When my oldest was a toddler I use to make tons of sensory bins in order for her to get more sensory exposure. She was really sensory sensitive and those that are, need extra sensory work in order to either desensitize or be more physically sensitive. Outside of sensory integration therapy I was always trying to find ways for her to get the added sensory exposure that she needed.
Sensory bins were time consuming to make but if I had a better option I would do it. The biggest issue I have with them is that they are so artificial. Outside is natural and has so many health benefits.
In fact, the last time I took our children to the beach my eyes were open to how much sensory exposure they get by simply playing in the sand and water. All it took was going and allowing them to play the way their little brains seeked sensory input.
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What kind of sensory play happens at the beach?
(Disclaimer: never leave someone buried in the sand and allow arms to be exposed to keep a sense of freedom.)
1. Proprioceptive Input at the Beach
Proprioception is ones awareness of spatial orientation and body movements with his or her environment. My youngest sometimes demonstrates seeking behaviors consistent with a need for proprioceptive input. I don’t think he has sensory issues but if he does it is mild. I’ve learned enough from my experiences with my oldest, continuing nurse education classes, and ongoing evidenced based research to know what to do with these sensory seeking behaviors.
You feed sensory seeking behaviors with what they need or are seeking. When my little guy is literally bouncing off the couch and climbing the walls I know it’s time to go outside.
At our most recent beach excursion he asked me to bury him. I thought, what a great idea the weight of the sand upon his body will give him proprioceptive input. I dug a hole and he actually sat in it and then I burried him up to his chest. Before he went in, he was talking in excited rushed tones and was really hyperactive. After 15 minutes of being burried in the sand he wanted out so he did the work of digging himself out.
His behavior after? Normal. He was calm, talked in even unrushed tones and all we did was play in the sand!
2. Vestibular Input
Your vestibular system from the brains perspective is how your brain processes balance. My oldest is hypersensitive in all her sensory systems so watching her play in the waves brought joy to my heart. Not only was she absolutely enthralled with playing in the waves but she was receiving both proprioceptive and vestibular Input. The waves crashed into her body and while wearing floaties, they tossed her around. The rhythmic motion of the waves provided motion and tested her balanced while she tried to challenge and resist them-all with a triumphant smile.
3. Tactile Input
While my youngest was still buried in the sand we played a game with it. I would slowly pour the dry sand down his exposed arms and upper back. He would giggle and shrink away as it tickled down his back. It clearly was engaging his tactile receptors but he was laughing right along. Then I put dry sand in one hand and wet sand in the other, held them out and asked him to feel them both. To get his brain thinking and processing the different textures of dry and wet sand I asked, “What does this feel like to you?”
Dry sand- “Dry and scratchy”
Wet sand- “Wet and rough”
Notice how the variation from the sand going from dry to wet changed the sensation of texture for him? Often times children with sensory issues struggle with change. One way I’ve found for them to perservere through them is by engaging them in a sensory change on a micro level. Then progressing to larger levels as their sensory systems further develop.
I peeked out over the water and saw my oldest. She was dressing herself in wet, mushy, seaweed which is something she would have never done in the past. Yet this was a natural tactile sensory activity that she needed, progressed to and it was good for her.
4. Auditory Input
At some point everyone seemed to have received all the sensory input that they needed. There we sat completely at peace, sitting on the sand, and staring out over the water. The waves were coming in high and crashing down on the beach now. You know the sound waves makes-crash. Crash. Crash. My oldest is mainly sensitive to mechanical noises or loud rooms drowning in the noise a large crowd of people can make. The crashing sound of the waves hitting the beach is similar to mechanical sounds although not the same. It became apparent that the waves are a perfect transition sound to aid in desensitizing those that are auditory sensitive.
I asked my oldest what the beach smells like to her. She smiled and said, “It doesn’t have a smell exactly it’s just fresh and clean.” Her usual response is that smells are strong and unpleansant which usually adds to her irritations.
It’s relaxing for us all when she can go to a natural environment like the beach. To be able to get a break from offensive sensory stimuli all while engaging in sensory play that she needs.
What are some sensory play activities that you’ve noticed at the beach?
Below are products that I recommend for home use to provide proprioception and/or vestibular input for sensory seekers. *For weighed items please seek the advise of your child’s Sensory Integration Occupational Therapist, as it is based on the weight and individual sensory needs of your child.