Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Summer Sensory Diet Series: A Bucket List of Ideas for Sensory Summer Fun

A while ago, Mom Guide commented on our Media and Our Boy’s Mind post:

 "We are trying to plan a sensory fun summer minus a lot of TV and screen related games. Do you have any recommendations for a fun sensory summer?"

Silly me commented back that I would get some ideas up within a week.  Sorry, Mom Guide!  Make that within two months.  Life (kids, homeschooling) is what happens when you’re making other plans, folks say.  And, for me, blogging is what happens when those plans allow, it seems.

Anyway, without further ado, as we head into the next month of summertime, let me make it up to Mom Guide – and share with all – a multi-part series to highlight some of our favorite tried-and-true Sensory Summer Fun for the Sun (or Shade) ideas, as well as some we have on our list to try out.

Now, as I think “lists”, I have decided to start out with a brief Bucket List for Summer Sensory Fun. (I wrote about making a more general Summer Bucket List at Signature Moms and shared our own list, which included many sensory-friendly ideas here, if you are interested.)   

Here 15 quick ideas that get kids away from screen time and into sensory summer fun, giving them back a bit more of the traditional (and not-so-traditional) summer fun that I think all kids should experience: 

  1. Play in the sand.  At the beach, in sandboxes or in the dirt patch in front of our home, our kids often self-regulate through sand play.  Building with sand, walking in sand, digging tunnels in sand, burying feet and running along a shore line are all great for sensory input.  Just be cognoscente of tactile defensiveness.  For some children, offering an extra set of clothes, a change of shoes, digging tools or a large towel or blanket to sit on can keep “fun” sand from becoming “irritating” sand.
  2. Check out a new playground.   As a confirmed Playground Junkie, I always have a list of playgrounds in my mind to offer opportunities for my children to enjoy working on balance, coordination, bilateral skills and social skills, while getting great sensory input through climbing, sliding, swinging, hanging, balancing and crawling on equipment.
  3. Get in the water.  When my children are antsy or argumentative, I find our local wading pool, beach or splash pad provides a great panacea.  Splashing, swimming and playing in the water focus and calm them (this year.  Last year, our SPD kid still struggled with water at times.)  And, water can be an excellent environment for vestibular and proprioceptive input.  Army crawling or walking on hands in shallow water can provide arm and core strengthening benefits.  Swimming provides tactile input, while working strength and endurance.  Pulling or pushing others on rafts is good heavy work.  Riding or spinning on a boat or raft provides vestibular input, core strengthening and balance.  With all these things, though, be sensitive to what your child might be defensive with – certain swimwear fabrics, levels of chlorine, loud echoes at indoor pools, water that is too warm or too cold, etc.  – and stay alert for signs of over-stimulation.
  4. Make an outdoor sensory box.  For us, two green plastic sandboxes are our giant outdoor sensory boxes.  They get filled with sand, mud, water, ice, shaving cream, grass clippings...  You name it.  We’ve even used them to hold "paint" in order to paint a concrete wall.  If you don’t have a big green sandbox, an underbed container, large dishpan, blow up pool or similar can do the trick.  Also, if you'd like some further specific ideas for outdoor Sensory Sandboxes, please pop over to see my previous post at OJTA.)
  5. Jump on a trampoline.  We like to drag our mini-tramp outside in the summer.  This, alone, provides heavy work.  Then, proprioceptive and vestibular work get added as we use the trampoline as part of an obstacle course or just as an activity on its own.  Anytime you use a trampoline, keep safety in mind first.
  6. Enjoy messy art outdoors.  Chalk, shaving cream, paint, goop, pud – any "messy" art media – can be moved outside and then “cleaned” or “erased” with squirt guns, sprinklers or a hose.  Lots of tactile work and pressure-grading are used by doing this.  Also, scavenged natural items can substitute for traditional ones.  Pine needles, weeds or sticks can be paint brushes.  Rocks, sidewalks and driftwood can be paper.  Sand or gravel can be added to media for a new texture.  The more you trade traditional items for natural ones, the more tactile input and motor skill use you'll encourage.  Truly, great sensory-sound art is waiting just outside the front door. 
  7. Blow bubbles.  It’s a classic oral-motor activity with applications for all the senses, as described in my Seven Sense-ational Way to Use Bubbles post at OJTA.  Good thing our Nina always asks for them for her birthday, because we go through them quickly and appreciate stocking up on them through gifts.  We like reading about them, too.  You can see our Book Nook: Bubbles! Bubbles post for some good literacy connections.
  8.  Go hiking, geocaching or letterboxing.  We enjoy hiking when it is not too hot.  It provides sensory input while building stamina.  And, if your state has anything like MA’s Passport Program, you can win prizes, too, which can serve as a motivating factor for "tired" kids.  Just pick your trails with your own child's needs and abilities in mind.  Challenging ones?  Yes.  Too much challenge?  No.  It can lead to unpleasant, defeating experiences.
  9. Play with pool noodles – even on the land.  We love ours and find many uses for them from hockey to obstacles courses to Seven All-Season Reasons for Pool Noodles.  Pool noodles not only seem to stir up creativity in our home, but ensure great heavy work and movement.
  10. Find a hill.  Grass sled.  Roll down the hill.  Run up it.  Play King or Queen of the Mountain.  Thesre will be lots of vestibular and proprioceptive input involved, as well as some tactile (with the rolling in the grass and maybe some barefoot play, too.)
  11. Have a motor/riding toy parade.  Pogo sticks, bouncy hop balls, tricycles, bicycles, plasma cars, scooters, wagons.  You name it.  If it’s got wheels or you can ride on it somehow, make it part of a parade.  Use creativity and fine motor skills to decorate the toys and then get large motor sensory input while using them.  Provide extra heavy work by having your child push or pull another child on a toy.  Give extra sensory input by having your child ride backwards in a pulled toy.
  12. Make obstacle courses and/or run relays.  These are fantastic not only as heavy work, but to encourage creative planning, balance and plain old fun!  Including some water elements can keep you cool.  Incorporating wheelbarrow races, crab walking, bear walking and army crawling can work toward core strengthening.
  13. Pick up a sheet or parachute and invite some friends to play on the lawn.  Lift it.  Dip it.  Walk around it. Bounce balls or balloons on it.  Run under it.  Pop cotton ball popcorn atop it.  Make waves with it.  Hide under it.  Provide fun and sensory input at many levels, while working social skills, teamwork and the ability to follow directions.
  14. Gaze at the sky.  For visual tracking, lay on your back and watch airplanes or birds fly across the sky or bubbles and dandelion seeds float away.  While you’re at it, key into auditory input by being quiet for a few minutes and seeing how many natural and manmade sounds you can hear.
  15. Cool off through straws.  Lemonade, shakes and smoothies seem synonymous with summertime.  Suck them through a variety of straws – twisty ones, fat ones, coffee stirrers, etc. – for increased oral motor input.
  16. Make work into play.  Have fun doing chores such as gardening, washing the car or washing windows and siding.  These make great family projects that can lead to water fights and laughter, while also encouraging teamwork, follow-through, heavy work and tactile input.

These ideas, of course, are suggested with children who have sensory integration issues in mind, but they are equally beneficial for any child.  Sensory fun is for everyone, including parents, who will share more summer smiles when sensory diets keep all their kids regulated and entertained.

For more ideas for the seven senses (sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, hearing, vestibular and proprioception), keep dropping by this week and next.  As our own summer fun (and appointments) allow, I will be adding parts to this series that spotlight particular ideas.  And, of course, if you have your own summer sensory ideas or want to offer new twists on ones I have already shared, I would welcome your input in a comment!

Have a sense-ational remainder to your summer.  Stop by soon to read about how we integrate fun and learning out on the trails.

I am linking this post to Give Back Thursday, as I think that offering our time to ensure our kids get all the sensory experiences they need is a vital part of parenting!


Georgia said...

what a nice post! thsnks for linking up!!!!

LivingSoAbundantly said...

How fun! =D I remember when my dad would take us to a new park, we would get so excited! Sometimes we'd go on a bike ride, and we'd ask, "Dad, where are we going?" He would say, "You'll see!" It was the feeling of Christmas morning when unwrapping a package. :) Great post!

Pamela said...

What an awesome post. I like the turn work into play. We did that when our kids were small -- they had fun and we got our work accomplished.

Our weather has been close to 100 and well over heat index. I've been helping my daughter come up with fun indoor activities.

Martianne said...


My son actually called cleaning the bathroom with me "exciting" yesterday. Now, that was a victory!!

Right now, I am in the middle of writing this series as I have time. When I finish, I will try to get some ideas for indoor fun up for you. The tub, the sink or a dishpan make for great indoor sensory experiences.


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