Ideas to Stimulate the Tactile System
Select items that provide good sensory feedback with a range of textures: bristly, bobbled, bubbly, bumpy, bushy, carved, chunky, coarse, cold, corrugated, carved, damp, distended, downy, dry, elastic, enamelled, engraved, etched, flat, feathery, flaky, fleecy, fluffy, foamy, frothy, furled, furry, gravelly, gritty, grainy, glossy, gooey, grooved, hard, hairy, icy, indented, knitted, knobbly, limp, malleable, matte, metallic, moist, mosaic, mushy, padded, patterned, pitted, plastic, pleated, pliable, pointed, polished, prickly, puffy, ribbed, ridged, rough, rubbery, runny, sandy, shaped, shiny, silky, sleek, slimy, slippery, smooth, smudged, soapy, soft, spongy, springy, stiff, stodgy, stubby, syrupy, tickly, tingly, tweedy, viscous, velvety, warm, wet wooden, woolly, woven.
Provide the use of hand fidget toys, give a blanket wrap, massage with or without cream and explore the use of body brushes.
Arts & crafts are excellent tactile activities: explore paints, glitter glues, foamy soap/shaving cream, clay, sand, wood shavings, shredded paper, water, playdoh and different textured fabrics and material.
Baking is tactile: knead dough, make pastry, cake mix and batter mix.
Explore dried foods such as lentils, pasta, pulses, and rice.
Tip! if the individual is touch sensitive, offer the use of lightweight gloves or provide a tool e.g., a paintbrush to create a barrier.
Ideas to Stimulate the Gustatory System
Present a wide range of different tastes and textures for the individual to explore at their own pace. Initial explorations could be through touch and smell, the next step to present a tiny touch to the lips progressing onto a morsel or a drop in the mouth, an egg spoonful building up to a full bite.
Play blindfold tasting games.
Explore aromatic, bitter, bland, buttery, caramelised, carbonated, chalky, charcoal, charred, cheesy, chewy, chocolatey, cinnamon, citrusy, clove-like, coarse, creamy, crispy, crumbly, crunchy, delicate, earthy, effervescent, eggy, fibrous, fiery, fishy, fizzy, flaky, floral, floury, foamy, fresh, frosty, fruity, garlicky, gingery, grainy, granular, grapey, gritty, herbal, honeyed, icy, juicy, lemony, light, limey, malty, metallic, milky, minty, moist, mushy, musty, oily, oniony, peppery, pickled, plummy, powdery, pungent, quenching, refreshing, rich, ripe, rubbery, salty, sandy, savoury, seasoned, sharp, sinewy, slimy, smoky, smooth, soggy, sour, sparkling, spiced, spicy, spongy, squidgy, squishy, starchy, sweet, syrup, tangy, tart, tender, toasty, toothsome, vanilla, velvety, vinegary, zesty, zingy
Ideas to Stimulate the Olfactory System
Our sense of smell is linked with memory and emotions. Exploring smells help individuals to understand the world around them.
There are an array of smells to explore: antiseptic, aromatic, bitter, burnt, comforting, citrus, clean, crisp, damp, delicate, earthy, eggy, evocative, fishy, fresh, fragrant, floral, fruity, heady, musky, musty, perfumed, refreshing, salty, savoury, sharp, smoky, soapy, sour, spicy, sweet, tangy and woody.
Explore natural items: herbs and spices, fruit and vegetables and scented edible flowers such as rose petals and lavender.
Explore artificial products: essential oils, scented creams & soaps, diffusers, joss sticks, scented bags, soaps, pot pourri and scented candles.
Play 'Guess the Smell' games.
Liven art and craft activities by adding a few drops of essential oils, fresh herbs such as mint or lavender or dried spices to homemade playdoh.
Add essences to paints. You could theme by colour, e.g., Add strawberry or raspberry essence to red paint, vanilla or banana essence to yellow paint, peppermint essence to green paint and so on.
Make a potion. Take a paint palette or cupcake baking tray and fill it with items that smell. You could theme them by colour e.g., a yellow themed potion may include grated lemon zest, yellow food colouring, sweetcorn, bananas, raw potato, edible flowers such as sunflowers and marigolds, spices like turmeric and cumin, yellow split peas and lentils.
Provide pipette, spoons, safety tweezers/jumbo grippers, and tongs to promote fine motor skills.
The potions could be friendship potions, Harry Potter spells, superhero potions...the imagination is the limit!
*Never to force stimuli.
If at any point the sensory explorer shows signs that they are not enjoying the experience stop immediately.
Ideas to Stimulate the Auditory System
Stimulate the auditory system by presenting a range of sounds familiar and unfamiliar at varying volumes and in different locations, e.g. behind the person's head so they can turn their head to locate the sound.
Note individual preferences to calming/alerting music, grinding, hushed, monotonous, musical, intermittent, rhythmic, mellow, or percussive.
Play musical instruments: blow whistles and party blowers, hum, whisper and use silly voices. Experiment with volume and use of headphones.
Listen to bubbles pop and to the sounds of nature.
Play listening games. (A quick search on the internet will give you access to sound effects from helicopters to howler monkeys!) Play the sound effect and see if the listener can guess what the noise is. You can theme the sound games e.g. 'The Rainforest', 'Transport', 'Animals', 'Space'
Listening to meditation teaches calmness, and develops understanding of thoughts, feelings and emotions helping to build confidence. A quick online search will open a library of free meditations, suiting a range of audiences. Young children can visit secret treehouses, meet sleepy sloths or go on magic carpet rides. Teenagers can explore the cosmos, meet their spirit animal or enjoy a relaxing body scan.
Ideas to Stimulate the Visual System
Stimulate sight by experimenting with familiar, and providing new, visual experiences.
Track and locate moving stimuli such as light from torches and watching the movement of spinning tops, fidget spinners, spinning handheld lights, bubbles, or the wax in lava lamps.
Explore colour hues, shiny, bright, brilliant, cloudy, colourful, dark, dim, dull, flickering, fuzzy, gleaming, glistening, glowing, hazy, sparkly, shadowy, pale, rippling, shimmering, shiny, translucent.
Make your own projector. Cover one end of a cardboard tube with cellophane, draw an image/shape onto the cellophane then shine the torch through the open end projecting the image onto a lap tray, the wall, floor, or ceiling.
Sensory bags are a cheap and fun way to engage the senses and develop language skills.
Choose a non-see-through bag that is tactile and catches the eye. (If you don't have a bag then use a pillowcase)
Place a variety of items inside the bag.
When choosing items think of engaging all the senses: Add items that stimulate the vision, tactile items that feel nice to the touch, items to smell and taste and items that make interesting sounds.
Give the bag a gentle shake to gain the sensory explorer's attention.
Invite the sensory explorer to place their hand into the bag and select an item.
Encourage the sensory explorer to use their sense of smell, touch, hearing and taste to guess what the item is. (If the sensory explorer is unsure then provide plenty of clues.)
Build functional language skills.
Ask the sensory explorer to tell you or show you what you might do with the item and where you might find it. (If the sensory explorer is unsure, model what to do with the item and see if they can copy your action.)
Allow the sensory explorer time to explore the item and process the information then shake the bag again for them to select another item.
Keep language simple.
Focus on phrases such as 'Choose' or 'Take one' when presenting the bag to the sensory explorer.
Focus on the name of the object e.g. 'starfish', 'sponge', 'hat' and two-word phrases e.g. 'Little shell', 'red sunglasses'.
Depending on the ability of the sensory explorer you may choose to add verbs such as 'dig', 'eat', 'swim'
Weather Themed Sensory Bag
Place weather related items into the bag, a torch (to represent the sun), a fan (to represent the wind), a water spray bottle (to represent the rain), a joss stick or piece of net to represent fog.
Extend the learning further by adding a hat, gloves, folded umbrella, a wellington boot, and a hand warmer. Can the sensory explorer match the clothing to the weather?
Seaside Themed Sensory Bag
Place items you may take to the beach or find at the beach into the bag e.g., bottle of sunscreen, sunglasses, sunhat, sand toys, starfish, seashells, sponge, seaweed, pebbles small container of sand (or sandpaper)
India Themed Sensory Bag
Add items related to India into the bag. Sari or sparkly material, mirror, bangles, rice, spices e.g., turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, poppadoms, water in a squirty bottle to represent a monsoon, a heat bag or torch to represent the sun.
Explore sounds. Play sound effects e.g., a snake hissing, a lion roaring, Indian languages, Indian music, the Indian national anthem, a busy Indian market etc (there are many free audio clips online)
Three Little Pigs Sensory Bag
Add items related to the story: twigs, straw, cinnamon/bread sticks, Lego or Duplo brick, plastic teeth or fur to represent the wolf, a fan (to re-enact the wolf blowing)
Extend learning. Can the sensory explorer retell the story using the props?
A sensory bin is a container filled with themed items that provide a calming activity and the opportunity to learn through exploration whilst engaging the senses and meeting sensory needs.
Providing this experience enables you to identify preferred items and sensations that can be used as motivators or to calm an individual when stressed.
This sensory play will develop fine motor skills as the sensory explorer manipulates the objects, problem solving skills through experimentation, creativity and imagination through exploration and the opportunity to build language and communication skills.
If working in a group this activity will aid social and emotional development and skills as learners engage in turn-taking, sharing, cooperation and listening to others' ideas.
How to Make a Sensory Bin
Find a Container
A large tray, cardboard box, bucket, large plastic storage box, plastic paddling pool
Add a Base Layer
Dried rice, pasta and pulses, dried oats, dried cereal, shredded paper, straw, Pom Poms, flour, cotton wool balls, coloured water, sand, moon dust, packing peanuts, feathers, buttons, shells, leaves, wood shavings, corks, bottle tops, edible herbs and flowers, potting compost, foam, ice, pinecones, slime, goop, cloud dough, wool, ribbon, confetti, sponges...the imagination is the limit!
Add Fine Motor Tools
Cups, spoons, forks, measuring jugs, colander, whisk, sieve, funnel, pipette, food tongs, wooden utensils, scoops, paintbrushes, chopsticks, moon dust (see recipe below*)
Add items to encourage scientific investigation.
Torch, magnifying glass, magnets, pen/paper, egg carton/ice cube/cake baking tray for sorting items, plastic tweezers and a mirror.
Ensure that play is supervised at all times by a responsible adult,
Be aware of any potential choking hazards or allergies.
*Moon Dust Recipe
Add ½ cup Olive Oil to 2 cups of cornflower and rub together using the tips of your fingers and thumbs, adding extra cornflour if needed, to form a moon dust consistency. Add silvers of aluminium foil or a sprinkle of glitter for extra sparkle!
Chinese New Year Sensory Bin
Layer the base of a tray, bucket or paddling pool with dried rice or noodles, red or gold shredded paper.
Sprinkle with Chinese five spice/star anise/ginger.
Scatter cinnamon sticks/ star anise/chocolate coins.
Add spoons, bowls, chopsticks, or tweezers for sensory explorers to practice their fine motor skills.
Add toy animals to represent the animals of the Chinese Zodiac.
Winter Themed Sensory Bin
Layer the tray with ice cubes (for igloo making), fake snow, cotton wool balls, shaving foam or polystyrene packing peanuts.
Sprinkle with silver glitter or slivers of aluminium foil.
twigs, tweezers, polystyrene packing peanuts.
Provide gloves, scarves, and hats for the sensory explorer to wear.
Add a torch and magnifying glass for scientific exploration.
The Three Little Pigs Sensory Bin
Layer the tray with straw/hay/dried grass/shredded wheat/vermicelli, dried noodles.
Scatter sticks/twigs, lollipop sticks, breadsticks, Twiglets, cinnamon sticks on top of the base layer.
Add Duplo, Lego, rubber/stickle or wooden bricks
Add items to aid exploration of the cause and effect of blowing: feathers/tissue paper/recorder/whistle/bicycle/balloon pump/blowing bubbles/bellows/ balloons/handheld fan/battery operated mini fan/card or paper fan.