Kids are prone to restless fidgeting, daydreaming, and losing focus, especially during the school day. We attribute it to boredom, fatigue, or hunger, and often the solution is to take a short break. But in fact, there’s a solution that can make that break even more effective, and that’s trying sensory integration activities.
Sensory integration refers to how our brains simultaneously process a variety of sensations from our bodies in order to function effectively in our environment. Growing children are continually developing their sensory integration, so activities that stimulate the senses can not only refresh them during the school day but also improve their cognitive skills for life.
There are four types of sensory integration that children can practice: tactile, proprioceptive, vestibular, and motor planning. For each type, there are plenty of creative activities you can try. Check out the activities listed below.
Tactile activities practice the sense of touch.
- Play in a sandbox
- Play with shaving cream on a cookie sheet or in the bathtub
- Make your own play dough
- Cut a hole in a closed shoebox and put a variety of objects with unusual textures inside, asking your child to put his or her hand inside to try to guess what all of the objects are
Proprioceptive activities increase awareness of the body’s muscles, joints, and ligaments. Proprioceptive activities can be divided into different categories. To engage and calm overactive kids who fidget, or to make drowsy students more alert, try these whole-body fitness, or “heavy work,” activities:
- Dig a hole
- Lift weights
- Do yoga
- Carry grocery bags
- Rake leaves
- Go for a hike
Here are some passive proprioceptive activities to calm children:
- Take deep breaths with your stomach
- Stretch your muscles
- Hold or wear something warm
- Wear arm weights or lie under a heavy blanket
Another kind of proprioceptive activity is oral-sensory. Oral-sensory activities are especially good for children who like to chew on pencils or other objects.
- Chew gum and blow bubbles
- Eat something chewy
- Drink with a straw
- Blow a whistle or play an instrument with a mouthpiece
Vestibular activities improve the sense of movement and balance. Some children may be defensive and try to avoid movements that affect the inner ear. In this case, it’s important to practice these activities, but make sure you take it slow to ensure that your child is comfortable. Some examples are:
- Jump on a trampoline
- Spin around 10 times and then try to walk in a straight line across the room
- Balance on one foot
- Play on a swing set
- Sit in a rocking chair
Motor Planning Activities
Motor planning activities practice fine (small movement) or gross (large movement) motor skills. These activities are great to practice if your child is sometimes clumsy or has trouble learning new movements.
- Practice a dance routine
- Do an obstacle course
- Play catch
- Play “Simon Says”
- Practice patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time
Keep in mind that your child should practice each type of sensory integration activity, but you can work on some types more than others depending on your child’s needs.