Sensory Equipment 101

Written by Jessica Addeo

It is certainly possible to create sensory activities at home without any “special” equipment. However, at times it can be nice to have a few supplies to take things to the next level. It is not at all necessary to re-create a sensory gym at home in order to provide your child with sensory input. (If you want to make a gym, we think that is awesome, go for it!!) But if you are looking for just a few key materials that you can use, you are in the right place. Below is a list of our top OT/sensory equipment (and where you can buy them) that we would love to see clients using more at home. These are not listed in any particular order or age level; you will know when you see something that fits for your household. As always please don’t hesitate to ask your therapist for guidance and specifications.

Crawl Through Tunnel:

The tunnel is like a little piece of therapy magic. For reasons that I cannot completely explain most small children will do just about anything in the name of the tunnel. Want to work on puzzle skills? Place puzzle pieces at one end of the tunnel and the puzzle board at the other. (This applies to shape sorters, ring stackers, and higher level visual perceptual activities like Picture Perfect.) Even if you just want to work on crawling or following one step directions, the tunnel is applicable. In my most desperate of therapy moments I have used the tunnel with goldfish to work on crawling.

Speaking of crawling, why do we care? What makes the tunnel “therapy” and not just a toy or game. First and foremost, crawling is a great strengthener for the shoulder girdle, the pelvis and lower extremities and the core. If you have some sort of weakness or low tone issue you are addressing, more often than not crawling can help it. Taking it one step further crawling is wonderful to encourage reciprocity between the right and left side of the body and brain. This communication between both sides of the brain helps all sorts of things from reading better, to doing jumping jacks, to walking upstairs to skipping. Bottom line, when in doubt, crawl. And what better way to encourage crawling than a tunnel!

The tunnel is easily found on amazon here. 

Scooter board:

This is another tried and true OT classic. The scooter board can again address strengthening via multiple positions (we will get to more detail on this down below). It also provides an ultra-important type of sensory input called vestibular input. In a brief summary, your vestibular system provides you with a sense of where you are in space and where your body is in relation to gravity. It is important for all sorts of things like body awareness, motor planning, and maintaining an upright posture. Furthermore, this system communicates with all different parts of our brains. This makes the vestibular system a contributing factor to things like self-regulation skills and executive functioning. (If you want to learn more about this system, click over posts on it here and here). You can simply have your child sit on the scooter board while you either move them linearly (in a straight line in any direction) or spin them. Spinning is a more intense version of vestibular input. You definitely will want to speak with your child’s occupational therapist about this prior to trying it at home. A wonderful way to provide your child with a rich vestibular sensory experience providing this input with their heads in all different positions. Your child may lay on his/her side, belly, sit up, high kneel and look down or any other fun position you can come up with while doing activities. A fun way to get linear vestibular input more independently is by having your child push a wall with their hands or feet (either laying on the scooter board on their back or belly) to see how far they can propel themselves. Admittedly this is much easier on a hardwood floor or tile versus carpeting.

The above suggestion of pushing with hands or feet is just the beginning of the strengthening opportunities using a scooter board. Similar to the tunnel it is a great way to sneak strengthening into any other task. Place puzzle pieces at one end of the room and have your child propel back and forth to pick up pieces to put the puzzle together. To make this more of motor planning challenge you can spread puzzle pieces out all over the room so your child has to go and find them. Working laying with your belly on the board and using your hands is one of the most common strengthening positions used with the scooter board. If your child does not have adequate strength or fatigues in this position you can have them hold on to a jump rope or a scarf while you pull them around. If you would like to work on core and lower extremity strengthening have your child sit on the scooter board and move it with their feet.

A scooter  board can be found on Amazon by clicking here. 

Therapy or Yoga Ball

This is another piece of equipment that can be used for strengthening and sensory input (specifically vestibular input). Sitting and bouncing on the ball is a wonderful way to give vestibular input. Your child will get a bit of proprioceptive (input to their joints and muscles) as well if they are helping to bounce themselves. You can use the ball while doing homework, playing a table top game or while watching television.

A favorite way to use the therapy ball is to have a child lay on their belly and again complete a puzzle or game this way. This provides vestibular input (because their head is hanging down) and strengthening (because they are weight bearing through their arms) opportunities. You can grade this activity up or down to meet your child’s needs. To make the demand a little easier place the puzzle pieces on one side of the ball and the board on the other side. Your child will then go back and forth picking up pieces and placing them in the board (this makes the amount of time they are weight bearing through their arms less). After you have done this a few times or if your child is already strong enough, you can place the board and puzzle pieces all on one side. Now your child has to maintain weight bearing through their arms to complete the puzzle. If you want to take this to turbo challenge version, walk the puzzle and pieces (or whatever toy/material you are using) out a little further so now your child is weight bearing through their arms and engaging their core to keep themselves up in this position.

To target the front of the core more specifically you can have your child sit on the ball and lay back to pick up materials overhead behind them. They then have to sit up to place the materials wherever is appropriate. When sitting up make sure they don’t use their elbows to push themselves upright. You may have to help them by holding on to their hands and giving a little bit of support. To work on the oblique’s (side of core) you can place puzzle pieces or game pieces on either side of the ball and have your child work in the same way as described above but this time reaching side to side. If reaching all the way down is too challenging shift the game to using a magnetic fishing pole and just work on reaching and maintaining upright which will begin to strengthen core musculature.

A therapy ball can be found on Amazon by clicking here  or Therapro by clicking here . Speak with your child’s therapist about ensuring the correct size ball.

 Hippity Hop

The hippity hop is an oldie but a goodie. It’s uses are similar to the above described scenarios. Set up a puzzle, a game or even a racetrack (using couch cushions, blankets, pillows) to hippity hop around. The bouncing up and down provides vestibular input (head moving up and down). When your legs push into to the floor to drive the bounce you will also be providing your child proprioceptive input. Lastly, keeping oneself upright on the hippity hop requires core strength and can support working on balance. It is a great stand-alone activity or something to be used as a part of an obstacle course. (See our post on obstacle courses here).

The Hippity Hop, called a bouncer on this website, can be found at Pocket Full of Therapy (pfot.com) by clicking here.  

 Weighted Balls

When it comes to heavy work a weighted ball is one of the most versatile options available. Simply playing catch with a weighted ball provides a wonderful dose of proprioceptive input. (Again we have an entire post on vestibular and proprioceptive input available to read here). In a brief summary proprioceptive input is input to our joints and muscles. This releases a specific neurochemical that is very calming to our nervous system. Hence why heavy work is such a popular sensory intervention.  Going back to basics, catch with a heavy ball. You could get a little fancier and do “heavy basketball”. An indoor basketball hoop is wonderful but if you don’t have one improvise and use a laundry basket or a hula hoop on the ground. To make things more interesting maybe you have a few weighted balls or items that are hidden around the house for your child to find (a weighted scavenger hunt!). Alternatively try placing weighted items in a backpack for your child to wear on a weighted walk. Lastly, try incorporating a heavy ball into animal walks. Your child will have to push the ball with them as they animal walk using any body part they can!

Weighted balls can be found on Amazon by clicking here. In the gym we keep 2, 4, and 6 pound balls. Please speak with your child’s therapist about ensuring the proper weight for your home use.

Shaving Cream

This is a wonderful and inexpensive tactile sensory technique. Shaving cream in the bathtub, on a cookie sheet or on a table is a great way to let little hands explore and get all sorts of input. Furthermore, you can practice writing pre-writing shapes and letters in shaving cream to make this more fun and motivating for your child!

The list of available sensory equipment for centers and at home are long and this is by no means a comprehensive list. But this is the basics, if you are new to therapy or not sure where to start. Start with these items and build from there. Or maybe you have been around the sensory block a few times and this can serve as a reminder of some basic things to re-visit. Either way we would love to hear what you are using at home and what sensory equipment you couldn’t live without in the comments section below!

 

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