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Sensory Activities

By Patricia Morgan - NATHHAN NEWS Spring 1997


    Patricia Morgan is a teacher of profoundly retarded, medically fragile children and infants in home, school, and nursing home settings. She began working with handicapped children in 1969.

For a copy of the booklet "Sensory Activities" write to Patricia Morgan

12756 Kahlenberg Lane North Hollywood, CA 91607

When planning a home schooling program for a young child with severe physical problems and mental delays, sensory stimulation activities will prove to be an important part of each day. It will not only increase learning, but also be fun!

The baby or child who is limited in motion and or one or more of his senses will be missing out on important learning activities. You, as parent-teacher, can help your child to experience sensory activities by guided learning.

Visual Stimulation

A child learns by seeing. A baby sees things long before he can reach and feel them with his hands. When a baby sees something, he studies it, he learns to recognize it then he learns to connect the meaning of it with something else. With a child who is profoundly retarded, the brain may not function properly and therefore he may see something but not be able to react to it.

The best way to encourage vision is to provide very intense and interesting visual items such as lights. In a totally dark room, to eliminate distractions, show your child various colored lights. Christmas lights (use them all year), lighted toys, and flashlights behind colored paper or cloth are all helpful means of increasing focus, tracking and attention span. Hold the lights close to your child. Tell your child about the lights and colors, doing the various lights 15 to 30 minutes daily.

Auditory Stimulation

A child learns by hearing. Auditory cues lead a baby to the development of thought, receptive and expressive language. You can help your child learn to listen by offering sounds in a quiet room such as musical instruments, tapping on metal pans or water filled glasses, squeak or animal noise toys, tape recordings of real animal and household sounds (telephone, doorbell, water running etc.). Tell what each sound is. Musical tapes can be used as a teamed activity.

Music and Movement – Exercise and tap your child’s body in time to the music.

Music and Textures – Your child’s body can be tapped with different textures (feather duster, pom-pom, sponge etc.) in time to music. If your child is stiff and unable to move, you will see them increase in relaxation after doing this activity for 30 minutes.

Tactile Stimulation

A disabled child often does not get the opportunities to explore his surroundings by using his sense of touch. Because of his physical condition he may be isolated in a wheelchair or other specialized equipment. He may also be overdressed, protected from playing in the mud or sand, kept on a blanket or mat and therefore misses many tactile play experiences a normal baby or small child has.

Your child’s hands can be helped to feel many objects - different kinds of cloth and ribbons, naming each material. Kitchen utensils: metal pots, sifters, towels, brushes, etc.,

Nature items: leaves, grasses. Seed pods, Water: soapy, icy, carbonated. The list can go on and on. Take a wooden rolling pin, a sponge paint roller and a furry paint roller and roll them on your child’s body, arms and legs. Your child may also enjoy being helped to use play dough, finger paint, foot paint, or plant seeds in soil.

Olfactory and Gustatory Stimulation

A disabled child’s use of his sense of smell can aid him in increasing his awareness and identification of his surroundings. Going along with the sense of smell is the sense of touch. A baby, of course, uses his mouth for eating and for pleasure. Sucking, chewing on toys, tasting foods all progress to eating. A disabled child, especially one who is tube fed, misses out on those experiences. Or an opposite problem may be the child, who past the toddler age, continues to put objects in his mouth, or has excessive drooling, Olfactory and gustatory activities such as scratch and sniff stickers, cooking extract bottles (vanilla, peppermint, anise etc.) scented lotions, cut citrus fruits and vegetables (orange, lemon, green pepper, etc.) can be introduced to your child daily.

In summary, you can see that there are hundreds of sensory stimulation activities that can be done with your child as a homeschooling program to increase tactile, visual, auditory, gustatory and olfactory awareness. Have fun!