Setting up a home sensory space

Nov 4 • Local Resources • 2354 Views • Comments Off on Setting up a home sensory space

Kleinkind sitzt auf grossem Ball in der Physiotherapie

By Joanna Blanchard, MOTR/L

Buying and finding space for sensory equipment at home can be daunting, but every space has potential.  As the weather turns us indoors, here are some ideas. 

What to get:

  • First determine the sensory input your child needs. What ramps your child up and what calms him? What draws her like a moth to a flame? What does he fear? Make a list and the pattern will emerge.
  • Peruse online therapy catalogs such as Southpaw and Fun and Function to get ideas. Think, “How can I do that on a smaller scale?”
  • There are some items on which you should splurge for safety, such as suspension equipment. Others you can make.
  • Determine what you already have. If you are open to turning your living room into an obstacle course, let the kids use couch cushions as long as they put them back when finished.
  • For the kiddo who needs down time, build pillow forts or chair tents with sheets. Put a bean bag and a Lite-Brite in there and you have a sweet little cave for some quiet down time after school.
  • For one who needs a period of free movement, a swing or mini trampoline can be great. Trampolines can be found in most stores with sporting goods, such as Target or Big-5.
  • If your child is seeking out something dangerous like jumping off furniture, think of a safer version. Are you okay with them jumping off the trampoline into the couch? Is it the impact or the movement they seek and how can you adapt it?
  • Pinterest is an amazing resource. There you can find ideas for DIY sensory bins, air mattresses, foam-filled crash pads, games and more. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel.
  • Thrift stores and garage sales are your friends. We’ve found mini trampolines, trikes and mats from various sources. Check eBay for deals.
  • Think out of the box; it doesn’t have to be equipment. One of our favorites was an old cracked guitar found at Goodwill. Plucking provided calming vibration and tones.
  • Ikea and Amazon have a lot of cute options for hanging chairs and cushions that can pass for kid “furniture” and provide plenty of input.
  • Trial first and then invest in the “real” thing from the catalog. Ask family to go in together at a birthday for the expensive items.


Before you buy, decide where it will go. 

  • Choose your room/corner. Will your desired equipment fit?
  • Remember growing up in the ’70s and ’80s? We had “rec-rooms.” Today’s family room often has expensive audio/visual equipment. Is there a place you can designate for rough play without causing anxiety?
  • Basements or garages often have support beams for swings.
  • Is there a nook somewhere where big comfortable pillows and canvas bins can create a little cave?
  • Swings are easily unclipped and hidden when company comes over, and mini trampolines can be tucked in the coat closet.

How to Use It? 

  • For the kids who seek movement, show them the materials that are okay to use (“These cushions, bean bag, NOT the leather cushions”) to build obstacle courses. Help them determine how to use it in an organized way instead of a free-for-all.
  • Have them complete activities for sustained periods of time instead of short bursts. If it’s not enough, add intensity, such as using Koosh balls to hunt and find or stuffed animals to weight a backpack. Compression garments, music, smells (essential oils) or chewy tubes/gum can all add input during activities.
  • Another example is to scatter pillows as “lily pads” in the living room.  Be frogs and jump from pillow to pillow carrying one baby “frog” (stuffed animals or Koosh balls) at a time to the “log” or couch. Add weights to ankles for intensity, change the jumping patterns, or be different animals and repeat with the goal to “rescue” all of the baby frogs.
  • Stick with it, redirect when they are distracted and don’t be discouraged. If something doesn’t work, try a different way. Let your child lead and they will often be incredibly creative.
  • You must set boundaries. Many times parents are reluctant to say “no” to an activity because they are told that the child needs sensory input. All children, no matter what difficulties they have, need clear boundaries for safety. All of our kids are sensory learners, rough and tumble play is essential for development, but so is learning safety.
  • Don’t forget to take them outside. Mud pies and leaf piles are just as effective and rain increases intensity. Get dirty. A bath afterwards is a great time for shaving cream in the tub.
  • Use these opportunities to teach self-regulation. You’ve done the obstacle course nine times, six blanket burritos and swung for 20 minutes. Mom is tired and needs to cook dinner. Say, “More is not a choice right now. You need to slow your body down. Here’s your bean bin to help you switch gears.”
  • Offer alternatives to active movement such as blowing bubbles, playing with putty or Play-doh, or tactile bins. Promote and teach quiet independent play without you once you’ve prepped them.
  • You may meet with some resistance at first, but stay strong.  You’ve prepared them for learning with all the sensory work you’ve done, and sticking to it will teach self-control, organization and self-awareness.
  • Remember that your child will change. They all do. Part of the wonder of learning for all people is the novelty. What works like magic now may not work forever—the kid who never gets dizzy will someday get off that swing and fall over.
  • Rejoice! Because his vestibular system is FINALLY registering, and then work on finding new strategies together.

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