Importance of Sensory System & Ideas about tactile activities for infants and toddlers
The sensory system is an integral part of the human body. We touch, smell, hear, balance and much more to regulate ourselves into the world. Yes, I repeat sensory systems help us to “Regulate” ourselves into the world.
Need more explanation? Let me give you a few simple but important examples of our own lives:
- I cannot stand on my feet steady for more than 60 seconds with eyes closed. I do need my eyes to see my surroundings and so I open my eye or I touch the nearby wall. That is Vision sense.
- I cannot tolerate vacuum cleaner noise or I have to keep my hands on my ears when a train is passing a few meters away. That is – Auditory sense.
- I cannot hold ice cube for more than 10 seconds in the palm of my hands. So I throw it on the floor or just eat that! (lol) That is Tactile (touch) sense.
- I like to go to the gym to workout another wise I cannot get good night sleep. That is – Proprioceptive sense.
And if we adults feel these sensory issues- have you thought about kids? Yeah? From my long experience in the field of Pediatric Occupational Therapy and being a mom I may suggest that Kids’ sensory systems are crucial and developing during the early years. They struggle with the understanding of all these differences and they are learning through experiences but as they do not have “all” experience and solutions to problems- they start throwing Tantrums. We call it tantrums but they are telling us to move away from that noxious stimuli and when we don’t understand their language – they start crying, hitting, screaming, and much more that comes under the category of a tantrum.
Some kids feel uncomfortable as soon as their parents take them to a restaurant and then, they suddenly start crying. As soon as an adult takes them out of the restaurant door, the kid is calm. There can be various reasons for that. For example, the child may be over stimulative to smell sense – as we all know restaurants do not cook only one dish but many and every platter has a different smell. We are ‘used to’ these mixed smells but not tiny noses. If they can manage that somehow, the other uncomfortable stimuli can be lights and sounds in restaurants. Some restaurants have a variety of ceiling lights or blinkers and much more to attract customers but tiny eyes are just not used to those visual entries. Same for music or people talking loudly in restaurants and that may disturb a child’s auditory system.
So only one change of environment (home to a restaurant) may cause a variety of sensory experiences for a child. It is good to explore with your child and that is how they get experience but it is similarly important to be ready for some unknown tantrum and handle with the extra calm response as we know, they are going through a LOT. Just calm the child and then slowly introduce them to a novice environment is always a better option.
There are a variety of sensory activities that kids love and feel regulated while doing so. Some just love water and the other just loves sand. Every kid is different and so as their preferences. and that is okay!! We do have choices. correct?
I am sharing some fun sensory activity ideas to help a toddler regulate in a home environment and they are good to keep a child busy and improve his/her attention from 1 to 10 minutes. Each activity mainly focuses on different aspects of Tactile (touch) sense, Vision, Auditory, Proprioceptive, and balance mechanisms.
- Cutting Noodles
- Ball Pit for Tummy timers
- Blue Water Wash
- Wood-chips Exploration
- Bean-Box fun
- Rice Bin
- Hand painting for all
- Sensory bag
- Texture Games for infants
- Home made edible snow
- Sand Box
1. Cutting Noodles
Noodles are long. Noodles are sticky. And then you add colors to those noodles! Wow. That will create a perfect combination of practicing sensory, fine motor, visual motor, and attention skills. My daughter chose to cut those noodles with her recently learned cutting-skills. And that was a great fun-time in our backyard. I also hid some small animal toys into noodles to add a surprise element.
2. Ball Pit fun for Tummy Timers
Tummy time is an integral need during the early months. How about making it fun? Provide tummy time in a ball pit. These sensory balls provide infants a variety of stimulations on the whole body and colors provide great engagement into the task.
3. Blue Water Wash
Ocean! who doesn’t like it? I made this ocean with blue food color and water and added a big of bath soap to it. She chose to give shower her animals into this amazing ocean.
Children begin by loving their parents, as they grow older, sometimes they forgive them
4. Wood chips exploration
Outdoor exploration in the surroundings. Woodchips and sand together are nice to explore. Sometimes it has safety concerns lined up with that about getting splinters though kids somehow love to touch wood chips. Keep an eye while doing this activity for safety purposes but outdoor exploration is just another fun to develop sensory regulation among kids
5. Bean Box Fun
Bean box is a great tool for sensory play. All we have to do is pour different beans available in the home-pantry into a box, add their favorite toys (small Disney toys, tiny dinosaurs, small cars or animals) and ask them to find them!
6. Rice bin
Rice grains are great textures just as beans. Coloring rice grains with food color makes it attractive to play and provides sand like texture.
7. Hand Painting for all
Hand-painting is favorite among toddlers. They just love seeing their hands painted with different colors and making impressions on papers or different surfaces brings the joy of doing something great by themselves. I used safe washable paints and provided some papers and let her explore the lines of her hands by imprinting by herself.
8. Sensory Bag
Sensory bags are nice to develop a variety of acting skills. This one particularly is made up of hair gel+blue food color inside a ziplock bag. I added some glitters to make it more attractive. We used it to develop pre-writing skills, scribbles, drawing different shapes, and much more. We used feet and hands both to explore this sensory bag. The cherry on the top: My daughter spent 15 straight minutes while playing with this sensory bag! (yes only moms know how bing that jackpot time is! )
9. Texture games for infants
Textures important. Infants explore everything through touch and oral exploration. They start sensing about the size, shape, and other materialistic properties through “touch”. I cut dishwashing sponge into straight lines and made it available for her so she can grasp (cylindrical grasp) and feel.
10. Home made edible snow
Snow is fun for all but we don’t get snow all the time. How about making one? I made this snow from corn starch to all-purpose flour and added food color (yellow) and very very little water. Boom! it’s ready. I hid tiny straws inside to help my daughter develop a pinch grip and visual-motor exploration. (I did this edible and safe texture play with her when she was 7 months old.)
11. Sand Box
Sandboxes or sand tables are fun parts of sensory play. They help to develop imagination skill when a child starts making castles, or any other construction from their amazing imagination. Live your Dreams is what this activity is all about. Sand is a great texture to develop tactile regulation. Sand gets cold in cold temperatures (during the mornings and late afternoons) and it gets warmer during the afternoons when the Sun is up high in the sky. So this activity not just provides touch sense but also temperature sense too and its fun playing around different temperatures.