Physical and sensory development

Children with sensory or physical needs may find it difficult to access and make use of their environment and facilities. These difficulties my change over time and may include an awareness of themselves in the space around them, gross or fine motor skills, visual or hearing difficulties.

The following activities are designed to stimulate physical development in the home environment and local community. You are not expected to complete all of the activities but to choose the ones that you are drawn to and interested in. It is hoped that by engaging in these activities you will begin to recognise other opportunities for supporting sensory and physical skills as part of everyday life.

 

Playing with dough

Playdough is a wonderful sensory material that can be adapted to include different colours, textures and smells. It can be made at home or be bought ready-made.

What you will learn
You will learn to make playdough and to develop your hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.

What you will need

  • 8 tbsp plain flour
  • 2 tbsp table salt
  • 60ml warm water
  • food colouring
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • apron
  • A mixing bowl
  • Weigh scales
  • Measuring jug
  • Optional – spoon, pastry or playdough cutters

What you will do

1. Wash your hands and prepare a flat clean surface
2. Put on an apron to protect your clothing
3. Weigh out all of the ingredients
4. Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl.
5. In a separate bowl mix together the water, a few drops of food colouring and the oil.
6. Slowly pour the coloured water into the flour mixture stirring together with your hands or with a spoon
7. Squeeze and roll the dough in your hands or on the table to make a smooth, pliable dough.
8. If you want a more intense colour you can add a few extra drops of food colouring.
9. You can now use the playdough to form different shapes, and different sizes
10. Try different actions with your hands, rolling, squeezing, pushing, sliding
11. If you have pastry or playdough cutters you can use these as well
12. Use the playdough to model different things, a pet perhaps or a car

Implementation tips
Make sure the surface you use cannot be stained by the food colouring – a kitchen surface is best. It is better to wear old clothing that you don’t mind getting messy. Give yourself plenty of time so that you are not rushed and can get the most out of your activity.

Extension activity
Extend this activity by mixing different food colourings together. What happens when you do this? Make different coloured playdough and use to form a multi-coloured model.

Tips for parents
Do support your child in this activity but encourage their independence. Can they weigh out their own ingredients perhaps, take the time to absorb the different sensations each ingredient presents. Use descriptive language to explore what is happening as the ingredients and colours combine.

There are links here to other domains of learning such as cognition, literacy through developing language, talking for a purpose, maths through weighing and measuring and the use of mathematical language.

 

Printing with food

This activity uses the foodstuffs in your home that are perhaps a little out of date for consumption but provide great medium for painting. It supports the development of fine and gross motor skills as well as sensory development.

What you will learn
You will learn to make printed shapes with different food stuffs, to be creative and have fun!

What you will need

  • Paper
  • Paints
  • Paint brushes
  • A variety of fruits and vegetables cut into different sizes (e.g., celery, potato, tomato, lemon etc.).

What you will do

1. Collect together some food items that are no longer going to be used for cooking
2. With the help of a parent cut the food into different sizes
3. Paint the surface of the food with the paint
4. Stamp the food on a piece of paper.
5. Notice the different patterns the food makes.
6. Consider how you can use the natural printed patterns to make an image such as an animal, car or house perhaps

Implementation tips
Ensure the surface you are using is protected from your painting perhaps with old newspaper. It might be an idea to wear an apron or some old clothing.

Extension activity
With the permission of your parents you could extend this activity by using other things around you for printing such as the wheels of a toy car, a fork or different plant leaves.

Tips for parents
Do ensure that your child is appropriately supervised when the food is being cut to size. For the best effect you may need to dry the cut surface of the food first with a paper towel before it is painted. Encourage your child to be independent in this activity where appropriate. Support their use of language to plan their activity and to describe the finished result. There are links here to other domains of learning such as cognition and literacy through developing language, talking for a purpose, and mark making, physical skills through fine motor movement.

 

A tracing game

This activity supports a developing awareness of the environment around you, the different surfaces and textures found in the natural and man-made world.

What you will learn
You will learn to recognise different patterns in the environment around you. To use these patterns to create works of art through ‘rubbings’ and to have fun!

What you will need

  • Paper
  • Coloured pencils or crayons
  • Objects with textures (e.g., coins, table cloth, leaves, etc.)

What you will do

1. Choose an item and notice the textured surface
2. Place it on a table in front of you
3. Lay the sheet of paper on top of the item (a coin perhaps).
4. Gently rub the edge of the pencil or crayon over the paper above the items textured surface until you can see the outline appearing on the paper.
5. Repeat steps 1-4 with different objects

Implementation tips
Ensure the item you are tracing over stays still so your picture does not become blurred.

Extension activity
With the permission of your parents you could extend this activity by taking your paper and pencils / crayons outside to make rubbings of the things you find such as the wood grain on a door, the bark of a tree or a pattern on the pavement. Try using different types of pencils or crayons – can you put your different rubbings together to make a picture?

Tips for parents
Do ensure that your child is appropriately supervised if they take this activity outside. For the best effect you may need to help them to hold the item still so that the rubbed impression does not become blurred. Encourage your child to be independent in this activity where appropriate. Support their use of language to plan their activity and to describe the finished result.

There are links here to other domains of learning such as cognition and literacy through developing language, talking for a purpose, and mark making, physical skills through fine motor movement.

 

Music mayhem

This activity supports the development of sensory skills by using household items as musical instruments.

What you will learn
You will learn to create music through using kitchen utensils such as pans, wooden spoons, or perhaps a whisk.

What you will need

  • A selection of pans and spoons
  • Background music

What you will do

1. Choose a variety of pans and spoons
2. Start a beat
3. See if you can beat to the background music
4. Rotate using different utensils
5. Dancing to the rhythm is also highly recommended!

Implementation tips
This is an activity that you can develop over time as you become familiar with the different sound. Can you connect different sounds to feelings?

Extension activity
Try different rhythms and sounds, hard and soft, loud and quiet. Get your friends involved and create a kitchen band!

Tips for parents
Suggest different utensils to use, encourage your child to listen to the sound carefully to create music … not just a loud noise! This activity also supports hand – eye coordination and concentration skills. Listening skills are the foundation to communication and literacy.

 

Yoga stretches

This activity supports the development of physical skills, balance and coordination.

What you will learn
You will learn to become more aware of your body, to feel more grounded and to develop a sensory awareness within the body.

What you will need

  • A comfortable mat
  • Optional music

What you will do

1. Start with the ‘cat’ stance
2. Breath in
3. Curl into a ball while kneeling, with head comfortably tucked toward your chest
4. Breath out
5. Stretch out on your belly with palms to the floor pushing upward so the back curves comfortably.
6. Return to a comfortable kneeling position

Implementation tips
This is an activity that you can build on with different stretches. Notice how much easier the movements become over time.

Extension activity
Look up different yoga stretches and incorporate these into a regular yoga routine. It might be an idea to write down the different stretches you want to do.

Tips for parents
Support your child to look up different yoga stretches and to incorporate these into a regular daily routine.

 

Fidget toy

Fidget toys can be expensive, but this one only takes a few bits of fabric, some sewing, a marble and some googly eyes if you wish!

What you will learn
You will learn to make your own fidget toy that will in turn support your concentration when studying.

What you will need

  • Two pieces of soft fabric, roughly 4cm x 10cm
  • Needle and thread
  • A marble or similar ball
  • Googly eyes and glue or other decorations

What you will do

1. Stitch the material together leaving on end open to form a pocket
2. Pop the marble inside this pocket and sew up the last end
3. You can now push the marble up and down the length of the fabric for a satisfying and repetitive sensory activity
4. Decorate as you wish

Implementation tips
Take care when sewing to ensure that you tie a firm knot at the start and end so that your stitching does not come undone.

Extension activity
This activity can be adapted with different shapes and textures to create different sustainable sensory toys.

Tips for parents
Support your child to take care when using the needle and thread, they may need guidance to ensure their work is tight and secure. This activity supports sensory learning but also physical fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and cognitive processing.

Download these activities as a printable PDF