Sensory Exploration at Home

Once families have a functional routine set up, you can start to encourage “homework” exploring sensory strategies as a family. Everyone has sensory needs, but those of us with typically developing neural networks pay less attention to our sensory profiles than our children’s or students’. Being home provides an opportunity for families to deepen their relationships and develop an awareness of sensory strategies that effectively help regulate emotions and behavior, and those that do not.

I like to think of these times as a period where families are having fun at home together. I know that is idealistic, but with so many stressors of the “before-times” removed, we all have an opportunity to reexamine our priorities and recommit to our family and school-family relationships.
So, I came up with this idea for sensory homework – a weekly challenge families can explore together, practice, and really articulate what sensory strategies work for specific individuals and why. Think of it as an assignment for families to deepen their self-awareness and self-regulation while practicing articulating needs and feelings. Offer your class an activity to try every week for sensory regulation. Have family members participate in trying the strategy and report back about how that strategy worked at promoting self-regulation for your students AND their family members. Even if families are utilizing some of these strategies already, have them bring a new level of mindfulness and observation during this week of investigation.

Activities for Calming

  1. Meditation, or deep breathing exercises: Sit or lay in a comfortable position in an environment without distractions. Focus on breathing in and out deeply using the diaphragm, possibly using a count in and out to regulate the breaths. Preview some guided meditation or breathing options. These can be helpful to remind kids to go through all of the steps of relaxation.
  2. Yoga: Yoga is a great combination of deep, intentional breathing, and physical activity. Yoga combines stretching, deep muscle work, and balance – all calming components to add to everyone’s day!  There are so many different kid yoga YouTube videos out there.  My son is 4 and he loves Cosmic Yoga.
  3. Calming music: Music works for relaxation by taking over the part of the brain that gets stressed, agitated, or overwrought. As the brain relaxes by focusing on calming music, the body starts to follow.  Check out this calming music on YouTube or make your own playlist!
  4. Alone Time & Space: Your students will specifically benefit from a special sensory area in the home where they can go take a break with sensory materials, or go just to be alone. This is also a great strategy for the whole family to practice self-care in an endless age of together-time. It doesn’t have to be fancy – create a fort by throwing a blanket over a table, or set up a small tent in a corner. Just knowing that space is there as a regulation option can reduce everyone’s stress and it could be fun and different too.
  5. Whole Body Calming: Sometimes an immersive sensory experience is great for soothing and self- care. Scented bubble baths, lotion massages, and weighted blanket snuggles can all have a similar calming effect to deep breathing, but tell parents to add extra sensory components like scent or warmth which can be delightful. Swimming in hot weather can also be a calming (and healthy) activity!
  6. Sensory materials play: “Sensory strategies” can come to be an overused term when used out of context too much. A great way to get back to basics is playing with old school sensory materials like shaving cream, colored sand, colored rice, playdoh, and/or slime. Some of these materials will be soothing because of their texture, color, or scent. Some materials may actually be distressing and not work for your students. Tell parents that that is okay! That is part of the exploration! Articulating what feels good and what works for regulation and why it is part of the self-regulation process.

Activities for Energizing

  1. Dance, dance, dance!: A great way to bring up the energy needed for attending, participating, and learning is to get active! Fun upbeat music and/or videos can get the whole family moving and leave everyone a little more alert and aware.  There are many great videos to choose from on Go Noodle. This is a student favorite in my classroom! And, Go Noodle offers other awesome resources parents may find helpful!
  2. Go outside: Fresh air and a run around the yard can be a great energizer (if you have a yard). If you don’t have a yard, consider an open window for a fresh breeze or even a short car ride with the windows down.  Some games that some of my students like to play outside are sidewalk chalk and bubbles. My class loves this bubble machine, and summer is right around the corner.
  3. Aromatherapy:  Smell is a major sensory input! Aromatherapy has been used more and more in classrooms because it adds another level of comfort to a great learning space. Try scents like peppermint, lavender, and eucalyptus for energizing the senses and getting ready to learn or play.
  4. Chewy sweet treat: Taste is another major sensory input, as you know if you have specific food-focused students. Chewing is another sensory element that combined with a good taste can perk up the dreariest day. Explore gummy bears, homemade fruit rolls,  cool creamy yogurt, and salty, crunchy chips (or carrots!) to test the effects of energizing snacks on your learners.
  5. Get creative: Making art can be super energizing, especially when using multiple modalities. For example, finger painting on a large paper (or wall? fence?) combines the texture of the paints with the colors of the paints and the images on paper. Have parents try taking apart a magazine to make a collage of the body.  They can cut out body parts and letters to make a sentence. They can also order art kits off of Amazon. They have kits for every artistic interest you can imagine, like puppet making, sewing, and even friendship bracelets.

Many schools aren’t even discussing resuming classes until next fall. Families have plenty of time to explore sensory activities and self-regulation for EVERYONE in the home. The academic impact of these activities can be bumped up by incorporating functional communication (“I need alone time”) or token boards for participation and task completion. Keep sensory learning fresh and relevant with enthusiasm and variety!

That's all for now!
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I am a High School, self-contained Autism teacher from Central New York, who is passionate about individualizing student learning. I am a mommy of three, lover of all things Disney, married to my best friend and addicted to chocolate!! I hope that you find great ideas and inspiration here, so welcome!!

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