It’s almost end of the year! Your child will have about a month of school holidays! So what activities can you do during the school holidays?

Here, I would like to share some simple activities I have played with my students with special needs, ranging from the ages of 4 to 10.

These ideas are not only for children with special needs, it can be fun sensory play for neurotypical children as well. It is recommended for parents to invite the child’s friends or cousins for these activities so that children can build friendship during sensory play, which will lead to improvement in his social skills.

Here are the top 8 tactile sensory integration activities that you can prepare:

1. Spaghetti or any type of pasta

How to play: Start with plain cooked spaghetti or pasta of your choice. Then add food coloring and let your child mix it in. Here, you can introduce colors, guide the child to use speech to express their choices - “Which color do you want?” (It’s also to teach them to learn to choose), “Let’s mix it together,” say it with the action, prompting your child to say it together with you.

TIP: You can also prepare the colored pasta in zip-lock bags, for less cleanup hassle.

2. Shaving foam

How to play: Allow your child to feel the texture of foam before and after adding water. Adding food coloring is a great way to make it more fun!

You can have them play naturally without any rules and it is OKAY because sometimes it’s also a great learning process for them to explore by themselves. They can have the power to decide on ways to play with the foam. This is a good way to empower them to make decisions independently AND also to enhance creativity and imagination.

Alternatively, you can also introduce alphabet or number writing on the foam.

“So I'm writing A… B... C...then..hmm, what’s next?” “Let’s think of a number, and write it down.”

Or you can write names on the foam. Ask them to write the name of their best friends. 

TIP: If your children have sensitive skin, you can opt for shaving foam for sensitive skin. My students love lime shaving foam, as it has the fresh lime smell, but please bear in mind that not all students enjoy this smell.

3. Cornstarch and water

How to play: Allow your child to feel the starch before adding water. Then, have them help you to add water slowly. There is no exact measurement for this. Just add water and feel the texture. You can have your child and friends to help you to mix it together. They can also use stirrer if they are uncomfortable touching the gooey liquid. If too watery, you can add some starch to get the right consistency you and your children feel comfortable playing with.

Now it’s the time to have some gooey fun!

You can grab a handful of the mixture and roll it into a ball, then see what happens when you stop rolling. “Let’s make into a ball! Roll roll... Roll.. oh, what happens?” Also, you can ask them “Do you like it?” “How does it feel?”

“Let’s make into a ball! Roll roll... Roll.. oh, what happens?” Also, you can ask them “Do you like it?” “How does it feel?”

You can also pour the mixture from hand to hand or pass the mixtures to the friends. Here you can ask the child “Who do you want to pass it to?” Let them choose a friend.

Then, you might want to add food coloring. It is very fascinating to watch as the colors mix together. You can give your child and friends a few sticks to play with the mixture of food coloring and cornstarch. They can learn about primary and secondary color combination through this messy play too!

TIP: Preparing this might seem easy but cleaning might require some effort. But don't let this kill the fun! All you need is wet cloth, warm water and some muscle for wiping. Perhaps, with some guidance, your child and his/her friends can be your best assistants to help clean up.

4. Shredded paper and water

I found this interesting sensory material one day when I visited my husband’s office. He has countless bags of shredded papers for my sensory integration class.

How to play: To make it different from the regular shredded paper play, I spray water onto the shredded paper. To my surprise, a student of mine seemed to love having more water and requested, “more water… more water” and he started to tear, squeeze, then mold it into a big ball. Then, the rest also started doing the same and they had so much fun playing with it.

TIP: You can also have toys hidden in the big tub of shredded paper. The children can have a ‘toy-search’ game!

5. Ice and toys

My students love this activity because they love to explore the ice and toy excavation! You will need containers, ice trays, water and food coloring. Freeze some toys in ice, overnight.

How to play: Tell the children that someone with ice power (It’s you! Haha) froze toys last night and their mission is to ‘rescue’ the toys! To make the rescue fun, you can prepare some tools like toy hammers, spoons, and ladles. Here, you can ask the children to think of ways to rescue the toys.

You can also have some learning in this sensory play, whereby you can freeze alphabets, and play ‘alphabet rescue’ game.

6. Play-dough

The easiest and laziest way to keep your children and his/her friends occupied is to have a few tubs of Play-Doh! I noticed a few of my students love to pretend to cook during a play-dough time. They would start acting like chefs and talk like one too! Some would make the cooking sounds, and the ‘ding’ sound from microwave/oven.

How to Play: To make it fun, you can add some tools like a rolling pin, toy knife, spoon, cookie cutters, trays or toys to play with. Ask them what they want to make. Feel free to let them explore the texture of the dough. It is okay that they play without structure. Or you can suggest to the children that they can work together to make different types of cookies to serve or make a zoo with various types of animals.

TIP: For the toy knife, we usually keep the plastic knife given when you buy a birthday cake. So you don’t have to waste money to buy extra sets to prepare the tools.

But for those parents who prefer homemade play dough but is lazy to cook, here’s the instruction that I tested.

Easy non-cooking playdough making: (1 cup of flour, half cup of salt, half cup of water, oil) - The dough was still quite sticky though I have tried a few times. PLEASE let me know whether the recipe works. Personally, I still prefer Play-Doh. But I think there is no harm trying to make this with the children.

7. Colored rice (add essence oil to reduce the smell of vinegar)

This idea was from my partner teacher at The Thinking SUN Homeschool Centre. Initially, we needed the colored rice for a Deepavali ‘Kolam’ decoration. She thought of this brilliant idea to let the children mix the rice and color during our sensory integration class.

You will need 5 cups of rice (you can buy low-quality rice to save cost), 5 tablespoons of vinegar (the rule of thumb is 1:1 - 1 tablespoon of vinegar: 1 cup of rice. Vinegar is used to set the color on the rice), a few drops of essence oil to reduce the smell of vinegar and a few drops of food coloring. For older children or children at a higher cognitive level, you can opt for watercolor instead of food coloring.  

How to play: Let the children explore the rice and color. Allow them to mix it. The rice will stick to their fingers and some students might not like it. You can let them use a spoon instead.

You can also use zip-lock bag for less messy play and allow the children to shake and mix them in the zip-lock bag. Then, lay them under the hot sun for 4 - 5 hours (depending on the weather). After drying, the children can have a different type of sensory play with the rice.

They can be given a few tools like cups, plastic bottles, and spoons to play with the colored rice. You can also have a ‘treasure hunt’ or ‘toy search' in the rice.

8. Water Play / Foam Play

How to play: For water play, you can add cups, bottles, toys, sponge, pails and other water play toys. The same thing can be applied to foam play as well. To create foam, use a bottle of dish soap in order to form enough foam for the children to play. You can also have hidden toys in the water/foam. Let your children have a good search in the tub.

TIP: If the children have sensitive skin, use bubble bath soap instead of dish soap.

* MORE TIPS:

  • For easy cleanup, let the children wear old T-shirts, or kids apron (I personally prefer them wearing old tops that they are comfortable with), cover the floor with newspaper, a big linen shower curtain or an old bed sheet.
  • Don’t forget to take care of yourself! Wear an old t-shirt too!
  • If they are afraid of touching the sensory items, you can give them kitchen tongs, spoon, chopsticks etc. To increase exposure, you can try putting a little bit of the sensory material on their hand while ‘inviting’ them to join you, let them put a little bit of sensory material on your hand. Then, again on his hand (you can use his favorite character and make a story to invite him). Always prepare a clean cloth aside, so that he can wipe off whenever he wants.
  • There are a lot of sensory play activities that you can prepare. Other than all the suggestions given above, you can make your own Sensory Tub! You just need to prepare a few plastic tubs and fill them with beans, sands, dried leaves/grass, cotton balls, color pom poms, pebbles, pasta, or corn kernels.

Check out the infographics below!

Thanks for reading! Hope you will have fun preparing and playing!

Let's learn together,

Alyson.