ensure skin isn’t too hot or cold. We can quickly identify this temperature or sharpness of an object and quickly move away to avoid burning, freezing, or sharp objects.

When either of these levels of sensation are disrupted, tactile
dysfunction can result. This presents in many ways, including
hypersensitivity to tags in clothing, a dislike of messy play,
difficulty with fine motor tasks, a fear of being touched by
someone without seeing that touch, a high tolerance of pain, or a
need to touch everything and everyone.

Sensitivity to touch can mean over responding to touch input in the form of textures, temperatures, or pressure. Touch sensitivities mean that the body perceives input as “too much” in a dangerous way. The touch receptors that perceive input are prioritized because the brain believes we are in danger. The body moves into a state of defensiveness, or safe-mode in order to stay safe from this perceived danger. This is tactile defensiveness.

What does Tactile Defensiveness looks like?

Hyper-responsiveness of the tactile sense may include a variety of things:

  • Overly sensitivity to temperature including air, food, water, or
  • objects
  • Withdrawing when touched
  • Avoids certain food clothing textures or fabrics
  • Dislikes wearing pants or restrictive clothing around the legs
  • Refusing certain food textures
  • Dislike of having face or hair washed
  • Dislikes hair cuts
  • Dislikes having fingernails cut
  • Dislike seams in clothing
  • Excessively ticklish
  • Avoidance to messy play or getting one’s hands dirty
  • Avoidance of finger painting, dirt, sand, bare feet on grass, etc.
  • Avoids touching certain textures
  • Clothing preferences and avoidances such as resisting shoes
  • Resistance to nail clipping, face washing
  • Resists haircuts, hair brushing
  • Dislikes or resists teeth brushing
  • Overreacts to accidental or surprising light touches from
  • others
  • Avoids affectionate touch such as hugs
  • Dislikes closeness of other people

As a result of this avoidance, development in certain areas can be delayed, in a way that functional performance of daily tasks is impacted. What you see in as a result of a poorly integrated tactile sensory system:

  • Delayed fine motor skills
  • Rigid clothing preferences
  • Behavioral responses to tasks such as putting on shoes or coat
  • Impaired personal boundaries
  • Avoids tactile sensory activities
  • Poor body scheme
  • Difficulty with praxis
  • Poor hand skill development

More information on sensory processing of each of the sensory systems and how that impacts daily life can be found in The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook. You’ll also find practical strategies for integrating sensory diets into each part of every day life, in motivating and meaningful ways. Check out The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook for moving from sensory dysfunction to sensory function!

How to help with tactile sensitivity

There are ways to help address these areas, so that the child is safe and can function and perform tasks in their daily life. While addressing tactile sensitivities doesn’t mean changing the child’s preferences, it can mean understanding what is going on, what the child does and does not prefer in the way of sensory processing, and it can mean providing tools and resources to help the child.

This should involve an occupational therapist who can take a look at sensory processing and integration and make specific recommendations.

Some strategies that can impact tactile sensitivity include:

  • Understanding the child’s sensory systems, and integration in the daily life of the child. Grab the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook to read more on sensory diets that are meaningful and motivating. These are sensory activities that can be integrated right into tasks like baths, tooth brushing, hair brushing, dentist visits, clothing changes, etc.
  • Take a look at clothing sensitivity red flags for areas of sensitivity to clothing that stand out for the individual child.
  • Read more on proprioception and the connection of heavy work input as a calming and regulatory tool for sensitivities.
  • Work on touch discrimination with activities at the level of the child.
  • Provide verbal input to warn the child prior to light touch
  • Provide visual cues and schedules for tasks that must be completed such as tooth brushing or hair brushing.
  • Trial tactile experiences at a graded level, introducing various sensory experiences in a “safe space” at a just right level for the child.

Tactile Defensiveness Sensory Activity

That’s where this messy sensory play activity comes in. By taking out the “messy” part of this sensory experience, children who dislike messy play or touching certain textures can explore the sensory activity and challenge tactile exposure. In this way, they are experiencing a new and novel texture (temperature and squishy, messy experiences), but at a safe level, or “just right” level for them.

This snow sensory play activity has the opportunity for tactile challenges, but it uses a plastic bag to contain the actual mess, allowing for a mess-free sensory experience, at different grades of texture exposure.

Fake snow for sensory play

Fake Snow Recipe

We made fake snow one recent weekend, when we had a big cousin sleep over.  There were six kids aged five and under staying overnight at our house.  I had this activity planned for us to do together, (because I procrastinated ) and had to get it together to take to a Winter Festival at our church the next day.  It was a fun messy play idea for indoor snow.

We’ve made this fake snow before and I have the recipe listed on our Messy Play Day post.  

This fake snow is easy, because it includes only 2 ingredients:

  • Toilet paper
  • Ivory soap

With these two ingredients, there are many opportunities for tactile sensitivity challenges, and each child can experience sensory exploration at a level that suits their preferences. Some children may enjoy experiencing the dry texture of the toilet paper. (See the kids below…they sure enjoyed this texture.)

Other children may prefer (or avoid) the tactile experience of touching and manipulating the squishy, warm soap texture.

Others may tolerate mixing the two textures together.

Still others, may prefer none of these textures. In this case, move to the last level of this tactile experience, which is placing the fake snow into the plastic baggie. Then, they can squeeze and touch the sensory fake snow with a barrier in place. they will still experience the warm temperature and firm, heavy work of squeezing through their hands, but they will experience this sensory input in a “safe” level with that plastic bag barrier.

Fake Snow Dry sensory Bin

Step 1: Tear the toilet paper into shreds. Keep this in a bin or large container. We used an under-the bed storage bin because I was making a large quantity of fake snow for our Winter Festival.

We shredded the toilet paper and the kids had a BLAST! It started out so neat and kind.  Tearing the toilet paper is a fantastic fine motor activity for those hands, too. It offers heavy work input through the hands which can have a regulating, calming impact on the joints of the hands. This can be a nice “warm up” exercise for the tactile challenge of exploring and manipulating the dry toilet paper texture.

For kids with tactile sensitivities, this might be “too much” for them to handle. Try using tongs and ask them to explore the toilet paper shredding sensory bin to find hidden items. Some of the paper cards and winter words in our Winter Fine Motor Kit are great additions to this sensory bin.

How to make fake snow using toilet paper for a fun sensory challenge to the hands.
Kids can make fake snow for a tactile sensory experience.

 And then turned in to this.  

Use toilet paper in a dry sensory bin for tactile sensitivity and fine motor strengthening.

  And this.  

Slightly off-course in our sensory bin, but of course it did.   Why wouldn’t it when you have 6 cousins together?  ((Ok, that part of this post was NOT mess-free…the end result is mess-free. I promise.)) So, then we popped the Ivory soap into the microwave…

Fake Snow Wet Sensory Experience

Step 2 in the tactile sensory experience is the wet fake snow portion. Following the fake snow recipe, we popped a bar of ivory soap into the microwave and ended up with a cloud of sensory material.

Ivory soap in the microwave for a tactile defensiveness sensory challenge and to use in making fake snow.

Children can touch and explore this sensory material for a warm, sensory experience.

Step 3 in the tactile challenge is mixing the dry material with the wet material. This can definitely be a challenge for those with tactile defensiveness or touch sensitivities.

If it is too much of a sensory challenge, invite the child to mix with a large spoon or to touch with a finger tip.

Other children may enjoy this part of making fake snow. The melted soap can be mixed with the toilet paper…to make fake snow!    

How to make fake snow with ivory soap and toilet paper


Fake Snow Sensory Play for Tactile Sensitivities

THIS is the mess-free part that many children with tactile defensiveness may enjoy. 🙂

Simply place some of the fake snow material into a zip top plastic bag. You can tape the top shut to keep the material in the bag.

By manipulating the fake snow in a safe sensory manner, kids get exposure to a calming warm temperature. This is one low-level challenge to the tactile system. The warm temperature is a calming, regulating aspect that can be powerful in self-regulation.

Children can also squeeze, manipulate, pound, and spread the fake snow within the plastic baggie. This offers heavy work input through the hands and upper body in a way that is calming and regulating.

By placing the fake snow into a bag for sensory play, kids are exposed to tactile experinces in a way that may help with tactile discrimination by incorporating the proprioceptive sense.

Challenge motor skills further by adding items such as foam snowflake stickers, glass gems, and glitter.  This was so much fun for my crew of kids and nieces/nephews and I hope it’s a tactile experience you get to play with as well!

Make fake snow for a mess free sensory experience that kids with tactile defensiveness will enjoy
Fine motor sensory experience with fake snow.


Products mentioned in this post:

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is your strategy guide for turning sensory diets and sensory activities into a sensory lifestyle.

A Sensory Diet Strategy Guide The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a strategy guide for sensory processing needs. With valuable insight to the sensory system and the whole child, the book details how sensory diets can be incorporated into a lifestyle of sensory success. The thoughtful tools in this book provide intervention strategies to support and challenge the sensory systems through meaningful and authentic sensory diet tactics based on the environment, interests, and sensory needs of each individual child.

winter fine motor kit

The Winter Fine Motor Kit Done-for-you fine motor plans to help kids form stronger hands.

This print-and-go winter fine motor kit includes no-prep fine motor activities to help kids develop functional grasp, dexterity, strength, and endurance. 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. 

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.

Writing Trays for Handwriting

Writing trays are sensory activities to teach handwriting

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

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 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.

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

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
  • 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 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.

Peppermint Moon Dough Recipe

Moon dough recipe is a peppermint dough recipe for Christmas sensory play.

Have you ever played with moon sand, or moon dough? This moon dough recipe is an old post here on The OT Toolbox, and one that we loved looking back at. Have you made your own moon dough?  This stuff is seriously messy and majorly fun!  We made our Peppermint Moon Dough recipe a little different than the usual moon dough recipe that is out there.  This moon dough recipe is very soft and fun even for moms to play with!  It’s a great companion to our peppermint play dough recipe from years ago, too.

Moon dough recipe is a peppermint dough recipe for Christmas sensory play.

Moon Dough Recipe

We started with what we had on hand.  When it comes to kid-related messy play and making these sensory play activities, we love to use something that otherwise would be thrown away.  Likewise, waste in these activities is not something we are big fans of.  So, when ever possible, we’ll re-use sensory play materials for other activities and save things like dyed pasta and rice for future sensory activities.  

Note: This post contains affiliate links.  

This moon dough recipe used something that would otherwise be headed to the trash bin…I had some scented lotion that I had for a while… I really didn’t care for the scent.  That and some corns starch were all that were needed to make the base of our moon dough!  

Moon Dough Ingredients

There are only four ingredients in this easy moon dough recipe. You could even omit the food coloring and make this a 3 ingredient moon dough recipe!

To make the consistency of moon dough, use a 4:1 ratio of corn starch to lotion.  This will make a nice and fluffy, but moldable moon dough. 

We added a few drops of peppermint extract and some red food coloring.  We used the gel type of food coloring, but only because that is all we had on hand.  I’m sure liquid food coloring would work just as well, although with the added liquid of scent and food coloring, a little extra corn starch might be needed. 

Also to note when making your moon dough recipe is that different brands of lotion may effect this recipe.  As you mix the ingredients together, you many need to use more or less corn starch depending on the consistency.

Moon dough recipe that kids can make for a Christmas sensory activity. Make this candy cane scented sensory dough with kids.

Half of the moon dough, I kept plain white and the other half got the red food coloring for a very candy cane look.   Add a few little bowls and spoons for scooping, and a couple of Candy Cane cookie cutters, and we were ready to play!

Peppermint dough for Christmas sensory play with an easy moon dough recipe.

We all got busy scooping, fluffing, and mixing.  This was such a fun sensory play experience (for mom, too!)  The lotion made this dough very soft and with the peppermint scent, you could no longer smell the lotion’s scent.

Peppermint moon dough recipe that kids can use to scoop and pour for fine motor work.

Baby Girl (age 2) especially loved to scoop the moon dough.  She used the spoons and filled one cup after another.  And what great fine motor skills this was for her!  She liked to mix the red and the white colors together, dump it all out, and start scooping again!  Here is information on the developmental benefits of scooping and pouring with toddlers.

We played right on the hard wood floor of our dining room for an easy clean up.  Any stray moon dough bits were easy to broom right up.  

Moon dough activity for kids to scoop and pour for a holiday sensory activity.

Little Guy’s favorite part was making the candy cane molds.  We packed the moon dough into the cookie cutters and then pulled it up.  The moon dough would hold it’s shape of the candy cane.  There were a bunch of little moon dough candy canes before we finished!

Candy cane moon dough is a sensory material that smells so fresh for holiday family fun.

    The scent of peppermint candy canes filled the room!  We had so much fun playing with this moon dough!   

Christmas sensory dough with a 4 ingredient moon dough recipe.

When we were finished playing, I poured all of the moon dough into a storage bad and saved it to make a new play activity.  We’ll be using it again, soon!

Have you made moon dough? How about candy cane scented moon dough? 

Looking for more fun candy cane scented sensory play? 

More Christmas sensory ideas

You’ll find more Christmas sensory activities here, but be sure to try some of these sensory dough materials this holiday season.

Christmas modified paper

Christmas Modified Paper Pack

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.

Sensory Activities for Babies

My baby hates tummy time! Here are ideas to help with tummy time for infants and babies

Sensory activities for babies is a tool to help little ones grow and develop life-long essential skills. Baby sensory experiences and sensory play go hand in hand.  A baby has so much exposure to sensory stimulation each day.  From sounds, to sights, to textures and temperatures, a baby’s sensory system is rapidly developing and filing away information.  In our house, when child number four was a baby, she was exposed to A LOT of auditory and visual stimulation from older siblings!

Sensory ACTIVITIES for Infants

Here, you will find sensory activities for infants and babies that can be used to help you connect and play with your little one. These baby sensory play ideas will encourage exploration of colors, textures, and properties.

First, I wanted to share this resource for parents of new babies and also therapists that work with families.

Resource for New Parents

First, I wanted to let you know about an exciting new resource for new parents. Many people think new parents are the only ones that need baby advice. Maybe you found yourself as a new mother who suddenly had a lot of questions on sleep patterns, eating and childhood milestones. But, if there is one thing that therapists wish they could tell new parents, it’s that parents could have a better understanding of how movement plays into development.

Therapists are many times, seeking resources to share with parents to support a family through the first year of baby’s development so they can thrive.

Remarkable Infants is a great opportunity for parents and professionals alike to educate more people on how to support a baby’s first-year development for future learning development.

Yes, this course does provide information on helping a baby sleep and eat, but this course is the other more comprehensive sections. The pieces most other baby trainings don’t provide.

It’s a 5-step, all-inclusive online training for new moms focusing on the development of the whole child from birth through 12 months of age. It includes the following:

  • Language Development (Talking with your baby)
  • Healthy Sleep Habits (Understanding baby sleep)
  • Cognitive Development and Motor Development (Playing with your Baby)
  • Reading with your Baby (Vocabulary, visual-motor, speech and language)
  • Infant Nutrition (Feeding your baby)

Even though this course is geared to moms, it’s also great for professionals. It can be a HUGE help to clients, expecting moms you work with and those that have kids with learning challenges. The more we can help educate parents on the necessity of building a baby’s cognition, speech and language and motor movements in their first year, the further ahead that child will be later in life.

The 2 best parts are:

1. Each section is taught by a specific professional (Occupational Therapist, Speech and Language Pathologist, Pediatric Sleep Sleep Specialists and Registered Dietitian) with evidence-based research. So you know you’re getting advice from the pros!

2. If you are a professional, you can get CEU credits/Certificate of Completion for taking this course.

You can also get an additional 10% discount when you use our coupon code “COLLEEN10.” To join the Mommy Academy, click here. Don’t forget to enter the discount code!

Our Mission at the Mommy Academy is to provide new mamas with easily accessible, organized, evidence based information and practical skills.  Our resources strive to remove overwhelm and exhaustion and allow new moms to spend less time on Google and more time connecting with their baby and taking care of themselves.  Our mission is to make new mamas feel less alone through heartfelt encouragement, a mama community and expert support.

Sensory Play Ideas for Babies

Child development begins in the womb. As that baby develops and grows in utero, they are already stretching and moving, practicing reach and grasp, and stretching against the walls of their mother’s uterus. That push and pull that you felt as an expecting mom was your little one gaining strength and sensory input! That motor development continues after birth, and that’s when the fun begins because as mom or dad, we get to snuggle that little one, engage with them, and watch their every move!

Sensory activities for babies 0-3 months old

Sensory Activities for newborns

Let’s talk specifics. During the newborn and infant stages (0-3 months), you’ll see so many physical and sensory milestones. These are developments that impact movement, communication, and feeding. Sensory developmental milestones during the first three months include:

  • Following a person with their eyes
  • Lifting their head to observe and listen
  • Pushing up to their arms while lying in tummy time, now baby can REALLY start to take in the world around them
  • Holding the head up while laying on their belly
  • Opening their fist into stretched fingers- Little one can grasp and begin to explore textures
  • Bringing hands to the mouth for sensory input, calming, and soothing
  • Reaching for toys to explore
  • Turns toward sounds or voices
  • Makes eye contact
  • Moving legs and arms- They are figuring out how their body moves in space and how much effort needs to be exerted to move

From the first weeks when baby doesn’t focus their eyes on anything, they strengthen eye movements and focus to visually track a toy or person by the end of the three months of age. During this stage, it’s important to allow that little one to move, stretch, kick, and strengthen their core, neck, arms, and legs, and eye muscles. Sensory activities for newborns can include:

Songs and Nursery Rhymes- For our littlest newborns, this is a wonderful first play activity. Singing softly or reciting nursery rhymes to infants gets your little one used to the sound of your voice. Make eye contact up close as you recite rhymes and songs. Baby’s vision is capable of focusing on objects at about 8 inches from their face. Using exaggerated mouth movements and wide eyes when you speak to your little one provides a high-contrast point that they can focus on.

Follow the noise- Use a rattle, squeaky toy, or other toy that makes noise as you move the toy in front of your little one’s field of vision. You want your baby to visually track the noise and follow the toy with their eyes. While baby won’t be able to really follow moving objects with their eyes until about three months of age, this activity boosts so many areas and creates the building blocks of auditory processing and visual processing. This activity can be accomplished at various stages, and in various positions. Baby can be swaddled up and laying on their back while following the toy with their eyes. Try it when baby is in tummy time. Soon, you will see reaching for that fun toy. It’s a great way to encourage reach, grasp, and even gross motor skills like lifting the head and neck while in tummy time, and rolling.

Tummy Time Back Rub- Tummy Time can be hard for babies! That little cry is so sad and makes you want to pick your little one up and snuggle them until they feel safe. But, remember the benefits of tummy time and help them to feel safe and comforted on their belly. Get down on the floor with your little one and lightly rub their back while you sing, speak, or hum. Put your face right next to your little one so they feel the warmth of your body. Make eye contact and engage with that sweet nugget!

Chest to chest- We talked before about how tummy time doesn’t need to happen on the floor. Place baby on your chest as you lean back on a couch. Your baby’s face will be close to yours and at a great position to speak softly. Depth perception of the eyes doesn’t develop until about 5 months of age, so until then, your little one is building the eye strength to better see the world. This positioning is helpful to help your little one build upper body strength.

Blanket time- A colorful play blanket is a great space to stretch, kick, and move those arms and legs. Positioning toys around baby encourages them to engage while strengthening their core, neck, arms, legs, and eye muscles. Position toys in a semi-circle around baby and get down on the floor to get in on the play action. This is a great way to build the skills needed for rolling and manipulating objects.

Leg Kick- While baby is on the floor on their back or belly, provide some bicycle action to their legs. You can slowly “bike” their legs to get them moving and then tap the bottoms of their feet. This tactile input “wakes up” the feet and can get them kicking and moving. Place a toy or object that makes noise at their feet and they will see and hear a response to moving their legs.

sensory activities for babies 3-6 months old

Sensory Activities for 3-6 months

Purposeful movement drives development and development occurs through purposeful movement. This is a fun series of months. You’ll see sensory development that drives motor skills and communication milestones:

  • Rolls from back to belly and belly to back- baby is starting to really explore proprioception and vestibular input as they move and figure out how their body moves
  • Holds the head and neck steady in sitting- They can focus vision on moving targets when the neck and head are steady
  • Investigates textures, size, shapes, and details of objects

During 3-6 months, the baby is starting to gain some control of their body. They will start to use purposeful movement, influenced by toys and faces on the people around them in order to explore. Try these sensory activities for 3-6 month age range:

Foot Rattles- There are socks out there that have built-in noise makers. These little foot rattles encourage baby to move and shake those legs. While lying on their back, they can see how intentional movement works.

Peek-a-Boo- This is an age-old favorite…and there’s a good reason why we love this classic game! When mom or dad hides their face and then suddenly takes their hands away, baby is learning some valuable skills. They learn that objects don’t go away just because they can’t see them. Object permanence, cause and effect, and problem solving begin at this young age, and while it can take a while to master, it’s an essential skill down the road! Try playing peek-a-book with faces, objects and a blanket, and by gently swiping a blanket over baby. (Always use super close supervision with this activity!)

Crinkly Soft Toys- One of my favorite ways to develop those early fine motor skills is with a simple crinkly soft blanket. You know the kind…it’s soft material on the outside, but crinkly fabric sewn into the middle. So, when baby squeezes and grabs the soft toy, they hear a crinkly noise. The best kind are small fabric swatches because they are light enough for baby to manipulate and pick up. The OT in me loves to see that little grip grab and pull the material. You can see those motor skills develop right in front of your eyes! Use the crinkly toy in tummy time to encourage reaching and rolling, or while laying on the floor as baby brings both hands together and gives the toy a taste. They can work both hands together in a coordinated manner with feedback from the mouth. It’s a great toy for building cause and effect, too!

Mirror Play- Find a baby-safe mirror and use it in tummy time. Place a few baby items on the mirror and they can begin to push up onto their arms by putting weight through their shoulders and upper body. Another way to use a baby safe mirror is to place it in front of baby while they are in supported sitting. Baby will begin to babble and “talk” to the baby they see in the mirror.

Hula-Hoop Reach- Your little one is still building those motor skills and someday down the road they will be doing big kid things! For now, use a hula hoop to attach rattles and baby toys in a circle around them as they are in tummy time in the center. The circular positioning of toys encourages reach (and eye-hand coordination), visual scanning, rolling, and pivoting on the upper body as they move and stretch for different toys.

Sensory activities for babies 6-9 months

Sensory ACTIVITIES for 6-9 months

The months between 6-9 months are a big one for little ones’ development. Senses prevail and as your baby starts to gain more physical control, they are exploring more sensory input. Little one will begin solid foods for the first time and what a sensory experience that is!

Movement and gains in gross motor skills allow baby will move from tummy time with weight through their arms to pushing up on their arms. They will begin to lift their belly off the floor to all fours. They will move from supported sitting to unsupported sitting with reaching for toys. You’ll see that little bundle move from tummy time to rolling, crawling, and reaching. Let them move, kick, and stretch!

  • Moves from supported sitting to independent sitting- Exploring the world around them
  • Bears weight through hands in crawling position
  • Reaches for toys while lying in the belly
  • Moves toys from one hand to the other
  • Uses both hands to manipulate and explore toys
  • Reacts to sudden sounds
  • Listen and responds to sounds or voices
  • Begins to babble
  • Shows an interest in foods
  • Tries baby food for the first time and will move to explore more tastes and varieties of soft foods
  • Imitates others in play
  • Focuses on near and far objects

This is a fun age! Purposeful movement occurs and you will see baby learning so much. Here are some baby play ideas that boost the sensory development and motor skills babies need to move, manipulate toys, feed themselves, and get from place to place:

Sitting Games- Place pillows around your little one to create a soft crash mat. As baby gains the skills to sit up with balance, they can reach for toys around them. Offer a basket of washcloths, a bowl of nesting toys, hand-sized balls (ones that can’t be placed into the mouth), or other novel items. This is a great opportunity to practice reaching, placing objects into containers, and getting stronger at balance!

Living Room Obstacle Course- Along the same lines as the previous activity, use living room pillows and couch cushions to create obstacles on the floor. This is a great way to encourage movement in a variety of patterns and gain skills in crawling. As baby grows, they will become more confident in their movement and this is great to see! Be sure to stay close by and ensure the space is baby-proofed!

Bubbles- Blowing bubbles with baby is a wonderful way to encourage visual tracking, eye-hand coordination, core strength, sitting balance, neck control, and even fine motor skills! Encourage your little one to watch the bubbles as they float away and visual processing skills develop. Ask them to get the bubble and they can work on controlled reach and grasp. Bubbles are a great activity throughout the toddle years too as baby learns to gain control in standing and walking. Grab a container of bubbles and have fun!

Roll a Ball- A partially blown up beach ball is a wonderful tool for helping your little one gain balance and strength in sitting. The ball when not blown up entirely provides a great opportunity for grasp. Just be sure to keep a close watch on your little ball player. This activity should only be done under very close supervision and always trust your gut. You know that the ball is going straight to the mouth once your little one has a hold of it, so stay close by. Rolling a beach ball toward baby is wonderful for developing visual processing skills, eye-hand coordination, grasp and release, strengthening, and more. Adding more air to the ball makes it harder to grasp and harder to catch as the ball will roll more quickly and smoothly. Older kiddos can use that ball to kick, throw, and even pat-pat-pat!

Box of Toys- Have an Amazon delivery box or a shoebox sitting around? It’s a novel toy for your little one! Fill it with baby-safe objects or toys and get ready to have fun. Pulling items out and dropping them back in teaches baby so much about weight, grasp, eye-hand coordination, and even gravity. They will love to see how things fall and how they hit off other toys. Dumping a box of toys is fun of its own and is another experiment of it’s own. Baby, as they start to move and crawl can push or pull a box and gain the feedback of pushing the object along the floor. Babies that are standing at a coffee table or couch can explore and drop items into the box while they learn to hold on the safety of the couch and use one arm to hold an object. SO much development can happen with a simple cardboard box!

Put in and Take Out- Take that box play even further by using a smaller opening. An empty tissue box is another awesome tool for building skills in fine motor work, eye-hand coordination, and visual processing skills. By placing items in a container, little ones can work on things like visual discrimination and visual memory, all through play and not aware that those basic skills will carryover far into their educational years as they learn to read, write, and complete math. Amazing, right??!

Sensory activities for babies from 10-12 months old

Sensory Activities for 10-12 months

The next phase is a big one! During the tail end of the first year, you see big strides in free movement. You see stronger eye-hand coordination, and intentional movement. You see refined fine motor skills, improved mobility, and a stronger baby. Here are more specifics about this stage:

  • Pulls up to stand at furniture
  • Takes first steps holding onto furniture to “cruise”
  • Moves in various positions from laying to sitting, sitting to pulling up to stand, etc.
  • Drops toys into containers and grabs them to manipulate
  • Uses a pincer grasp (holds small items like cereal between the pads of the thumb and pointer finger)
  • Explores toys with mouth, hands, and visually
  • Says first words
  • Feeds self with finger foods
  • Takes first steps without support

During this stage of development, babies are moving and grooving! They are building on the skills they’ve achieved and refining those motor skills. Babies are using what they’ve got in the way of grasp, reach, and gross movement to really develop their vestibular sense. By moving in different planes to crawl, swing, turn, and roll, there is movement of the fluid in the inner ear which stimulates the vestibular sense. The vestibular sense allows us to know where our body is in space. With the vestibular sense, we are able to sit without falling over, move from one point to another safely, and track objects with our eyes (which is needed in reading and writing). Try these sensory activities for 10-12 months:

Tunnels- Set ups a floor obstacle course like we talked about a few slides ago, but add some more challenging experiences. Use a baby tunnel or a large cardboard box. What a fun space to add baby toys, bins, baskets, and soft blankets for crawling over and playing with!

Kitchen Play- At this stage, baby will be much sturdier in their sitting. Set ups a scattering of kitchen bowls and wooden spoons or scoops. They can bang, stack, and drop to see how items work and move. Recycled items such as egg cartons, cereal boxes, and plastic container are fun to explore too. Be sure to make the space baby safe. This is a great way to engage your little one while cooking and preparing meals.

Sensory Play- This stage is fun because as the fine motor skills develop, you will see more refined use of the hands from a raking grasp” where all of the fingers rake items in order to pick them up in the palm of the hand into a “pincer grasp” where the pointer finger and the thumb are able to pick up a small item. Encourage sensory play by providing cooked spaghetti cut up into small lengths. Scatter the cooked spaghetti on a black placemat or tray. The high visual contrast and interesting sensory experience will engage your little one and build fine motor skills they will need down the road.

Fine Motor Play- Around 10 months, you will see more refined fine motor skills as baby uses their pointer finger and thumb to pick up small items with the pincer grasp we just talked about in our last slide. Suddenly, you will notice every speck of dirt and fuzz ball on the carpet…and so will your little one! Encourage those fine motor skills by providing baby cereal and a container for them to drop pieces into.

Stacking Activities- Use stacking cups, blocks, or small boxes (empty tissue boxes work great!) to stack and knock over! Baby will begin to gain more refined motor skills and the excitement of knocking those towers over again and again will not end!

Rolling Toys- Use balls of various sizes, toy cars, and even recycled paper towel tubes to explore how things move and roll. Take the excitement level up a notch by adding a ramp using a large cardboard piece to make a ramp. Watching items as they roll down and grabbing them to push them down all over again is big fun! It’s a great way to encourage fine and gross motor skills, visual motor skills, eye-hand coordination, and balance.

These sensory activities for babies are baby sensory ideas that will help infants develop essential skills, through play.

This post contains affiliate links.  

We shared recently our Visual Motor Integration developmental milestones post with general timelines of baby’s hand-eye coordination.  It’s important to note that all children develop differently and some of these activities may not be appropriate until they are developmentally able to participate.   

Tummy Time and Sensory ACTIVITIES

Really important pieces of advice like placing your baby in tummy time, limiting time spent in baby positioners, encouraging a variety of sensory stimulation, allowing movement, and connecting with your baby through play aren’t just tips. They are really important. They are strategies for success. The next few slides I’m sharing are tools to give your baby a motor and sensory baseline that will impact them down the road with things like visual motor skills, attention, reading and writing, frustration tolerance, emotional regulation, and more. It’s the skills that kids today are really lacking in

My baby hates tummy time! Here are ideas to help with tummy time for infants and babies

 When Baby Hates Tummy Time

We shared this mirror play idea on Instagram.  At the time, Baby Girl was five months old an able to do tummy time in a Boppy pillow. Having a better understand of tummy time myths is important for new parents to understand what to do when baby hates tummy time.

The thing is that floor play for babies is essential for developing skills in infants and toddlers. And, that floor time play is important to building visual motor skills, strength, and coordination even throughout the first year (and beyond)!

Here is information on how tummy time impacts spatial awareness development in babies.

The baby positioning floor pillow provided extra support and elevated my little one’s upper body to encourage reach during tummy time. As with any piece of baby equipment, this pillow and others should be used under supervision by an adult and for short periods of time.  We used a small mirror and a few colorful ball pit balls to encourage reach and exploration.  Of course the big sisters had to help!

How to help baby enjoy tummy time

Helping to encourage lots of tummy time in your little one doesn’t need to be stressful. But many times, it may seem like your baby hates tummy time! They scream, they cry, and they place their face right on the floor. Scary, right? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there as new moms.

Tips to help with tummy time:

Get down on the floor with your baby and encourage reaching for enticing toys or towards your face/hands as you are right out of reach.

Try some of the tummy time ideas in the Mommy Academy course.

Add tummy time in throughout the day. Try a few minutes after diaper changes or when baby is in a pleasant mood. All of that tummy time adds up to build the strength needed for pushing over to the side.

Try chest to chest tummy time as the adult holding the baby lies back on couch cushions.

Try a football hold.

While sitting on a couch, try tummy time on your lap while rubbing baby’s back.

Also, is your little one pushing up on their arms when in tummy time? The weight of the head tends to pull them over into a side position/laying on belly from tummy time, so that is another benefit.

 Babies get so much exposure to different textures naturally through play.  This is just a simple way to encourage functional reach and tummy time play.  Some other items that work well with this baby sensory play activity that we love:   

Colorful plastic cups 

Extra large soft blocks. Be sure to closely monitor baby if they are able to place items into their mouth! 

Chew items

Baby safe, plastic baby links

Find many more baby play ideas here to drive sensory input through play based on each stage through the first year.

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.

Easter Egg Game- Color Scavenger Hunt

Easter egg game that kids will love while working on color matching, color identification, visual perception.

If you are looking for a fun Easter egg game that the kids will love, then you are in luck. Add this activity to your Easter activities and use up a few of those plastic eggs. This color scavenger hunt uses plastic Easter eggs, and it’s a very fun way to play and learn! Use those plastic eggs to encourage gross motor skills, visual perception, and color learning in a way that kids won’t forget. While the kiddos are playing this Easter game, they are building cognitive skills AND underlying skill areas like visual scanning and other visual perceptual skills.

Easter egg game that kids will love while working on color matching, color identification, visual perception.

We set this Easter activity up years and years ago. (2013 to be exact!) However, it’s one of those activities that stands the test of time. If you’ve got plastic Easter eggs on hand, use them to build skills like the ones we worked on here!

This Easter egg activity helps kids learn colors and learning with a color scavenger hunt gross motor activity


This color scavenger hunt is so easy to set up…and so much fun. Kids can work on identifying color names, and color matching. I wrote different colors on slips of paper and put them into plastic eggs.  The kids got to pick an egg from the bowl and “sound out” the color on the slip of paper.  Ok, my 5 year old sounded out the color with help.  The other two said the first letter of the word and guessed the color.  They were pretty excited to “read” the color on their slip of paper!  

Kids will love this Easter egg game using plastic Easter eggs in a color scavenger hunt activity.
Use this color scavenger hunt with easter eggs to work on color matching and color identification with kids.

An Easter Game Kids will Love

Now for the egg game…So then, they had to run off and find something that was the color of the written word on their slip of paper…and it had to FIT inside the egg.    I sat and waited for them to run back and show me what they found while they tried to fit it in their egg.   (completely genius way for this mom to finish a cup of coffee!)  

Kids can look for objects that match plastic Easter eggs in a color scavenger hunt that allows them them move and play with learning, too.

 They had a little trouble with some things, but this was a fun and different way to work on visual perceptual skills.  Will that little doll fit in the egg?  We weren’t sure by looking at it, but with a little fiddling, she did!   Fitting the eggs together with the little objects inside was a great fine motor exercise.

Kids can look for matching colors in this plastic Easter egg game that helps them with color matching and visual scanning.

  They found something for each color!  

Kids can play this color scavenger hunt game with plastic Easter eggs for a fun Easter game that can be played indoors or outdoors.
Kids can learn color names and work on learning skills like visual scanning, fine motor skills, and gross motor skills with this Easter game.

 This Easter themed play activity could be modified in so many ways for learning words, colors…have fun with it 🙂

Want more ways to play and learn this time of year?

This time of year, one of our more popular products here on The OT Toolbox is our Spring Occupational Therapy packet. The best news is that, this packet has had a major upgrade from it’s previous collection of spring sensory activities.

In the Spring OT packet, you’ll now find:

  • Spring Proprioceptive Activities
  • Spring Vestibular Activities
  • Spring Visual Processing Activities
  • Spring Tactile Processing Activities
  • Spring Olfactory Activities
  • Spring Auditory Processing Activities
  • Spring Oral Motor Activities
  • Spring Fine Motor Activities
  • Spring Gross Motor Activities
  • Spring Handwriting Practice Prompts
  • Spring Themed Brain Breaks
  • Occupational Therapy Homework Page
  • Client-Centered Worksheet
  • 5 pages of Visual Perceptual Skill Activities

All of the Spring activities include ideas to promote the various areas of sensory processing with a Spring-theme. There are ways to upgrade and downgrade the activities and each activities includes strategies to incorporate eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, body scheme, oculomotor control, visual perception, fine and gross motor skills, and more.


One of my favorite parts of the Spring Occupational Therapy Packet is the therapist tool section:

  • Occupational Therapy Homework Page
  • Client-Centered Worksheet

These two sheets are perfect for the therapist looking to incorporate carryover of skills. Use the homework page to provide specific OT recommended activities to be completed at home. This is great for those sills that parents strive to see success in but need more practice time for achieving certain skill levels.
This activity packet is 26 pages long and has everything you need to work on the skills kids are struggling with…with a Spring theme!

Here’s the link again to grab that packet.

Use this Spring Occupational Therapy Activities Packet to work on occupational therapy goals and functional skills with a spring theme.

How to Dye Pumpkin Seeds for Sensory Play

This post on how to dye pumpkin seeds was one we originally created back in 2014. The thing is that colored pumpkin seeds is still just as much fun for fine motor and sensory play as it was years ago! We make these dyed pumpkin seeds each year and always play with them a TON in fine motor activities and sensory trays. This year, we made rainbow pumpkin seeds after Halloween. Use this recipe on how to dye pumpkin seeds to create a Fall activity for play activities of your own this year! We’ve been playing with them in all kinds of sensory play activities, fine motor fun, and learning activities.
Use these instructions on how to dye pumpkin seeds to make colored pumpkin seeds for fine motor and sensory play with kids.

Dye pumpkin seeds for kids to play with:

Pumpkins are all around us these days! If you have carved a pumpkin with the kids and have the seeds sitting in a bowl ready for roasting, you are in luck. Before you mix up a batch of your favorite roasted pumpkin seeds recipe, save a few handfuls for dying for sensory play!
Dying pumpkin seeds isn’t hard. In fact, the kids will love to get in on the mixing action. They will love to use those dyed pumpkin seeds in sensory bins, for fine motor pumpkin seeds activities, or even Fall crafts like this pumpkin seed craft.
Pumpkin seeds are a great addition to sensory play experiences. Allowing kids to scoop the seeds directly from the pumpkin is such a tactile sensory experience! But for some kids, that pumpkin goop is just too much tactile input. Using dyed pumpkin seeds in sensory play is a first step in the tactile experience.
Use this recipe for how to dye pumpkin seeds with kids.

How to Color Pumpkin Seeds the Easy Way

This post contains affiliate links.

This year we made them a bit differently than last year.  I tried to roast the seeds after coloring them with the food coloring.  To make our seeds this year, we used liquid food coloring dye and gel food coloring.  Each type of food coloring worked really well.  The problem with roasting the seeds after coloring them is that the colors don’t “stick” as well to the seed, making less vivid colors.  I would suggest first roasting your seeds and THEN dying them like we did here.

Colored pumpkin seeds are great for kids to use in sensory play.

Whether you use liquid food coloring dye or gel food coloring, add the seeds to plastic baggies and add the food coloring.  Seal up the baggies, mix the seeds around, (or hand them over to the kids and let them go crazy), and get the seeds coated in coloring.  
Spread the seeds out on aluminum foil spread on a cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes.  Be sure to check on the seeds often to make sure they are not burning.  If you roast them first, the colors will cover any brown spots.
How to dye pumpkin seeds to use in kids crafts this Fall.

Colored Pumpkin Seeds for Fine Motor Play

We used our dyed seeds in art projects first.  Manipulating those seeds is a great way to work on fine motor skills.  Little Sister was SO excited to make art!

Add additional fine motor work by using a squeezable glue bottle to create a pumpkin seeds craft and pumpkin seed art. Squeezing that glue bottle adds a gross hand grasp and fine motor warm-up before performing fine motor tasks.

How to dye pumpkin seeds to use in a Fall mandala craft.

Use dyed pumpkin seeds to make a colorful mandala craft with fine motor benefits. Picking up the pumpkin seeds uses fine motor skills such as in-hand manipulation, separation of the sides of the hand, pincer grasp, open thumb web space, and distal mobility.

Placing the colored pumpkin seeds into a symmetrical pattern of colors promotes eye-hand coordination and visual perceptual skills such as visual discrimination, figure ground, and other skills.

Dying pumpkin seeds is a fun Fall activity for kids.

Little Guy made a gingerbread man.  Because why not??! 😉

Squeezing the glue bottle into a shape and placing the colored pumpkin seeds along the line is another exercise in visual perception and eye-hand coordination.

Colored pumpkin seeds can be used in Fall sensory play and fine motor crafts.
Little Sister made a rainbow with her seeds.
Use colored pumpkin seeds to make a fine motor craft with kids.

How to dye pumpkin seeds for sensory play for kids.

How to Dye Pumpkin Seeds for Sensory Play

Use the directions listed above to create a set of colored pumpkin seeds. Use the colorful pumpkin seeds in a big pumpkin sensory bin to create a tactile sensory experience. Kids can draw letters in the seeds to work on letter formation. Add this idea to your toolbox of sensory writing tray ideas.

Add a few Fall themed items such as small pumpkins, acorns, pinecones, scoops, and small bowls to the sensory bin activity. Dyed pumpkin seeds are a great sensory bin medium this time of year when making an easy sensory bin.

Kids will love using dyed pumpkin seeds in sensory play.

This sensory play activity was very fun.  We couldn’t keep our hands out of the tray as we played and created.
Use dyed pumpkin seeds for sensory play with kids.

Colored pumpkin seeds are fun for Fall crafts.


Wondering how to dye pumpkin seeds and use in sensory play?

More Colored Pumpkin Seed Activities:

Be sure to use your dyed pumpkin seeds for a few fun ideas like these:

Pumpkin activity kit
Pumpkin Fine Motor Kit

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.

Toys to Improve Tactile Sensory Awareness

So often, therapists are asked for toy recommendations this time of year. Parents are looking for toys that promote skills like fine motor work, sensory benefits, or motor skill development. Today, we’re sharing toys that improve tactile sensory awareness. These are great toy recommendations for sensory needs and just fun ways to challenge the tactile sensory system through play!

These are great ideas to add to a sensory diet, depending on the child’s specific needs.

Need toys ideas to improve tactile sensory awareness? These toys are a fun way to help kids with sensory defensiveness or expereince sensory play while challenging tactile sensory input through the hands.

Toys to Improve Tactile Sensory Awareness

With all the shopping going on, people are always asking what types of toys I should get my toddler. A really great section of toys, are toys that make the child more aware of tactile sensory awareness.

What is tactile defensiveness?

When children don’t get to explore different textures, they can develop a sensory tactile defensiveness.

Tactile defensiveness is when a person is very resistance to touch certain materials due to the feel of them. Some examples would be: textured items, messy items (shaving cream, playdoh, seams or tags on clothes, hands or face being dirty, bare feet touching grass. You will often see a child with tactile defensiveness resist playing with finger paint, or complain if they get food on their hands. They may barely touch at item or will refuse completely.

These tactile sensory play ideas are great for encouraging tactile sensory awareness and learning through play.

Why is tactile sensory play so important?

It is so important for children to explore different tactile items at a young age through play so that they don’t develop a tactile defensiveness. Providing children opportunities for tactile play is easy with a wide variety of what you can use. Check out these ideas for having a Messy Play Day.

When introducing a child to textures, who may be defensive, start with dry textures or items that won’t stick to hands. Then move to wet items (water, paint) and then sticky. Take it slow and don’t force a child to stick with a texture that they don’t like. You can always come back to the texture a different time and try again.

Toys/ items to help improve tactile sensory awareness

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Shaving cream is a great medium to have children “drive” cars through and use as snow. On amazon there is a kit called, Rub a Dub Shaving in the Tub by Alex toys. Which includes shaving cream, plastic razor and a mirror. This is a great way to have kids engage in “messy play” but be able to get clean right away.

Playdoh can be used just by rolling it, making shapes with cookie cutters, and placing coins/beads in and having child pull them out. There are a lot of great kits like this Melissa and Doug set you can buy that come with the play dough and cookie cutters, or play dough tools.

Check out this link for fun ideas to do with playdoh and Christmas, Scented Snowman Play Dough, part of our 25 days of Christmas Play series here on The OT Toolbox.

Moon sand– is a moldable sand that will never dry out. It has a unique texture and won’t stick to your hands. Here is an easy 3 ingredient kinetic sand recipe to make at home.

Squish balls– come in many varieties. Some have textures inside-sand, beads or beans. The outside of the squish balls can be pointy, smooth or bumpy. These stress balls with a mesh covering are a popular fidget tool that kids love to squeeze. You can even make your own by taking a balloon, water bottle and sand. Pour sand into an empty water bottle, place balloon over the top and then pour the sand into the balloon.

Tactile board– a board with different fabrics, sandpaper, smooth or rough textures, glue corn or beans on paper can promote motor skills too!  Allow child to explore the different textures. A tactile board can be hung high or low to promote different motor skills. Or try a table top version.

Scented bathtub Finger paint– Crayola Crayons- kids can use as a body wash or color the walls of the bathtub with. It’s great because they can get messy and then easily clean. Plus it’s scented which is great for the olfactory system.

Sensory bin- fill a bin or container with rice, beans or another dry material. Hide toys that the child has to shift thought the material to find. Have cups and spoons in the bin so that they can pour.

Monkey noodle– found on amazon. You can pull the stretchy string from 10 inches to 8 feet.
There are so many fun toys that keep children engaged and also help with developing tactile tolerance.

Try these toys to improve tactile sensory awareness and address tactile defensiveness or to use in sensory play experiences with kids to improve fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, through tactile sensory play!

Sensory Input Through Play 

Looking for even more ways to encourage tactile sensory awareness through play and activities? Grab our Sensory Diet Cards for a complete packet of sensory activities. You’ll find 24 pages of 345 sensory diet activities including:
  • Calming and alerting movement activities
  • Heavy work fine motor activities for pre-writing needs or fidgeting needs
  • Sensory activities
  • Sensory support cards
These sensory diet cards can be used in the home, classroom, or clinic. They are available now for $9.99 on The OT Toolbox shop
Use printable sensory diet cards to encouraging sensory input through play
Tactile sensory awareness can happen through play and learning!

About Christina:

Christina Komaniecki is a school based Occupational Therapist. I graduated from Governors State University with a master’s in occupational therapy.   I have been working in the pediatric setting for almost 6 years and have worked in early intervention, outpatient pediatrics, inpatient pediatrics, day rehab, private clinic and schools. My passion is working with children and I love to see them learn new things and grow. I love my two little girls, family, yoga and going on long walks. 

Quiet Fidget Toys for School

The fidget tools listed below are those that are quiet in nature. You’ve probably spun a fidget spinner or two in your days (the last year or so that fidget spinners where a “thing”, anyway). They make a noise, right? Those fidget clicker boxes? They make a noise too. For the classroom environment where a click or a spin can be distracting to others, quiet fidget tools are a must. 

Scroll on to find out more about quiet DIY fidget tools for school that can be a valuable tool for kids with attention challenges, regulation needs, sensory processing issues, or other needs that require a fidget tool for concentration and inclusion in the classroom setting. 

Quiet fidget tools for kids in the classroom to help with attention, fidgeting, or sensory needs.

Quiet Fidget Tools for School

Here’s the thing about fidget tools in the classroom setting. They can get a bad rap. But, have you ever stopped to think that we ALL need a fidget tactic of some sort when we need to really concentrate? We jiggle our leg. We tap the desk. We doodle. We talk with our hands. We mess with a pen. We tap our phone. We twirl our hair. We all do something that is an overflow of motor actions with concentration. 

So, when we ask our kids (who are getting less time outdoors, less recess, and are experiencing more sensory processing needs) to sit still at their desk and NOT fidget, wiggle, twirl, move, slouch, or jump…it’s a messy classroom!

Fidget tools for students in a classroom don’t need to be a pricey. 

They don’t need to be obtrusive. 

They don’t need to be a tool that is unnatural in the classroom. 

Fidget tools can be used by any student and can be items that are a natural part of the classroom. 

Try using some of these quiet fidget tools in a classroom. It may be helpful to go over rules of fidget tools with the whole class. Do that before handing over the fidget. Set up guidelines for use, and inappropriate use of fidget tools. Instruct students that they are to be used when concentrating and at all other times should be placed in pencil box or pencil pouch, with crayons, scissors, and other “tools”. Just like those items have a place and a use in the classroom, the fidget tool should be used at certain times and in certain ways!

Quiet Fidget Tools for School

Affiliate links are included below. 

Fun pencil topper
DIY pencil topper
Small koosh ball (tuck this in the palm of the hand for younger students to encourage a functional pencil grasp and separation of the sides of the hand.)
Two or three paper clips linked together
Paper brad with paperclip clipped into a folder or notebook cover
Pencil grip
Beads on a pipe cleaner
Small stress ball
Marble sewn into a cotton glove
Sliced pool noodle (Very cost efficient! A whole class can be outfitted with a quiet fidget tool for about $1)
Wikki Stix (an effective tool for a writing or reading guide too.)
Rubber bands on a ring 
Craft pom poms
DIY Zipper pull

Sensory strategies like these can be a big help for many children. 

You may also be interested in the free printable packet, The Classroom Sensory Strategy Toolkit.

The Classroom Sensory Strategy Toolkit is a printable packet of resources and handouts that can be used by teachers, parents, and therapists. Whether you are looking for a handout to explain sensory strategies, or a tool for advocating for your child, the Classroom Sensory Strategy Toolkit has got you covered.

And it’s free for you to print off and use again and again.

In the Classroom Sensory Strategy Toolkit, you’ll find:

  • Fidgeting Tools for the Classroom
  • Adapted Seating Strategies for the Classroom
  • Self-Regulation in the Classroom
  • 105 Calm-down Strategies for the Classroom
  • Chewing Tools for Classroom Needs
  • 45 Organizing Tools for Classroom Needs
  • Indoor Recess Sensory Diet Cards

Sensory Strategies for the Classroom

Quiet fidget tools for kids in the classroom to help with attention, fidgeting, or sensory needs.