By: Stephanie Kaliades OTR/L

The weather is heating up, and pretty soon school will be out for the summer! Sensory play is a great way to not only give your child the sensory input they need but to have fun as well.

Sensory activities are significant because they can help teach the brain to process sensory information more effectively. In turn, this can help your child respond more appropriately to their environment.

I have included tactile, proprioceptive, and vestibular activities in this list. Tactile activities provide sensory input through touch, proprioceptive activities provide information to our muscle and joints, and vestibular activities regulate our movement and balance. Together they help the brain reach and sustain a calm, alert, and organized state.

My favorite summer sensory experience would have to be the beach! It is a goldmine of sensory experiences for your child. From the sensation of sand on your feet, the sounds of the crashing waves, and the taste of salt in the air, there is no shortage of sensory input! Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Sand Play

This one seems obvious – yes. But did you know that digging in the sand is a way for your child to get deep touch input? This type of input is calming and organizing as it releases dopamine in the brain. So go ahead and challenge your child to do more than the average sand castle.

  • Mix wet sand and dry sand together.
  • Have your child bury you for a heavy work challenge or you can bury them for deep touch input.
  • Dig a hole and fill with ocean water. Carrying buckets of water will add a proprioceptive input and a heavy work challenge to the task.

Water Play

Splashing around in the water provides many types of sensory input: tactile, auditory, proprioceptive, and even oral input. Additionally, movement in the water provides gentle resistance to help strengthen growing bodies!

  • Use a Boogie Board or Kick Board. Balancing on a floatation device will help engage your child’s core, especially when activating their legs to kick. This will also increase bilateral coordination through kicking movements of the legs and paddling movements of the arms.
  • Have your child float on their back. The sensation of floating will activate your child’s vestibular system.
  • Jump over waves or dive under them. Timing your jumps will challenge your child’s motor planning abilities. Holding your breath under water will provide a challenge for regulating breathing.

Active Play

Any volleyball player can tell you the affect sand has on running or jumping. The added challenge is a fun way for children to improve on skills. As an added bonus, sand provides a cushioned fall so we have fewer bumps and bruises than the playground.

  • Try relay races. There are always many kids on the beach and it only takes one game set up to get everyone interested and involved. Use a few sand buckets as markers and have the kids challenge each other to races in the sand. Add more challenge by trying crab walk and bear walk races too!
  • Give cartwheels a try. Cartwheels are difficult as they challenge children to use upper body strength, bilateral coordination, and motor planning. Practicing at the beach can be fun in dry sand or wet, and the sand offers a soft fall. Additionally, inverting your head provides great input to your vestibular system.
  • Play Ball! Lots of space on the beach means room to throw a ball around without breaking a lamp. Toss a ball back and forth with your child to work on bilateral coordination or play a game of volleyball to work on those visual motor skills!

Hopefully, these ideas will get you started for a fun, sensory-filled beach day! Have fun and don’t forget to bring lots of water and sunscreen!