11 Must-Have Sensory Strategy Resources for Your Students’ Families
Need to Give Parents Resources for Planning Sensory Diets? Try These!
As a school-based occupational therapist (OT), you work hard to help students with sensory issues successfully access their education.
But kids won’t fully flourish in the classroom unless families at home reinforce and complement the sensory strategies you’re using at school.
When students’ brains struggle to process the information they’re getting from their senses, the resulting neurological “traffic jam” (to borrow Dr. A. Jean Ayres’ phrase) put up roadblocks to educational success, including difficulties:
- Paying attention and staying “on task,” causing students to complete tasks incorrectly or not complete them at all.
- Organizing and managing school materials, which means kids aren’t ready to perform when they need to be.
- Regulating their emotions and behaviors—a challenge to forming and enjoying positive relationships with teachers and peers.
You want to enlist families as allies in making sure each student you serve follows a carefully customized schedule of activities that give input her or his sensory system needs to stay focused and organized.
At Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), one way we help OTs succeed is by giving you ample resources to give families, so they can support the sensory strategies you’re using during school days.
Whether parents, guardians, and other caregivers need a list of calming sensory activities for kids at bedtime or new ideas for heavy work activities at home, you can give them free, printable resources from the list below. It’s a practical first step in forging a strong OT-family alliance that sets students up for greater sensory integration success!
Explaining and Planning the Sensory Diet
For some families of children living with sensory processing disorders, the “sensory diet”—the idea of following a systematic plan to “feed” children’s nervous systems with stimuli—is a new idea. These resources can help.
This handout offers practical suggestions for giving input throughout the day to all seven senses: the traditional five, plus proprioception (body awareness) and the vestibular sense (spatial orientation). It also includes an encouraging message from you, the OT, assuring the student’s family you’ll communicate and cooperate with them to find what best benefits the student.
This list includes calming and stimulating activities involving minimal time and materials, like crumpling newspaper, cutting plastic straws, or popping bubble wrap. It also offers a full page of kitchen options, from “taste tests” to dumping cut-up ingredients into the soup pot (this activity could make a great addition to a sensory diet for toddlers).
From “hot potato,” to pushing against walls kids pretend are closing in, to “rafting” a carpet square along a slick floor like Tom Sawyer on the Mississippi, these OT proprioceptive activities can be a lot of fun.
Sensory Strategies for Specific Circumstances
To non-OTs, the phrase “heavy work” might sound like forced labor! You’ll have to help them understand it refers to any activity that involves pulling or pushing against the body. And as these resources show, opportunities to provide it abound.
Many chores—vacuuming, sweeping, dusting, changing sheets, and more—double as heavy work activities for children. The same is true for much yard work, from raking leaves to planting flowers. And not all heavy work feels like work. Pillow fights, swinging on a trapeze bar, and even slurping a thick milkshake through a straw all count!
From tips for packing kids’ snack and fidget bags to easy ways of providing pressure stimulation while on the go, this resource is packed with proven sensory strategies for helping children enjoy travel more.
Limited space doesn’t have to limit kids’ chances to do heavy work. With a little creativity, families could even combine several of the options from this handout to create a puzzle to get kids’ minds and muscles moving! Also, don’t overlook the several fun (and tasty) suggestions for using straws to create resistance.
Sensory Strategies for Helping Improve Focus
Here’s a list of simple ideas for helping children sharpen their focus on specific tasks at home (for example, running to get the mail allows students to get helpful extra movement). It also suggests three whole body pressure games that work to give needed sensory input to head off disruptive outbursts.
PTS produced this video to give viewers quick and easy ways to introduce heavy work into kids’ daily schedules. Although it shows these sensory strategies in the classroom, you can encourage families to use them at home or almost anywhere else. (“Fish lips” and “silent silly sour faces” don’t require any special equipment, after all!)
Sensory Strategies for Calming Students
This is a handy list of practical visual, auditory, touch and touch/pressure, temperature, movement, vibration, and heavy work methods to calm students. You might use some in your therapy room (low light, bean bag chairs, deep breathing exercises), while you’ll want to encourage families to try others at home (warm baths, electric toothbrushes).
Consistent schedules are key for smooth mornings and evenings, especially when they incorporate kids’ natural preferences. Does the child like waking up to music? Would a weighted blanket during bedtime stories help the child relax? This resource offers ideas for giving input to all the senses as each day begins and ends.
All of us, no matter our age, need reliable ways to unwind after a busy, stimulus-filled day. Equip parents, guardians, and other caregivers with these easy-to-implement calming sensory strategies for helping students fall asleep and stay asleep.
Work With PTS to Gain More Expertise in OT Sensory Activities
Every child is unique. No single mix of sensory input strategies will work for all of them. So along with the resources on this list, offer families your expertise and experience. Tell them—in correspondence, in conversations, at IEP meetings—what you’ve assessed about the amount and duration of input that benefits their child the most.
And remind them, if needed, that we don’t always have to rely on children’s behaviors and responses alone. Often, they’ll tell us what they need to improve their sensory integration. It’s our job to listen!
The more you work with children who live with sensory processing challenges, the more activities you’ll be able to implement and the more wisdom you’ll be able to offer. If you’re looking for new opportunities in school-based OT, contact PTS today!