Sensory Efficiency–Five Fun-Filled Activities to Try at Home
You may have heard the myth that people who are blind or low vision have something akin to “spidey senses” to “make up for” their decreased visual sense. The truth is somewhat less fantastical but still interesting and helpful to understand. Our children who are blind or low vision are not automatically born with super senses, just as individuals with an acquired loss do not suddenly experience a super-sense phenomenon. There are, however, physical and educational factors that can work together to gradually increase the capacity and usefulness of your child’s other senses. It is possible for your little one who is blind or low vision to experience a more tuned-in ability with their other senses compared to sighted peers, and that can usually be attributed to your child’s learned sensory efficiency skills.
Ok…So, What Exactly is Sensory Efficiency?
Sensory efficiency refers to using one’s senses to gather information about the surrounding environment. We all use our senses to collect “data” on the characteristics of our surroundings; sometimes it is a conscious effort, but usually, it happens subconsciously. Vision, hearing, touch, smell, and taste likely come to mind when you consider your child’s senses. Although the somewhat lesser-known kinesthetic, vestibular, and proprioceptive senses are also crucial to your child’s developing sensory efficiency, as well as their general balance, body awareness, mobility skills, and other physical activities.
Why Should I Work on it at Home?
As with other areas of the Expanded Core Curriculum, this area of learning needs to be encouraged in a variety of settings, which naturally includes the home environment. The good news is that it can be incorporated into playtime!
Another reason to provide various opportunities to build sensory efficiency skills is to encourage their “sensory integration” capabilities. Don’t let the technical-sounding term make you nervous – it’s just referring to your child’s ability to use their different senses together, in concert, to interpret or participate in daily functional purposes.
Naturally, you will want to consider safety issues related to the materials and activities you choose for your child to explore and manipulate. Choking hazards and ingestion temptations, sharp edges, and allergies to certain materials are all things to account for before you start. Stay nearby your child to ensure their safety. Once that’s settled, get ready for some fun!
Five Fun-Filled Sensory Activities to Try at Home
1 – Set up sensory bins or mats
• A sensory bin is just a container that you fill with various items that will intrigue the senses of your little one. Include items with interesting textures, smells, sounds, or even tastes!
• Items like rice, dried beans, water beads, shaving cream, or even cereal can be good sensory box fillers. So can bubble wrap, tin foil (careful about “paper” cuts!), crinkly paper, sandpaper, lace, ribbon, and other fabric scraps.
• Don’t be scared to let it get messy! Just set up outside if needed. Finger paints, Play-Doh, kinetic sand, slime, and Ooblek (corn starch and water mixture) offer interesting multi-sensory experiences by noting their unique sounds, feel, and smells.
• Get your Pinterest on and search “sensory bins” for dozens of ideas and variations. Bins can have a theme or be random!
2 – Try Container Play
• Find different bins, baskets, boxes, buckets, zip bags, and screw-top containers around the house and offer them to your child in the name of play and exploration.
• Include some of the sensory bin items suggested above to offer your child an opportunity to explore, find, hide, fill, empty, and refill the different types of containers.
• Pots, pans, lids, and food storage containers can be satisfying containers for little hands to explore as well.
3 – Play Environmental Awareness Games
• Go outside, in your yard and novel locations, and play “Name that Sound.”
• Listen to and talk about the unique environmental sounds found in different areas (near water, at a playground, sitting at a bus stop, etc.)
• Check out natural items from your yard – pinecones, sticks, grass, sweet gum balls, dirt/sand/clay, leaves of different sizes and textures (live and dead – but not poisonous!) – and talk about their sounds, shape, textures, and smells. Maybe even sample some fruit trees or vines if available!
4 – Explore Household Items (Montessori-Inspired play)
• Look for household items made of wood, metal, or fabric, prioritizing objects made of more natural materials over plastic ones.
• Avoid offering only plastic, battery-operated, light-up, or noisy toys. You’ll be offering a more tactually interesting experience for your little learner.
• Compelling “toys” can include a strainer, a whisk, sponges, dish scrubbers, oven mitts, paper and foil baking cups, brushes, ribbon, and fabric scraps. The sky is the limit! See what you can find around your house that doubles as a sensory efficiency “tool.”
5 – Bake & Cook
• Offer your child time to explore and interact with ingredients in a separate bowl before using them in a recipe.
• Use wet and dry ingredients like eggs, vinegar, milk, jam, peanut butter, sugar, flour, and salt. Incorporating spices and seasonings can add another layer of sensory integration.
• This idea earns bonus points for building your child’s concepts and skills in a daily living activity!
As you can see, there are many options for fun, interactive, and engaging play with your little one, all while you help them develop their sensory efficiency skill set. Remember, reach out to your child’s teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) or Occupational Therapist anytime you would like support or ideas for activities that address the specific needs of your child. Contact them, too, if you have specific questions or concerns about addressing tactile sensitivity issues.
In the meantime, start turning your household items into sensory efficiency-building toys. Just start playing and offer verbiage as needed to describe new experiences. Have fun with your little one as you explore rich new sounds, textures, smells, and tastes together!