Living a “Sensory Rich” Lifestyle

What are some of the things that you do daily, in order to keep yourself engaged and focused during the day? Do you need to have a mid-day snack, coffee, or walk? Do you journal everyday or participate in yoga or breathwork? What about participating in a weight lifting or cycling routine? Are you a baker or cook? The above mentioned activities are actually all common methods that people use to self-regulate! 

Now, let’s think about these self-regulation in terms of infancy, childhood, and adolescence. Some children are naturally curious, active and adventurous, cautious and careful, builders and creators, or social butterflies. Sometimes, children will intuitively seek out what they need, and sometimes they will actively avoid things that are challenging for them (such as being more sedentary during play because motor planning is difficult). 

Something that is interesting too, is that all activities and are sensory activities! We are sensory processing “machines”. Everything we experience is the result of information being recognized and collected, processed, and transmitted to different areas in our brains. Activities can be organizing or disorganizing; something that is organizing for your child may be disorganizing for you and vice versa. We all have thresholds for the amount of each type of sensory information that we can tolerate… how much sound, visual stimulation, movement, oral sensory information we can manage within our day. When considering implementing sensory activities, it is best to consider the structure of the child’s day, energy levels, and more. It is always best to implement routines that are manageable and fun for the child. The child can be a “main player” when considering when and what to implement. Please consider increasing and decreasing sensory input depending on the time of day and how your child is feeling.

Of note, this routine should be co-developed and monitored by an occupational therapist. Please reach out if you have any questions! 

How can we enrich your child’s morning routine?

Let’s talk about it together. 

Purposeful activities are the best. Consider how much “heavy work” children can get from helping to carry bags, holding and closing doors, wiping down tables, moving chairs, collecting items from the refrigerator, and more! These activities will also help your child feel more accomplished and independent/self-efficacious. Here are some additional suggestions:

  • Animal walking, wheel-barrow walking, short stretching or exercise routine

  • Have an ice cold glass of water using a straw

  • Eat breakfast full of crunchy foods

  • Putting on lotion with deep pressure massage (if child enjoys lotion)

  • Helping to prep lunch by taking items out of the refrigerator, grabbing their lunch bag and backpack, or even wiping down tables before or after meal prep

  • Doing an obstacle course, relay race, pushing full laundry basket down the hallway, or silly movements while grabbing the things they need for their day (like shoes, clothing)

  • Walking, bike riding, skating, or scootering to school)

  • Play with Theraputty, putty, a bin of dry rice with small toys, while waiting to leave after breakfast time

  • Play with a building set in any down-time

  • Give lots of prep and reminders to help child understand upcoming transition to school

  • Limit screen time and if using, change settings to “warm light” or night-mode. You will see the screen light become more of a yellowish hue

  • Put a fidget that your child enjoys on their backpack so they can manipulate it in the car, on the bus, or during waiting times

What about your child’s afternoon routine?

  • Create a fort by pulling in large cushions and blankets, consider having a crunchy snack in the fort 

  • Afternoon yoga routine

  • Drinking a thick smoothie through a straw

  • Chewing gum, having a lozenge, or sucking on a lollipop (beware of sugars, dyes, and additives)

  • Blowing and popping bubbles

  • Helping in the kitchen by washing foods, prepping food (peeling, cutting as appropriate), mixing or kneading for meal-time or baking (if task is preferred)

  • Going for a walk outside or stopping at the playground on the way home

  • Create a short, outdoor obstacle course with chalk! 

  • After every 10-15 minutes of homework, let your child pick a movement break. This can look like picking a preferred movement game, preferred crunchy snack, taking a walk, going to the kitchen to get more water… 

  • Put elements of homework (pencils, erasers, etc) in tactile bin

  • Have fidget out on the table during homework (if it is not too distracting)

  • Work in low lighting, facing away from distractions with table at elbow height and hips and knees at 90 degrees with feet flat on the floor

  • Consider reducing exposure to extraneous sound by wearing headphones, listening to calming music (low frequency, rhythmic beads like meditation sounds or “Sacred Earth Drums”)

Here are just some of our favorite, easier to implement sensory activities. There are so many ways to get creative during the day to “enrich” the day (or reduce the challenging inputs). Mindfulness, breath work, yoga routines, and journaling can also be beneficial for children. Consider what works for you and take a look at what seems to be working for your child. 

Thank you for tuning into this week’s blog! 

Written by Jill Clancy MS OTR/L, CNS