Having sensory items available can be very helpful for child clients, especially the younger ones. As these items are available for play and experimentation in the therapy room, children (and their parents) can learn what is interesting or soothing for them. This can be a helpful part of teaching young children emotional self-regulation. Parents can then provide these things at home, perhaps creating a special calming corner, to help the child in self-soothing and regulating when upset. In addition, sensory play is very important in the development of young children, so the therapist and parent can support this through having different options available.
Note: Many young children (ages 3-5) who are brought to therapy to see me have sensory processing issues that contribute to irritability, anxiety, and meltdowns. Play therapy and parenting support can help in many ways, but are often not sufficient to address these sensory processing needs, so it is important to also refer the child to an occupational therapist to fully address the problems.
Here are some great sensory items to get or make for your child, therapy room, or classroom:
1. Scented Playdough – Scented playdough is easy to make and children love playing with it in session. You can see my previous post for a recipe: Homemade Modeling Dough for Play and Art Therapy. I also love Mama K’s Play Clay, which is gluten-free and comes in five different aromatherapy scents.
2. Moon Sand Box – I have turned a plastic storage container into a sandbox for my office, using Moon Sand. If you aren’t familiar with it, Moon Sand is a synthetic “sand” that sticks together be shaped and molded, but then can be crumbled back into a loose sand. Yes, it can make a big mess in my office, but kids love to play with it. Some children with tactile defensiveness may, however, dislike that it sticks to their hands.
3. Calming Glitter Jar – This is easy to make at home and you can pass on the directions to parents who want to make one at home. In making my jar, I used the recipes from the blog post Momma Owl’s Lab: Glitter Jars and then tweaked it a bit to get the settling rate of the glitter to my liking. Add more glitter glue to slow down the settling rate, more hot water to speed it up, or more glitter if you like. Here’s the rough recipe that I used after reading Momma Owl’s post:
1/4 cup glycerine
3/4 cup hot water
1 tsp glitter
2 tbl glitter glue
3-4 drops dish soap
4. Rain Sound Bottle – Instead of purchasing a rain stick, you can make a homemade one from a plastic water bottle. Children playing with the bottle enjoy the soothing rain-like sound as the grains fall through the bottle. I made my rain bottle by using a large water bottle, which I then filled with toothpicks and quinoa. You can decorate the bottle using washi tape or just leave as is so that kids can also see the grains falling through the bottle.
Carolyn Mehlomakulu, LMFT, ATR is a psychotherapist in Austin, Texas who works with children, adolescents, and families. For more information about individual therapy, child counseling, family therapy, and art therapy services, please visit www.therapywithcarolyn.com.