Having some sort of a sensory tool kit at home is really important if your child has some sensory issues. Essentially a sensory kit is a bag or box that keeps a variety of sensory tools. These tools are used to help calm an overwhelmed child. It should be portable or else have a number of sensory tool kits in various places around the house, in the car(s) and places that you regularly go to, like grandparents house, cousins etc.
Every child is different, so make sure that the tools in your kit match your child’s likes and interests. It can be a good idea to have one item in each kit that is not in every other kit. That way you have familiar items to calm but one other ‘new’ item to help distract.
Store bought sensory tools can be expensive but there are times when the very specialised equipment is essential. For the rest of the time, it is possible to make or adapt items you have at home already.
Here are some of my favourites:
Lots of people who fidget or have other sensory issues find it very calming to have something heavy draped over them. It helps them to be more grounded.If you are in any way handy with a sewing machine, or just know the basics then you can easily make a weighted lap cushion. All you need are the following:
A pillowcase ( use one with a favourite character on it for younger children), rice, some scent (if it relaxes your child, leave out otherwise), an empty plastic bottle and some needles and thread.
some scent (if it relaxes your child, leave out otherwise)
an empty plastic bottle
needles and thread
Cut the plastic bottle to make a funnel. Machine sew both sides of the velcro to one side of the pillowcase. You won’t be using the velcro in the conventional sense, instead it will be an additional sensory tool, allowing the user to feel the different sides of the velcro when using the pillow.
Sew a line across the width of the pillowcase about 3 inches from the bottom, leaving enough room to snugly fit the funnel.
Fill with rice (I used all the surplus brown rice, I had in my press having failed gloriously in my attempt to convert my family to eating it!)
Hand sew the gap. Repeat until the pillowcase is full. If possible, sew across the original lines again to strengthen them.
Add the scent if using.
A large bean bag has many uses. It can be an enormous weighted cushion where the person can lie on the floor and have it on top of them. It can also envelop the person as they sit right into it while reading or watching tv – calmly.
With the launch of the Beats headphones (thank you Dr. Dre), big headphones are back in style. These are a godsend if your child gets overwhelmed by loud noises or too much background noise. Just pop them on and the noise is significantly reduced. Yes, you may get a few odd looks but only because your kid is cool and hipster chic – rather than the potential sensory meltdown alternative.
I have to admit that I hesitated about including chewing gum in the sensory kit. I have a bit of an aversion to it. Watching Alex Ferguson (former Manchester United Soccer Team Manager for my non-Ire/UK readers) chewing the cud while being interviewed on TV drove me berserk. But the oral stimulation that gum provides can be invaluable for people with sensory issues. Use a sugar-free one that is good for their teeth, and find one that is not too flavoursome. The focus here is on chewing as opposed to having a treat.
Classics are classics for a reason – they work. Have any kind of a squeezy ball or toy in your sensory kit. This helps with proprioceptive input (not sure what proprioceptive input is – read here) stress relief and tactile input. It develops hand strength too which is needed for handwriting skills.
Theraputty is wonderful but can be rather expensive. I prefer to use the theraputty when I’m working with my hummingbirds at Hummingbird Learning Centre and use marla or Blu-tac at home. A little ball of marla or Blu-tac can be easily replaced with little expense and most houses or shops will have some in an emergency. Like the squeezy ball, marla and Blu-tac are great for proprioceptive input and hand strengthening. Pulling and stretching it is very calming as well.
It is really important that your child and their teacher / caregiver / relative knows how to use the sensory tools in the sensory tool kit. It is better to practice using the tools when they are not needed, so that when they are needed they are used safely and properly. Not knowing how to use the tool to calm down will only add to everyone’s frustrations and that is the last thing we want to happen!
Be flexible, even when your child isn’t. In fact, especially when your child isn’t! Kids can be fickle. What worked yesterday may not work today. That’s why it is important to have variety. As your child grows their interests will change and their sensory tool kit should reflect this.
What works with your child? I have created a facebook thread in the Hummingbird Learning Centre Facebook Group where people can share their experiences of sensory tools. If you haven’t already joined our group just click here and I will set you up.