With the holidays upon us, there is a lot of extra stimulation for our bodies to take in. Crowded stores, long lines, family gatherings, holiday programs or services, and car rides are just a few examples of situations that can lead to both boredom and over-stimulation, a dangerous combination. Finding something to keep little minds, bodies, and hands busy while waiting can be tough! Here are a few ideas to keep on hand!
First off, let’s talk storage! One of my favorite ideas out there is to use pencil cases like these to store each individual activity. They can be clipped together using binder rings, stored in a binder, or kept individually. Either way, each activity is contained and easy to transport and find. A similar option is to store each activity in a small container (like Play-Doh cups), or even in zip-loc bags. For older kids, using a hard pencil case or old wipe container can contain all items in one place.
To improve self-regulation:
- Putty – silly putty and other doughs provide heavy work for the hands and fingers, which can have a calming effect.
- Fidgets – there are so many fidgets out there (many of my favorites can be found here), and your child’s OT can help you decide which ones are best for him or her.
- Chewing gum or hard candies – sucking and chewing motions can be calming, as they provide heavy work for the mouth, cheeks, and jaw!
- Sunglasses, a hat, ear plugs, headphones, or other items that help reduce visual and auditory input when there is so much going on!
- Bubbles – while some children can become overly excited when bubbles are around, many children respond positively to both the oral motor work (blowing) and the calming visual stimulation provided by bubbles.
- Calming scents – while some people swear by essential oils and aromatherapy tools, other simply find that certain scents are calming or alerting. Scented markers, play-doh, and other items can provide just a faint scent, which may be enough to calm an overly excited child.
- Weighted items, while not as easy to fit in a small space, can be incredibly calming when over-stimulated. For some, keeping all items in a backpack might provide enough weight when worn by the child. Weighted blankets, lap pads, and shoulder pads can also be made (or bought). Talk to your OT about guidelines for weight limits and use.
- Last, having note cards or pictures of activities that don’t require equipment but can be calming is a great way to make sure you don’t forget about some useful tools. Jumping jacks, animal walks (crab walk, bear walk, wheelbarrow walk, etc.), push-ups, and other activities can provide proprioceptive and vestibular input to calm wiggly bodies.
To stimulate the mind and pass time (quietly), here are some fun activities to keep on hand. While these activities do not necessarily have a direct sensory connection (although every activity stimulates some part of our sensory system), they are great at keeping little ones busy:
- Manipulatives – Legos, blocks, k’nex, and other similar building items can keep some busy for hours. For younger ones, even twisting and connecting pipe cleaners can be engaging. I also love this easy-to-make Velcro popsicle stick or block set!
- A cookie sheet and magnets can provide entertainment for all ages. Shapes, letters, and numbers are easy to find at dollar stores and similar places, but also consider sets that are more interactive, like these. Or, attach a magnet to the back of puzzle pieces to put together!
- Lacing boards, button strings, and crazy straws with shapes can be a fun way to get some fine motor practice in as well!
- Crayons, paper, stickers, and other simple art supplies are easy to pack and use. WaterWow books and similar products can be sure to minimize mess!
Author: Krista Flack, MS OTR/L