Homemade Sensory Diet for Summer

I love to find new blogs out there that have great new ideas, but what I love even more, is a GOOD idea for Sensory Processing Disorder -- so imagine my thrill when I stumbled upon Training Happy Hearts with an entire post dedicated to Sensory Diet activites that were frugal, homemade, and just plain fun!  It is not an exaggeration to say I was giddy.  I just had to get to know the blog author -- and convince her to share her ideas with my readers.

Lucky for me, she was willing to share her most awesome, reusable, creative, and summer-adventure inspired ideas with us!  Meet Martianne Stranger, full time mom and learner, part time teacher, tutor and blogger at Training Happy Hearts.

This isn't your momma's old Sensory Diet -- this is fresh and new -- and will change your perspective from 'I have to get some Sensory Diet in' to 'What sensory fun can we have today?"

Get ready to hit print on your computer -- and please share it on your Facebook -- these are great ideas.


Sensory Fun in the Sun (or Shade)

Summer is coming. Time to grab your shades – your SPD lenses that is! And, looking through them, solve this simple equation:

Summer + SPD = ???

Did you say “extra challenges”?

How about “opportunities”?

I say, “Both!” For as any SPD parent or educator understands, the change of seasons can present some extra challenges. Yet, many also recognize it offers chances for Sensory Fun in the Sun! Out on the trails, at the beach or on the playground, with just a few homemade and re-purposed materials –plus looking at life through SPD lenses – summertime can be enjoyed in the sun or made in the shade. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Out on the Trails: Tiny Treasure Egg Carton Walks (for Tactile Olfactory, Proprioception, Gross Motor and Fine Motor fun)

Grab some egg cartons and go! What could be simpler than that?

Head to your back woods or any nearby green space and enjoy a family nature walk. The more hills the better – since walking up and down them works those muscles! Fallen trees for balancing, large rocks for lifting and looking under, plus varied trail floors (think sand, packed dirt, gravel, etc.) are all extra bonuses. Not only do they add to the adventure, but they help feed the senses a richer diet!

Once on the trail, challenge every hiker with you to fill each section of an egg carton with a different tiny treasure. And, while you are at it, for younger children who tire of carrying things quickly, or for any child who needs both hands for balance, consider, bringing along a back pack to hold the egg carton, or simply use a plastic shopping bag with one hole over each of the child’s shoulders, as a make shift back pack. Then, when you get back, explore each collected item, talking about its texture, trying to identify its name, even sketching things if you like.

Looking through your SPD Lenses:

This activity feeds the tactile sense due to the textures of objects found as well as those brushed against while hiking. Plus, if you have tough feet and are in a safe place, the trail floor can give a little extra sensation – nothing wrong with going barefoot!

Trails are full of different scents. Breathe deeply and take them all in for some olfactory sense stimulation!

Climbing hills, moving up and down along trails and lifting logs, rocks and debris to search for tiny treasures are all effective proproceptive activities.

The trunk, leg and arm muscles are employed to navigate the trails, providing gross motor activity, while using the pincer grasp to pick up objects and place them in the egg carton sections provides fine motor focus.


(1) Before heading out to the trails, print pictures of, or sketch, 12 small objects. Tape these to the top of your egg cartons and challenge everyone to scavenge for similar items to fill their egg cartons with.

(2) At the trailhead, brainstorm 12 or more small objects you might find that would fit in the sections. Race to find them and fill the egg cartons.

(3) Have a contest to see who can find the most unique items. The most of a specific color in varying shades (think browns, greens, grays –and visual discrimination, too!); the most variation in textures (prickly, sandy, smooth, rough, hard, etc.); the most examples of any one kind of thing (seeds, rocks, leaves, etc.) or the most differently scented items (think pine, blooms, hummus, etc.)

(4) Tie the walk to themes of interest or study – rocks and minerals, identifying tress types by examining leaves and bark, finding plant parts, using one side of the carton for living and one side for non-living things, etc.

(5) Enjoy some fine motor artistry by breaking out pens, pencils, paint or other art mediums after hiking, to create pictures based on objects found. Or, grab glue and paper and make a collage.

For additional egg carton walk ideas, see 7 Egg Carton Nature Walks at Squidoo .

At the Beach: Kerplink-Kerplunk (Auditory, Visual, Proprioception, Gross Motor, Fine Motor and a touch of Gustatory Fun)

Got a bucket? How about a plastic shopping bag? And, some crunchy snacks? Then, you are all set for this simple, but kid-proven activity.

Head to your nearest beach. It doesn’t matter if it’s at the ocean, near a pond, along a river or even just a mock-one made from a kiddie pool in your yard. Once there, hand out buckets or shopping bags and ask everyone to fill them with as many different sizes, shapes and colors of rocks as they can. Finally, gather round the waterline, make sure there’s no one in the water in front of you and start tossing the collected rocks in– one at a time – listening for whether they make a “kerplink” (light splashing) or “kerplunk” (heavy splashing) sound. Then, when arms start getting tired, pull out those crunchy snacks for a break and some gustatory stimulation.)Think salty, sweet, tangy, spicy and/or chewy when packing them!)

Looking Through Your SPD Lenses:

Listening for the sound of the rocks as they splash into the water, of course provides auditory stimulation. Try closing your eyes as you throw to really help you focus on the “kerplink” as versus “kerplunk” sounds for auditory discrimination practice. And, while you’re tuned in, enjoy noting all the other sounds at the shoreline – bird calls, breezes, laughter, etc

Searching the shore for different sizes, shapes and colors of rocks offers visual stimulation. And, if you’re prone to over-stimulation, shades and/or a wide brimmed beach hat can help!

Carrying the heavy rocks, as well as throwing them into the water works the proprioceptive sense. Try throwing the rocks underhand, overhand, like a fastball pitcher, with two hands, through the legs, and so on to ensure even more muscles and joints get used!

And, of course, the walking and throwing work the gross motor muscles, while the picking up of rocks works the fine motor ones.

Noting the flavors of snacks, not to mention tasting the sensation of sprayed sea or fresh water, offers some gustatory stimulation.


(1) Try to predict which rocks will make a “kerplink” sound and which will make a “kerplunk” sound before tossing them in. Test if the size or shape of rocks makes a difference. How about the way in which they are thrown?

(2) In addition to rocks, collect different natural objects to throw into the water – twigs, sea glass, stones, pebbles, sand... Which ones make what kind of sounds? Do some sink and some float? Experiment and get some extra tactile sensations going as each type of object is grasped to be tossed in.

(3) Make a rain storm by first throwing a few rocks in quick succession, or all at once, and then throwing a big handful or rocks or sand. Try to simulate the start of a storm, a driving rain shower, a mere pitter patter, etc.

(4) Have contests to see who can throw rocks the farthest, make the biggest splash, disturb the surface of the water the least, skip rocks, etc.

(5) Try splashing rocks into the water without using your hands. Balance one on an elbow or knee and jerk that body part away. Hold one under your chin, walk into the water and let it drop. Try to hip check one into the water. (Just be extra careful to give everyone space when experimenting like this, so no rock goes astray, injuring a bystander!)

On the Playground: Animal Adventure (Vestibular, Proprioception, Oral-Motor, Motor Planning, Gross Motor and Speech Fun)

Tuck a book with some animal pictures in it, some animal flashcards or simply a few printouts of zoo animals, pets, bugs or wild animals into a backpack.

Walk to your swingset, playscape or nearest playground. On the way over, make up a story about whatever type of animal you have pictures of at the zoo, in the jungle, lost in your neighborhood, surviving through different seasons... If possible, have everyone add a bit to the story, making it as adventurous and fantastic as possible.

When you get to the playground, pull out your animal cards and make the story come alive. Have your child pretend to be the different animals facing obstacles by using the playground equipment in unique ways. Be sure to encourage all to make animal sounds, too, to get those oral-motor skills going!

For example, you might say “Once upon a time, there was a monkey who swang from a tree...” while you child chooses to “belly swing” for some vestibular stimulation or to hang from high bar for some procprioceptive fun. Then, you might continue, “Oops, he fell down and found himself on the jungle floor, with bushes and branches thick around him. Could he crawl around and find his way to a clearing?” The child, at this point, might choose to crawl through and under different equipment. And, then, you might say, “Whoops! He ended up on a muddy hill and began sliding down it!” At which point your child might take the sliding cue to shimmy down a pole, whiz down a slide or bottom-slide along the ground, until you say, “Yikes, he landed in alligator infested water.” This, in turn, might cause your child to try to find a piece of equipment to get up and balance on. Or, perhaps, it will be time for him to become the alligator...

Of course, with a great imagination, you don’t need animal pictures to do this activity, but they do help many children formulate ideas about what to do. And, also, can give them the cues they need to help them make suggestions for advancing stories themselves.

Looking Through Your SPD Lenses:

Balancing on, and swinging from, different equipment provides vestibular input.

Using muscles to pull, climb, hang, etc. provides proprioceptive challenge.

Making animal sounds like hissing, monkey calls and alligator snap jaws give oral-motor stimuli. And, of course, the more exaggerated and silly the sounds – and the more animals imitated – the better!

Figuring out, and following through on, how to travel over, under and through different equipment requires motor planning.

Adding to the story encouraged speech.


(1) Be different sized animals trying to use the same piece of equipment. How would a mouse stretch to get on the piece? How would it travel across it? How about an elephant trying to balance on it? A kangaroo leaping on and off it? Encourage lots of stretching, contracting and pretending with this idea.

(2) If you’ve got several in the crowd, secretly show each child a different animal picture and then announce to all what the playground is – a jungle, a seaside, a zoo, etc. On “go”, have each child make the scene come alive, using animal calls as they pretend each piece of equipment is a different object in the imaginary location. A swing becomes a vine. A platform becomes a boat. A jungle gym becomes a cage...
(3) Pick one animal and a single piece of equipment. Try to imagine how many ways the animal might use the equipment – as a feeding trough, a scratching post, a nesting area, a climbing obstacle... Keep going until no one has a suggestion to enact. Then, try a different piece of equipment.

(4) Name a location. Have child tell you what each piece of equipment could be at that location. Then, pick an animal and have fun exploring the playground-cum-location.

(5) Be the animals trying to make it across quicksand pit. Use playground equipment, large rocks, etc. to try to get across the entire playground without touching the sinking sand. (Older children especially like the challenge of trying to do this – stretching, jumping, arm-swinging, etc. to get from one object to the next without touching the ground.)

Whatever you do – sunshine or share – simply wear your SPD lenses, get out and have fun this summer. Sensory fun, a good dose of Vitamin D, await you.

For more simple, homemade sensory fun ideas, see the Sensory and Skills post at Training Happy Hearts.


I hope you are all inspired to have some great Sensory Diet adventures this spring and summer-- the teacher in me (we are all our children's first and BEST teacher), is feeling motivated to look at life just a little bit differently -- that is such an easy thing to forget, right?  You have to make sensory diet fun -- and not just to keep your kids interested!

Do you have homemade Sensory Diet ideas?  Something awesome you do?  Leave it in the comments below, or blog about it and leave the link to your post in the comments below (I have challenged all of the SPDBN members to leave links -- so check out their ideas too!).  Spread the word!  We need all the help we can with summer right around the corner.  : )

Can't wait to read your ideas!


Martianne @ Training Happy Hearts said...

I am so honored to have been asked to guest post on your site, Hartley. You are an a amazing mom and SPD advocate with incredible idea and talent and a much-appreciated way of bringing SPD parents and educators together. Thank you!

Your Therapy Source Inc said...

Great post. Here are some more fun activity ideas to try this summer to encourage sensory processing skills:

Rock Smash

Create, Hide and Lace

Tree House Kids

Water Obstacle Course

Have fun outdoors this summer!

Caitlin Wray said...

Wonderful ideas Martianne! Thank you Hartley for challenging all of us at SPDBN to post additional summer sensory activities. Here's mine:

Start a small, easy garden with your child in the backyard (or your patio or balcony). Any outdoor space will do. If you don't have a conventional in-ground plot already, consider raised beds (http://organicgardening.about.com/od/startinganorganicgarden/a/raisedbed.htm), or a simple container garden (http://www.kidsgardening.com/growingideas/projects/feb03/pg1.html). This project can be as big or small as you want!

1. Let your child choose the types of plants you will grow. A veggie garden with super crisp & crunchy veggies (cucumbers, snap peas, carrots) for oral seekers? A pizza garden (oregano, basil, tomatoes, green peppers) for picky eaters? Or even an edible flower garden to encourage more daring food choices (nasturtiums and pansies look beautiful on homemade cupcakes - let your child get messy with the flour, eggs, and icing - all sensory activities - then top with flowers they've grown themselves).

2. Let your child do the dirty work, literally! Have your child fill containers (if using) with rocks for drainage and soil, and get down on hands and knees to plant seeds. Let those little hands feel all of nature's earthy textures.

3. Heavy work is a key sensory input - let your child dig, rake or hoe, help with the wheelbarrow, or haul the watering can.

4. Observe who lives in the garden and what they feel like on our skin - let a ladybug or inch worm crawl across your arm and encourage your child to do the same.

5. Children can harvest their own food, and then help cook it in the kitchen. Don't forget to take photos of the process at each step from seeding to harvest, then compile into a book (with sticky tape or glue for added sensory work) for your child to proudly display :)

Dig deep and get dirty this summer!


Alysia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alysia said...

What terrific ideas! I can't wait to try some of them. Summer tends to be a challenging time, so I appreciate all the new ideas to try! And I love the image of putting on my SPD lenses - I will be encouraging all my family members to do that.

Some of my summer "sensory" activities will include :
- bunny hop walks to the neighbor's pool (jumping over the cracks in the sidewalk on our way there)
-backyard obstacle course for all the kids
-digging, loading and sitting in the mini rock pile behind our house

We'll be having a special summer sensory challenge coming up with my mother's wedding this summer, so I'll be blogging about how to make that a fun and sensory safe weekend for my son.



Heather B said...

Thanks Martianne for the fabulous ideas! It's always great to have a few tools in the back of my mind to use on those days when my brain isn't functioning well!

Spring, summer, fall... They all lend themselves so nicely to sensory diets! Feel free to check out a little of what we've been up to so far this season! (http://brotherlyloveejkp@blogspot.com)

Chynna said...

GREAT stuff here!

Okay, we're trying to move a few of Jaimie's INSIDE SD stuff to OUTSIDE. You can check out some of our ideas so far like Pool Noodle Soccer, Mama's Sensory Garden and Squirt Tag over at "The Gift" (http://www.the-gift-blog.com/2010/05/whats-sensational-scoop-summertime-fun.html)

Thanks for getting us thinking Martianne and Hartley. SO IMPORTANT to have the SD changed and 'upped' to keep things fun and interesting.


Casdok said...

Some very interesting ideas :)

Jess said...

Great ideas here, Martianne and others too! I'm making some serious notes for things to do this summer. Here is my contribution to the challenge:


Mia @ Finding Balance said...

Great ideas. How wonderful to share them here. I'm always struck by just how expensive it is to provide a recommended sensory diet...and summer break almost sends chills through my body with the mere mention. LOL. Thank You.

Keri said...

Can't wait to try out these great ideas! Here's what we'll be up to this summer for sensory fun:

Martianne @ Training Happy Hearts said...

By the way, if anyone is looking for some good animal cards to use with the playground idea, I just listed a handful at http://traininghappyhearts.blogspot.com/2010/06/resource-roundup-of-animal-card-links.html

Doclink Diets said...

Wow! You certainly have your hand full. Wonder when you find the time to write the blog. Good to see you also have a sense of humour about a lot of things

Anonymous said...

Excellent! What a great way to give them the diet they need, by adding in adventure and taking out extra calories. LOL! Wonderful and useful ideas for all our kids. :)

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful article! A great bunch of ideas for kids of all abilities. You added in adventure and exploring and took out any extra calories. LOL! I just may use this as we wrap up our summer. Cheers!

Jack son said...

Really every children get pleasure in the playground place for playground equipment.

carlos blan said...

Playground equipment has evolved to make things more fun for kids. Wilkins Solutions provides playground equipment in Orlando for schools, hotels, apartments and more. playgorund equipment Orlando.