Sensory tools and toys are a big thing in our house right now. As my 8 year old daughter is currently navigating her way through Sensory Processing Disorder, we are also navigating our way through it as a family.
Because I am her mother and her biggest advocate, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately reading, researching and implementing practices to help her along the way. Currently there are several items and practices that we are utilizing that we love. If you have a kid with sensory processing disorder or sensory issues then you should definitely consider some, if not all, of the following items. Let’s check them out together right now.
Updated 8/8/23: Now that my daughter has been in Occupational Therapy for some time I thought I’d go ahead and add a few more things that we are loving right now!
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. I will receive commission for any purchase made through those links at no additional cost to you. Prices subject to change at any time.
Sensory Tool #1: Balance Disk/Wobble Cushion
Out of all of the sensory tools and toys that we are using right now, this one gets used the most. My daughter uses it at the dinner table during meal times. She also takes it to school with her every day to use while doing desk work. It has been a tremendous asset to her development so far. If you’re interested in getting one for your child, check out this highly rated cushion on Amazon.
I first started looking into the balance cushion after doing some reading and talking to her Occupational Therapist. My daughter was having a really hard time sitting and eating. She would ask to get up about every 5 minutes. Ever since we got the cushion and started using it, she actually sits through the whole meal! We get to sit and have conversations without her leaving frequently. The sensory input from the little nodes along with the “wobble” of the cushion help her to stay focused.
In school she uses it to help her focus. The balance cushion is included in her 504 plan accommodations. I can’t speak super specifically to the progress that she has made in class since she started using it. But her teachers have said that she is making strides each day, and that they can see that she is working really hard to do better. When she first took it into school kids were asking her about it. It made her a bit uncomfortable to have that extra attention, but by the second day everyone had forgotten about it. Now it’s just part of her every day routine!
Sensory Tool #2: Calm Down Strips
Calm down strips could fall under either category when it comes to sensory tools and toys. For some, they become a tool in the classroom. I have heard of teachers putting them on their students’ desks, giving the students something to “fidget” with during stressful situations. At home they can be a tool or a toy.
So what is a calm down strip? That’s a good question. They are small sticker strips that have a textured surface, and that are usually a pretty, calming color. I hadn’t heard of them until a friend of mine introduced them to me. She said her autistic daughter really likes them, and so she thought that my daughter might find them comforting as well. Once I bought some, I introduced them to our Occupation Therapist. She agreed that they both look and feel very comforting!
It’s really easy to find and buy calm down strips. I found ours on Amazon for a pretty decent price. You can literally put them just about anywhere. Currently our girls have them on their tablet cases, and on their bed frames for when they get scared at night. I chose not to add them to my daughter’s 504 plan for now, but that’s definitely an option, too.
Sensory Tool and Toy #3: Food Play
Most of my daughter’s sensory issues right now are centered around food. As a toddler she was a very normal eater. But now as an 8 year old the types of food that she willingly eats are limited to things like bread, cheese, plain pasta, chicken nuggets and fruit. It has been really hard for our family to navigate this part of her sensory issues.
One sensory “toy” that we are using lately is food play. She utilizes food play both at home and in Occupational Therapy. Food play is a great way to expose her to new foods without getting her to eat anything.
So what do I mean by food play? Exactly what it sounds like! We’ve done everything from edible sensory bins to making food volcanos. Not every food play experience has been successful, but we continue making progress each day.
I have created a list of food play ideas as part of the Food Journal that I’m currently selling on Etsy. Check it out here!
Sensory Tool #4: “Let’s Explore Food: A Tasting Journal For Curious Kids”
Food exploration and play is very important in my daughter’s sensory journey. It’s no secret that I’m a writer, and that I have a passion for all things mental health. That’s why I created the food journal “Let’s Explore Food: A Tasting Journal for Curious Kids.”
In this journal there are several tips, charts and activities for parents to use with their picky eaters. When it comes to my daughter, her extreme picky eating is a direct result of her sensory processing disorder. While this journal is on my list of our favorite sensory tools and toys, it can really be used with any and all kids. It never hurts to explore food, food profiles and recipes with all of your kids!
The great thing about this journal is that we can use it at home and during her therapy sessions. Just the other day her and her Occupational Therapist used the Tasting Activity page to record their observations about bowtie pasta. As she records her different observations she can even go back and compare the different foods that she has explored over time.
Sensory Tool #5: “Stories of Extreme Picky Eating” by Jennifer Friedman
This is a great tool for parents of extreme picky eaters. Now that I’ve finished the book, I have so much more knowledge and understanding about what my daughter is currently going through in her eating journey.
Without giving too much away (I’ll be releasing my full review soon), this book goes over several cases of kids that had extreme pickiness and aversions to food. It’s such an eye-opening book in so many ways. For one, you see that you and your child are not alone in their eating struggles. It also provides the reader with several activities that you can do at home with your own kids.
Written by an actual medical professional, this book is very credible and chock full of great information. It’s an easy read, too. Check it out here and get yourself a copy. It’s hands down one of the best tools that I have as a parent.
Sensory Toy #6: Orbeez, Slime and Putty
My daughters are both big fans of these sensory toys. Often times my 8 year old will pick slime or putty as a fidget before choosing an actual fidget from her box. She loves to just squish and roll the slime and putty between her hands over and over again. I think it helps to calm her and it helps to keep her focused.
I know for a lot of sensory kids slime and other wet, sticky textures are a turn off. But that’s not the case for all kids with sensory issues. Just like she loves the slime and putty, she loves Orbeez, too. Earlier this year my girls got the Orbeez Sensation Station as a gift. While they love just running their fingers through the water beads, they also love using the tools to crush the Orbeez. If you want to know more about this Orbeez product you can check it out on Amazon, or you can read the review that I wrote about it.
Sensory Tool #7: Sensory Sock/Swing
If you have a kid with SPD then you probably already know by now that they like certain types of input. My 8 year old loves proprioceptive input, and so the sensory socks and swings are great for her.
Don’t know what proprioceptive input is? That’s okay! According to Lumiere Children’s Therapy proprioceptive input is,
” […] sesnsory input to activate the joints and muscles to become more responsive.”
While we don’t have either tool at home yet, she does get to use them at Occupational Therapy. I’m no scientist or therapist, but I do know that she loves the feeling of being held tight. The sensory socks and swings can provide that tight “feeling” to a child with proprioceptive needs. And you don’t have to be in therapy to get them! You can find both sensory socks and sensory swings on Amazon.
So Many More Sensory Tools and Toys
As a parent of a child with Sensory Processing Disorder and related issues, I have learned that there are so many tools and toys out there to aide in your child’s journey. It can be very overwhelming to sit and search the web for products, reviews and other advice. As I find things that we love, I will gladly share them with you. It makes that search just a little bit easier.
As I’ve said before, I am not a medical professional. But I am a Mom that has invested a bunch of time into reading, searching and implementing things with my daughter. I’m passionate about advocating for her, and for helping others feel a little less alone. If you know of any other great sensory tools and toys, please let me know in the comments below! Our journey is far from over which means that I have plenty more to share.
Until next time…