Sensory Tools for Learners
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As a former classroom teacher, I recognize that the idea of overloading a learning space with "distracting" toys and tools seems counterproductive, but the link between fidgeting and focus is well-documented. Following some simple steps outlined in this article can make introducing these sensory items to your child - or a classroom full of children - a success.
In my experience, a designated "Sensory Toolkit" with various fidgets and toys is a good way to start. When a child finds that "just-right" tactile toy, it is theirs to keep with them. Some of my favorite touch toys are Marble Finger Fidgets, Tangle Jr., Puffer Balls, and Squash-It Fidgets. For older students (or their fidgety parents), a Fidget Cube is a more discreet option that looks less like a child's toy.
I also make resistive materials (Bonus: They build hand strength!) available for tactile-seeking kids. Kinetic Sand is great for children 6 and older, and it sticks to itself making clean-up easy. Kneaded Erasers are good for erasing while keeping hands busy. Of course, if you're okay with the occasional carpet or clothing mishap, Thinking Putty, Silly Putty, and PlayDoh are terrific tactile toys.
Tools to Promote Calm + Focus
Keep in mind that touch is just one of our eight sensory systems. For children who are sensory sensitive or avoidant, providing "just right" sensory input without overwhelming them is crucial. These same tools also help highly active children to self-regulate their energy level. These tools are divided up by which sensory system they serve:
Vestibular (Movement): For a child who needs to move around while staying seated, an inflatable seat cushion can provide just enough bounce, and the angle of this wedge promotes good seated posture. This round wiggle seat challenges sitting balance and is easy to inflate and deflate. Both seats allow the child to choose to sit on the bumpy side or the smooth side for more or less tactile input.
Visual: Focusing visual attention on the falling sand in these sand timers can promote self-regulation while reinforcing time management.
Proprioceptive (Muscles & Joints): Squeezing on a stress ball strengthens hands while satisfying sensory seekers by working those small muscles in the hands.
Olfactory (Smell): For many of us, the scent of lavender is calming. Massaging lavender-scented lotion into our hands provides proprioceptive input, which is calming as well. (Of course, some sensory-sensitive kids may be averse to lavender or all scents, so unscented lotion is another good option to try.)
Auditory: Classrooms are busy places, and all that noise can make focusing on a task difficult for some students, even during a "quiet" work time. These noise-reducing headphones help minimize auditory distractions.