When you are out and about with your child and their sensory systems are not in agreement with the social setting you are in, you never quite know what you are going to get. We have all seen the grocery store game of chase or the up and down wiggles at a family dinner table. In these situations, the sensory diet tips and tricks from your treating Occupational Therapist may not be appropriate for the setting or situation you are in. Here are a few ideas that are small enough for a mom’s purse or a father’s small carry bag that will support you during those sticky social sensory-needing situations.
- Small Notepad and Colored Pencils: The possibilities are endless with a few colored pencils and paper. For younger kids: draw a funny picture, trace their hand, or allow them to scribble. Older kids: play tick tack toe, hangman, or have them draw a picture for you. Hint: Go for small colored pencils so they don’t melt in your bag.
- Silly Putty: The small red egg of silly putty can be used to make animals, build a snowman, or roll a snake.
- One Action Figure: A single action figure can give you lots of time and leverage. Have the superhero go on the adventure with you. This can even allow an outlet for a social story if needed. If there is a change of plans or expected behavior, use the action figure to tell the story of the changes or expectations at the upcoming event.
- Fidget Toy: These can range from simple to complex. A small spikey ball can be great for picking, rolling, or squeezing. A more complex brain teaser, such as a rubik’s cube, can keep a child occupied during seated activities.
- Magnet Toys: Look for a small magnetic toy set that comes in a small tin. They often have dolls you can change into different magnetic outfits or faces you can add different features too.
- Origami: As a parent, teach your self a simple origami trick such as how to make a frog or a box. This trick is great in a jam as you can use any paper you find in the setting you are in such as a napkin roll or a program bulletin. Have your kids watch as you create your origami creation. When it is finished, they will have a toy to play with. This Origami Fun Kit for Beginners is a great place to start.
- Mini Bubble Wand: You often get bubble sets at weddings or parties. These can be great in a pinch when at an outdoor activity or in the car if you don’t mind a bubble liquid spill or two.
- Sensory Cards: Print off pictures of your child’s favorite sensory diet activities: hand push and pulls, push the wall, count to 10, and deep breathing. Show them a picture card when they need support to self-regulate.
- Small Straws: These can be great for those restaurant adventures. Having your child sip their drink through a small straw will provided a bit of extra oral input when they are sensory seeking. This can also be fun and novel to engage a child’s attention while adults are talking. Depending on the restaurant, you can also allow your child a game of straw soccer where they can ball up the straw wrapper and blow it across the table into a goal you have made out of sugar packets or containers found on the paper. Giving your child simple directions and boundaries to follow when playing the game will allow you to remain in control of their sensory experience while allowing them to get the input they need in a controlled manner.
- Sensory Snack: Access that oral sensory input through a chewy or crunchy snack. A chewy snack such as a fruit leather or bubblegum will help calm and organize most children. A crunchy snack such as granola will help alert your child’s sensory systems.
Some of these tools can be used anywhere at anytime. You as a parent decide which would be the best fit for you, your child, and the setting you are in. Some days, some kids just need to blow bubbles in the grocery store and if others give you a questioning look you can use it as a teachable moment to explain how this is helping your child, or you can smile and walk on by.