Be Sensory Summer Smart! Tips from an OT
Updated: Mar 24, 2020
Summer is here and that means a change of pace. Children are home and looking
forward to the break. Parents must decide how to best use the time over these
weeks. Here are a few ways to be summer smart with each family members' sensory
By Stephanie Parken, MS, OTR/L, CKTP
Create a simple schedule using a dry-erase board.
Use a picture schedule for younger children who cannot read.
Try an app (Visual Routine or Choiceworks) on your phone to have the
schedule with you on the go
While traveling, help your children establish a familiar routine, so they feel
more secure in unfamiliar situations.
Traveling: Whether by car or plane, consider the following:
Get moving! Our proprioceptive, vestibular, and tactile systems provide a foundation of organization and comfort in our bodies. Take a short walk or use pit stops along the road to do simple exercises (jumping jacks, animal walks, toe-touches, etc.).
Pack snacks that help with sensory regulation. Crunchy and chewy foods can calm the body. Examples include pretzel rods, bagels, carrot sticks, gum (if age appropriate), or even yogurt, applesauce, and smoothies with a straw.
Deep touch pressure can calm a nervous child in an airport or new environment. Try downward shoulder presses, big bear hugs, tight blanket wraps, or a weighted lap pillow (e.g. fill rice/beans in a sock for a snake).
Pack wisely. Fidgets or stress balls help nervous hands. You can make your own stress ball by using a funnel to put cornstarch in a balloon. Also consider headphones for soothing music, sticker books to quietly pass the time and practice fine motor skills, and a couple of new items that are novel to your child.
Large crowds: Festivals, parties, and group gatherings may over-stimulate children.
Build in quiet time or alone space for the child who gets overwhelmed.
Use oral motor input to provide grounding and organization (see above).
Prepare children on what to expect and give them a way to communicate if it
is too much.
Water and beach play: This is a wonderful full-body sensory experience. Educate
children about water safety and get wet with them.
Flips or spinning in the water provide great vestibular input.
Have a child pull along a rope through the water for additional proprioceptive input.
Good swimmers can dive for items to work on hand-eye coordination and breath control.
Fishing for floating items using a small net also improves hand-eye coordination.
Sand can upset a child with tactile defensiveness. Look for anti-san sunscreen or use baby powder to easily brush sand off.
About the Author Stephanie is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist with over ten years of Pediatric experience in both clinical and school settings. In 2013, she became one of about 80 U.S. therapists to receive a board certification in Pediatrics from the American Occupational Therapy Association.
Stephanie's expertise includes: evaluations, consultations (advising and collaborating with teacher s, team members, and parents ), sensory integration, visual motor/perceptual skills, fine motor skills, handwriting development, rehabilitation, feeding therapy, activities of daily life (ADLs), and more.