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10 Sensory Toys You Can Make at Home

March 25, 2020 | In: Autism Resources

For families that have children with special needs, finding ways to offer sensory safe play is always a vital part of neural development. Many families work long and hard to make sure their children have the tools they need to address their sensory processing disorders. Now that we are spending the majority of our days at home with our children, we have the opportunity to try out some new DIY projects!

Fortunately, in our current era of do-it-yourself-ism, parents can find numerous examples, patterns, and instructions that allow them to make their sensory toys at home, and have fun doing so with their children. Here are ten ideas that will be a welcome addition to your child’s sensory toys toolbox to support those with autism, anxiety, and sensory disorders. These toys will help with relieving stress and assist your children in developing the seven senses in your home.

1. Sensory Tent

A sensory tent is easy to assemble and essential to have around. Some parents call the tents a “cooling down spot” or “quiet space.” When you begin to create the space, consider the location, the noise level, and the size. Young people with sensory disorders like small compact spaces that are navigated best by pushing up into or crawling in.

Tent-Making Ideas

  • Put a blanket or a throw over a small table, like the forts you made with sheets as a child.
  • Tie a sheet around a table and leave enough of the fabric to drop below the table to make a small hammock, also called a table hammock.
  • Pile pillows into a high mountain that becomes a beautiful nest-like quiet space.

2. Cardboard Box Ideas

  • Cut a circle, large enough to climb through, out of a large furniture box. Put pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals inside for a cozy, comfy cove.
  • Use a large cardboard box placed on its side, so the top opening becomes the door. Punch holes in what is now the top of the box and insert twinkle string lights. A wonderland and a quiet place all rolled into one.

3. Tactile Experiences

Putty, squeezy items and textured objects are all excellent toys for Spatio-temporal processing for children with sensory processing disorders. Fidget Toys can improve concentration and attention to tasks because they allow the brain to filter out the extrasensory information. You can also create many “fidget sensory toys” from things you have around the house. Here are a few examples of objects and materials you can use to make tactile toys.

  • An old set of keys.
  • For older children, a balloon filled with sand and knotted securely can be held, handled, and folded, making it an exceptional fidget toy.
  • The smooth surface of a stone is relaxing to the touch, and the curvature is another soothing element. A flat rock is something you and your child can paint or decorate, although that is not necessary, but the variety of textures created with the decorations (beads, clay, dyed oatmeal, etc.)

4. Weighted Items

Weighted blankets are just right for soothing a child’s sensory issues. They are expensive, but luckily, talented DIYers have come up with several ways to make them yourself.

  • Folding a heavy afghan concentrates the weight. This thickness and heaviness give some of the same comforting feelings as a commercial weighted blanket.
  • An old vest or shirt can become heavier if curtain weights or small rocks go in the pockets. Save the garment for times when the child is stressed. Overuse can result in diminishing effectiveness.
  • A stuffed animal can be cut at a seam and have nuts, bolts, curtain weights, or any other weighty items inserted. Sew the stuffie back up and allow your child to hold or cuddle the animal during stressful times.

5. Homemade Sensory Activities

Parents do not necessarily have to spend hundreds of dollars to gather sensory activity games, toys, and materials for their children. When parents and children work together to make sensory play activities, they are sharing the fun of creating, building, and having fun with one another. Most parents report that it is often the simplest of sensory activities that make for the most delightful results.

This sensory play project may sound simplistic, but it is one of the activities toddlers love most. Fill some ice trays with any colored water flavors you wish to use. Then let the touching, smelling, tasting, melting, and fun begin. Make several trays and then store the cubes in the freezer to be used whenever the kids need a Kool-Aid moment.

6. Take a Sound Walk

This idea not only gets you and your kids, outside but also helps soothe them. Print out this page, or create a page yourself, so that each child involved has one. As you walk together outside, listen for sounds. Hear as much as you can, especially the noises listed on the print-out (a dog, a bird, etc.). This type of nature walk heightens a child’s sensory awareness. Each child can pick the colored marker he or she wants to check off all the sounds they hear on the printable.

7. Dinosaur Fossil Excavation Sensory Activity

Another fascinating but straightforward activity is the fossil hunting game.

First, you make your dinosaur fossils using salt dough.

Make the salt dough into cookie-sized round pieces.

Etch a dinosaur’s foot impression in the cookie. Or, you can mold the salt dough into the shapes of bones, footprints, dinosaur eggs, and so forth. Get those small, plastic dinosaurs out of the drawer and use them to make impressions in the dough.

The dirt you dig in is a box of chocolate cake mix, crushed Oreos, and whole wheat flour. Let the digging begin.

8. Frozen Water Beads in Water Balloons

This activity is helpful as it creates a sensory and gross motor activity. You will need water balloons, water beads and a funnel.

  • Put the water beads inside the water balloons using the funnel.
  • Fill the balloons with water. (Water beads expand in water, and after a couple of hours, they get bigger.)
  • Squish and play with the sensory-laden balloons.
  • After bountiful squishing, put the balloons in a bowl and put the container in the freezer.
  • Wait until the next day and peel the balloons off the now frozen balls of water beads.
  • One game to play with the ice balls is trying to toss them into a target hula hoop.
  • They smash on concrete well, too.

9. Rainbow Dyed Noodles

Almost every sense is in play with this ridiculously fun activity. It’s pretty simple.

  • Cook an entire box of pasta noodles of any type.
  • Rinse the noodles when cooked.
  • Use a different plastic bag for each color you are going to use.
  • Put several sprinkles of food coloring into each bag along with a drop of vegetable oil.
  • Seal the bags and let the children shake and squish them to get the color on every noodle.
  • Open the bags and let them rest for 10-15 minutes to make sure the color has completely covered the pasta.
  • Rinse the pasta under cold water to remove any extra color.
  • Play! (sort, feel, mix, cut, paint using the noodles)

10. Tearing Paper

What could be simpler? What could be a more relaxed or more therapeutic activity?

This project is for children of all ages. Toddlers will love the idea of having a box of colored construction paper beside them and tearing the paper as much as they would like. Older kids can tear, and use the scraps for a collage or a torn paper landscape. The texture of the paper, the colors, and the ragged edge come together to make a sensory process that looks a lot like art.

The Importance of a Sensory Diet

Children with special needs and sensory processing disorders need stimuli, parental interaction, and support. But every child can flourish when interactive activities occur. Cognitive skills, physical capabilities, new vocabulary, and social skills come through engaging in sensory play. A child’s emotional state can change, and an outlet for anxiety and stress are both available through the act of playing, a child’s context for learning.