Friday, February 7, 2014

Sensory Play: Combating Cabin Fever

We are living amidst the Polar Vortex. I know I live in Minnesota where we almost expect this weather in winter, but there are so many places in the United States right now where families are having snow days and "cold" days. Places where the people aren't used to being stuck in the house most of the winter. Just this morning, a friend who lives in Iowa posted on Facebook:
We are out of ideas, patience, and positive attitude. Please send spring soon, or at least temps we can play outside in.
This post got me thinking and inspired me to write this blog post! Just how can parents combat being stuck inside for days on end because it's too cold to go out and play, even for a few minutes? The answer can be summed up in two words: Sensory Play!!

Everyone has a sensory diet whether we realize it or not!
Sensory diet is simply what we do during our day to help our bodies feel calm and happy. Some people need to exercise to keep their bodies feeling in balance. Some people do yoga. Some people need to just get away from everyone else and read a book for a bit. Others like to take a calming bath. As adults, we have just naturally discovered what it is that makes us feel "normal" and we do those things on a regular basis. Kids don't always have the benefit that comes with age and they don't understand that they need to get their energy out to keep their bodies feeling calm. The direct result of this is bouncing off the walls!

I have sensational kids. And although, they are fantastic in the literal definition of "sensational", what I really mean is that they are sensory-sensitive kids. My 10 year old daughter is very sensory-seeking and tactile and my son is VERY sensory-seeking. These two need regular sensory "input", as we refer to it, in order to feel calm and to regulate their bodies. Kids receive this input through vestibular (the sense of movement, centered in the inner ear) and proprioceptive (sensations from joints, muscles and connective tissues that lead to body awareness) activities. This means they LOVE getting out and running around or doing obstacle courses through the house. But sometimes Mommy is just plain tired and wants things to be quiet. Though my kids are especially sensitive to pent up energy, all kids can get squirrelly in the winter months when they are stuck having indoor recess or never leaving the house. This website has a great, relatively succinct summary of the sensory diet. Even though some kids have more sensory needs than others, ANYONE can benefit from this knowledge. (By the way, on a sidenote, I've read articles recently about how some schools--was it in the Netherlands?--take brain breaks more often during the school day so their kids can be active and studies show these kids learn better. There is definitely a connection here and I wish more schools would understand this! Instead, more and more kids' recess time is being diminished in favor of more desk work....anyway, I digress....)

What can you do INSIDE YOUR HOUSE to help your kids?
If you just can't summon up the energy to do one more crazy running game or obstacle course inside, try some of these other ideas to help the kids work out some of that pent-up energy in quieter, more subtle ways. Many of these will help do the same things that running around outside does. It will give your kids "input" and help make their bodies feel more relaxed and calm.

For toddlers/preschool age (click the titles to go to links):
Sensory Bins
DIY Slime


Here's a link to our FAVORITE homemade playdoh recipe.  You can use anything you find in your house to play with playdoh. We particularly love the potato masher tool, rolling pin, pizza cutter, kid-safe scissors and cookie cutters. Here are some ideas for playdoh invitations! There are so many great ideas for playdoh play out there!

Bath-time fun
I don't really have any posts on bath fun, but there are a million ideas on Pinterest for this. Here's one great blog written by Crystal, who writes Growing a Jeweled Rose filled with water activities called: Bath Activities for Kids. Growing a Jeweled Rose is one of my favorite blogs. This mama really knows her sensory stuff! And comes up with A-MAZING recipes for anything and everything. CHECK.IT.OUT.NOW! Splashing around in the water will give your kids some of the same sensory input as running around outside!

Water Play
Again, I don't have specific posts for this. But throw some water in a bin on the kitchen table, grab some measuring cups, funnels, and more. Let them make a mess! It's just water! Or click on "water play" for more activity ideas. Adapt some of the outdoor play for inside!

You can even try a mess-free version on a window! They get sensory input and you don't have the mess! Win win for everyone!

Shaving Cream
You can add any toys to shaving cream and it is a great sensory experience. You can color it with liquid watercolors or food coloring. You can play with it in the bathtub too. You can buy it at the dollar store. Just wipe up the mess when they are done!

Play Foam (Floam)

School age kids
Even big kids still love to play with playdoh! Check out this link for creative ideas with playdoh.

Any art projects that involve getting glue on your hands!

Watercolor Salt Paintings

Instant Snow
Fun for all ages! Instant snow can be ordered online. I've even found it at the Dollar Store! Better yet, this time of year, grab a bucket or bin and get some snow from outside! You can even dump some in the bathtub to play with. It's free and we have an over-abundance here. Bring the snow fun indoors where it's warm! You can even talk about how solids turn to liquids. Build in some learning with the sensory fun, since they've been missing out on school anyway. ;-)

Glow activities
These are good for toddler/preschool as well as grade school age kids!
Do you have a blacklight? If not, you can find them at Walmart or Amazon for pretty cheap. There are so many fun glow activities!

Thinking Putty
Image Source
Even if your kids take a break to watch a tv show or a movie, you can hand them some "thinking putty" to play with and it will help work out some of that pent up energy! We have no less than 6 canisters of this in our house. Beware, it does NOT come out of carpet or fabric easily! But this is all the rage with the fourth graders at my daughter's school. The teachers let the kids play/fidget with it in class. It helps them stay focused and get some of their wiggles out. Our local educational toy store carries a ton of this! But if you don't have a store near you with it, you can find it on Amazon too.

If You Have Room in Your House:
Tie a beach ball to a piece of elastic and hang it from the ceiling/a railing and hit it around:
I don't have any photos of my big kids playing with this. But they LOVED it as much as my little guy! I can't tell you how many beach balls we've popped with this activity! Ha! Luckily, I stock up on beach balls at the Dollar Store when they have their summer gear out.

Bungee swing
If you don't have the time to make a swing yourself or you can't find the bungee chair (usually they can be found in late summer/end of fall at Target), you can purchase a swing at Hearthsong.

A couple other ideas (all of these were suggested to me by a certified Occupational Therapist):
--Grab a sturdy blanket, have your child lay in it on one end. Roll them up and then unroll them! Great input! (obviously, it goes without saying that you should be safe with this activity and adult supervision applies!) If you happen to have a gym mat at your house (yes, we do!), fold it in half. You can gently squish them inbetween the two halves. Both

--Use a yoga ball or large playground ball--Have the child lay on it on their belly and roll forward and backward over it. You can use this in various idea: do a puzzle this way. Have the pieces on one side and the puzzle on the other. Child can grab a piece or two of the puzzle, roll over the ball, put pieces in puzzle, roll back for more pieces. Or building with blocks. Whatever had pieces that you put together.

--Bear walk (, crab walk, wheel barrel walk around the house.

Here is a full list of all the sensory activities (many of which I've already linked to in this post) on my blog!

And if you're interested in further reading on sensory diet, check out these great books! They are insightful even if you don't have sensory-sensitive kids! They will help you understand how the body reacts to its environment and how sensory stimuli can affect our bodies!


  1. Добрый день, Холли! Сколько "полезностей", здорово! Тактильные ощущения очень важны для малышей, да и взрослые с удовольствием включатся в игру!

    1. (translation via my computer) Good day, Holly! How many "goodies", great! Tactile sensations are very important for the kids and adults happy to join in the game!

  2. Couldn't read and run. This is such an incredibly detailed post. Well done you . Shaving foam play is next on my list now

  3. Hehe... your house looks a bit like my house especially the shaving cream pic ;)