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oral sensory inputGenerally when we think about sensory input to help children regulate, we go with the powerhouse trifecta of sensory processing: vestibular, proprioceptive and touch pressure input.

There are times, however when you need a quicker, quieter solution.  A solution that doesn’t require a lot of space or special equipment.

Enter Oral Sensory Input

While oral sensory input does not have the long lasting effect on the nervous system that the powerhouse sensory inputs offer, the effects are often immediate.

Oral sensory activities tend to encourage deep breathing, which is organizing and regulating. One of the things we often notice as children are escalating is that they move into shallow breathing patterns.  Shallow breathing only increases their state of dys-regulation.

When to Use Oral Sensory Input

I like to use oral sensory input when a child is escalating as the use of any movement activity only increases the escalation.

Towards the end of a therapy session, when a child still has not moved to a ‘just right’ place and/or has difficulty with transitions, oral sensory may be just what is needed to get him there.

Often, I will add oral sensory input when I am trying to work with a child at a table, particularly in small group situations.

Below you will find some of my favorite ‘go-to’ activities. These are the oral sensory activities that I go back to over and over again, because they are so effective.

Bubble Volcano

A clinic favorite is the bubble volcano.

Fill a large bowl or bucket about ½ full of water.

Add a few squirts of dish washing detergent.

Give the child a long straw, preferable a curly, crazy straw and have them blow into the water.

They keep blowing until the bubbles they are creating spill over the top.

Bubble volcano is also a fun activity for two children to do together. As an add on, place small plastic animals at the bottom, which then become hidden.

Blower Knockdown

A very popular activity, especially with little boys, is blower knockdown.

Set up small figures or animals on blocks or books.

Have the child lie on his or her stomach.

Then using a party blower, they can pretend to be a lizard, using their long ‘tongue’ to knock down the figures.

The simple act of lying on their stomachs also helps to better regulate what can be an exciting activity.

Straw Art Pick-up

In straw art pick-up, either you or the child creates a basic picture, for example of a tree.

Pre-cut small apples out of construction paper, about ¾” in diameter to decorate the tree.

The child then uses a straw to pick up ‘apples’, by sucking in and then places them on dots of glue to complete picture.

Straw art pick-up is an activity that elicits precise control and attention.

BLO Pens

At our clinic, we love blo pens and so do the kids. Playing with Blo pens is a great activity for the older child who benefits from a blowing activity. Children can create their own air brush artwork with various kits available while gaining oral sensory input.

Chewing Gum

Chewing gum can be very organizing and is a great choice during tabletop activities such as drawing, writing, or coloring. When I am working with a group of children on writing skills and they are being talkative and silly, handing out gum is a quick way to bring everyone into focus.

I have also used lemon slices successfully with some groups.

Orange Sipper

The orange sipper is a great little tool that is stuck into an orange and then the child sucks the juice out of the orange.  This little gadget provides great ‘heavy work’ for lip and cheek muscles.

Blow String Pipes

While whistles of various types provide oral input, I really like the string pipes.  Blow string pipes provide a quiet activity that requires sustained breath to keep the string moving.  Simply blow into the mouth piece and watch the string go round and round.

Curly Straws

The extra work involved in drinking through a long, curly, crazy straw is a great way to incorporate a regulatory activity into a meal or snack time.

Next time you need a ‘quick fix’ for your child, remember that an oral sensory activity can be an effective tool to have in your sensory tool box.

With our written permission, parts of this article were included in
The Sensory Processing Anthology: A Comprehensive Guide for Parents and Caregivers of Sensational Kids