10 Sensory Play Ideas For Children With Special Needs

Springwell   -  

by The Play Team

Play is an essential learning tool for any child, boosting brain power as well as the development of other critical life skills. For children with special needs, the benefits can be even greater, allowing them to hone areas they might need a little extra help with while having fun in the process.

Unfortunately, not all playtime is created equal, and physical and cognitive limitations can sometimes prevent a child with special needs from fully participating in an activity or getting the same level of enjoyment out of it. That’s why The Genius of Play has put together 10 of our favorite play ideas that can easily be modified to match a child’s abilities:

    • Design a Pattern
      Working together to create a simple AB pattern out of basic shapes can help kids develop essential skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, identification of similarities and differences, as well as fine motor skill development. Parents: Get in on the fun and do this activity together.


    • Get Your Beat On
      Sounding out words while critical to language skill development can sometimes be a challenge− especially if a word has multiple syllables to it. Turn frustration into fun by putting it to music. Tap/shake an instrument as kids say each syllable. Music can also allow a child struggling to verbalize words a way to express themselves and their understanding.


    • Pair It
      If your child is struggling to maintain their visual focus, try this activity. Not only will creating the pieces help kids more easily recognize the pictures, but also help build their attention span as they piece their pictures together.


    • Surprise Box
      Think of this like a surprise sensory bin. Exploring an unknown object in a safe space can help decrease your child’s discomfort and fear of new unknowns in the future, while also aiding their processing and communication skill development. Try using uniquely shaped or textured objects!


    • Puppet Play
      Puppets can serve as versatile tools for play and learning. Beyond communicating their emotions, puppets can also be used to practice conversational skills and reinforce learned tasks by having kids teach it to the puppet.


    • Big Art
      Allowing kids to take movement breaks throughout the day can help kids to reset and refocus. Why not turn it into art? Grab some chalk and/or washable markers and let kids use their whole bodies to create larger than life designs.


    • Basket Toss
      Who says a laundry basket is just for dirty clothes? Use it for game time and help build up a child’s gross motor skills in the process.


    • Freeze Dance
      Movement of any kind is great for helping develop a child’s sense of body awareness and balance. Adding a “freeze” element to your dance party can also support kids’ ability to process, organize, and respond to different sounds.


    • Partner Pictures
      Coloring isn’t just a means for self-expression but can be a lesson in modeling appropriate behavior in the process. Demonstrate how to share by asking to borrow a crayon.


  • Snack and Social
    Taking turns and following directions is a critical social skill for daily life. By bringing kids into the kitchen for a real-world, food-based activity, they are learning to work together toward a common goal¬ − and bonus, this one’s edible.