Sensory Ideas for After the Holidays

sensory ice skateWhatever holidays you celebrate at this time of year are probably over now. It is likely that the quantity of toys and/or stuff in your home has increased. The children have been out of school for a while now and the different structure or lack of routine may be presenting challenges. And it is time to prepare and plan to make the New Year the best year for your child.

1. Reduce the Volume.  This is a great time to clean out and reduce the number of toys your child has. Too many toys often overwhelm children, which typically results in limiting their play. Ideally, your child should only have 10-15 toys available at any given time. (Blocks count as one toy.) Give away those that your child has outgrown and pack away the rest. Rotate toys every 1-2 months.

2. Tap into Lengthy Activities.  Use this break from school for longer activities that you may not typically have time for:

For the sensory seeking child: Take advantage of winter sports – even if you are not in the north, many communities have ice skating available which provides an excellent heavy work (vestibular and proprioceptive) experience; Take a winter walk – make it a scavenger hunt, with a list of items to find. Bring those items home and create a collage or mobile. Add a backpack or pull a wagon to increase the sensory input.

For the sensory sensitive child: Honor their need to have a break from the sensory overload of everyday life, with some quiet activities at home. Create an indoor fort that can remain in place for at least a week. Encourage your child to contribute their ideas and assist in construction. Stock with a flashlight, pillows, fidgets. Maybe add audio books.

For both:

Cooking. Look for recipes that your child can do simple cutting (maybe with scissors rather than a knife), mixing with hands or spoon, cracking eggs, measuring, etc.

Create an indoor obstacle course. Using cushions, pillows, tables, boxes, chairs, etc. Again encourage your child to contribute their ideas. Depending on your child’s age and abilities, have them draw or write out a plan for the obstacle course.

Play games together. I love games for many reasons, not the least of which is a fun way to bring family members of varying ages together. Games are wonderful for developing motor skills, socialization and language skills, depending on the game chosen. We had fun this year with the game eeBoo Obstacles Game, a cooperative game that requires teamwork, creativity and communication to overcome obstacles and make it home.

Provide an intensive therapy program: A week or two offers a great opportunity to implement an intensive therapy experience, aiming for 5-6 times a day.

This could be something you design using input from your child’s therapist or books like The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun, Revised Edition: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder; or a more formal program like The Wilbarger Deep Pressure (brushing) Protocol to address defensiveness (only if instructed by an occupational therapist) or a DIR/Floortime program, involving play periods of 20-30 minutes designed to facilitate communication and socialization.

3. Planning for the New Year: Take a little time to review what has worked for this past year and what hasn’t. Think about your goals, wishes, and dreams for your child in the coming year. Decide a few steps to implement that will help move towards those goals.

If you have not set up a notebook for your child to collect evaluations, home programs, school records, etc., do so now as this can be an invaluable tool in successfully meeting your child’s needs.

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Bonnie Hacker, MHS, OTR/L About Bonnie Hacker, MHS, OTR/L

Bonnie is a pediatric occupational therapist with extensive experience working with children with sensory processing disorders. For the past 30 years, Bonnie has been in private practice in the Chapel Hill-Durham area of North Carolina and in 2001, she began Emerge-A Child’s Place.