A Diverse Sensory Diet for Creativity

The term “Sensory Diet” was first coined by Occupational Therapist Patricia Wilbarger. Basically, a Sensory Diet is a carefully designed, personalized activity plan that provides the sensory input a person needs to stay focused and organized throughout the day.

I first heard about it when my oldest child, who is on the autism spectrum, was receiving Early Intervention therapy as a toddler. It’s still used primarily in a therapy context, but I think the concept of a diverse sensory diet has great merit for all kids.

When we think about a sensory diet, we’re talking about the ways that a person gets information from their environment.

  • Auditory Input (sounds)
  • Visual Input (sights)
  • Olfactory Input (smells)
  • Tactile Input (touch)
  • Gustatory Input (taste)
  • Vestibular Input (sense of movement)
  • Proprioceptive Input (body sense)

When most people talk about sensory diets, they’re referring to things that can help an overstimulated person calm down and an understimulated person perk up. We recently helped a local family bring great peace to their home by giving their highly energized and often aggressive son some deep pressure activities. Sensory diets are great for that kind of thing. But for this week’s theme of inspiring creativity, we want to explore a different way of using sensory diets.

If you have a child who may be struggling with sensory issues, check out Raising a Sensory Smart Child or The Out of Synch Child.

A specific sensory diet can do wonders for many kids who are having sensory-related challenges, but we believe that deliberately offering your kids a wide range of sensory experiences can also help stimulate thinking, focus and creativity.

It doesn’t have to be a prescribed daily plan like you would get if your child were working with an occupational therapist. But we can make deliberate choices to help boost our children’s creativity by intentionally offering them a very diverse palette of sensory experiences.

Auditory Input (sounds)

  • In our post earlier this week about How to Build a Creative Environment, we talked about filling your home with a wide range of music.
  • Introduce your kids to nature sounds and white noise, and encourage them to experiment with sound.
  • Blow in bottles.
  • Experiment with making music with various household items.
  • Draw attention to the importance of pauses in music and speaking.
  • Go for listening walks, and challenge your kids to find 20 different sounds as you stroll through the neighborhood.

Visual Input (sights)

  • Give them shiny, spinning, moving objects to look at.
  • Offer a wide range of activities that stimulate hand-to-eye coordination such as threading beads on a string, doing maze puzzles and tracing pictures.
  • Find hidden pictures (Highlights Magazine has great ones).
  • Go through Where’s Waldo and I Spy books.
  • Play with kaleidoscopes.
  • Make shadow puppets on the wall.
  • Play flashlight tag games.

Olfactory Input (smells)

  • Draw their attention to the smell of things as they play (crayons, play dough, paints, markers, glue, etc.).
  • Some animals find their mommies by smell. Play a game where you pair kids up and give each partner a matching smell. For example, one team might have an old film container with coffee beans. Another team might have a cotton ball with lavender oil. Another team might a bag of potpourri. Another pair could have a small bottle of vanilla extract. Each team member holds something with their smell. The whole group then goes out to an open field and is blind folded. They have to find their partner by finding the scent that matches the one they are holding.
  • Have a “Guess That Smell” contest.

Tactile Input (touch)

Give kids a wide range of touch sensations.

  • Hide little toys in a big tote full of rice and let the kids go treasure hunting in the rice.
  • Put a sand box outside or visit the beach. Here in Sarasota, we have Siesta Key – the #1 Beach in America. We’re pretty sure it got that distinction because of it’s amazing sand. Whenever we go to other beaches, which is pretty often, we draw everyone’s attention to the differences in the sand.
  • Let them play in water.
  • Use an electric massager to tickle the bottom of their feet, their scalp, their back…let them experience how it feels different on different parts of their body.
  • Let them walk around outside barefoot. This is a tough one for me, especially because we live in the land of fire ants, but I try to find ways to give them barefoot experiences, like at the beach and the water park and the bounce house playground. If you live in places where the grass is soft (it’s not down here), let them run barefoot through the grass.
  • Cover a table in shaving cream and let them draw in it, squish it in their fingers and rub it on their arms and face.
  • Stock the house with all different textured materials to play with — silk, cotton, sand paper, tissue paper, wrapping paper, glass beads, pom-poms, etc.

Gustatory Input (taste)

  • Try different tastes and textures.
  • Have a “Guess that food” contest.
  • Talk about all different tastes (spicy, bitter, salty, sweet, sour).

Vestibular Input (sense of movement)

The body sense vestibular sensation in the inner ear. Amazingly, when we stimulate this sense, it promotes language development!

  • Spend time on swings and slides.
  • Go on amusement park rides.
  • Spin kids on spinning chairs.
  • Bounce kids on gymnastics balls.
  • Swing kids from side to side in big blankets.
  • Watch TV upside down.

Proprioceptive Input (body sense)

Proprioception is the capacity of the body to determine where all of its parts are. The proprioceptors are nerves located in the muscles, joints and ligaments. Some scientists believe that when stimulated, the proprioceptors can help us become calm, focused and help our brain store and organize information.

  • Deep pressure is a great example of how proprioception can help calm a person. When my son was little, he had a lead-weighted blanket and a weighted vest that helped him become calm when he was overstimulated.
  • Ever felt the need to stretch during an intense study session? It might not have been just to loosen stiff joints. Stretching can help relax and focus the nervous system. We are wise to have our kids get in the habit of stretching a few times a day.
  • Running and jumping are great ways to stimulate proprioceptors.
  • Push heavy things.
  • Jump on a pogo stick or trampoline.
  • Have kids play on monkey bars

Stop in tomorrow. We’ll be talking about the things that can kill creativity.

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody are Christian, homeschooling moms with ten kids between them (ages 1 to 30), including one on the autism spectrum, plus one baby grandchild. Together they host a weekly syndicated parenting radio show, write a weekly newspaper column, freelance for a variety of publications, teach parenting and homeschooling workshops and seminars, speak at conventions and conferences and coach individual families. They are passionate about encouraging and equipping families to Parent On Purpose (POP) with the end result in mind.

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Jenni and Jody are Christian, homeschooling moms with ten kids between them (ages 1 to 30), including one on the autism spectrum, plus one baby grandchild. Together they host a weekly syndicated parenting radio show, write a weekly newspaper column, freelance for a variety of publications, teach parenting and homeschooling workshops and seminars, speak at conventions and conferences and coach individual families. They are passionate about encouraging and equipping families to Parent On Purpose (POP) with the end result in mind.

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