August 16, 2022
After School Sensory Play Activities
The school year is here so that means more structure and routine for your child. This can be both good and bad. On one hand, your Neurodivergent child (Sensory Sensitive Child) might thrive on routine and having a schedule. Yet, the chaos of the school day and the things that they can’t control paired with the constant sensory overload can lead to meltdowns when they get home.
Finding ways to help your child transition from school to home can be a real challenge, especially when you are in the middle of a meltdown with them.
We get it, you are both tired from a long day and the last thing you want to do is be in the midst of an argument, meltdown, or break down. You might not even want to create an after-school routine. But doing so can help you both transition into a more comfortable and relaxed evening.
Transitions don’t have to be filled with tears. After-school transitions are hard for everyone but especially challenging for children with a Sensory Processing Disorder, ADHD, or autism. But there are tools and activities that can help your child seamlessly transition from school to home with ease and minimize tantrums or meltdowns. Sensory play is a technique that helps to minimize the tears and tantrums that your child experiences during these transitions.
Sensory play and sensory activities are beneficial because they help to bring your child back to the present moment while building nerve connections in the brain. They will learn new skills while playing and exploring their world.
What is Sensory Play?
Sensory play includes activities that help to stimulate the brain. For children with sensory processing disorder, ADHD, or autism this mode of play is highly beneficial. Sensory play allows your child to explore their world in a way that supports their development. Using and engaging with their senses encourages your child to think out of the box and learn without even realizing it.
Starting anything new for a child with sensory processing disorder can be overwhelming, so take it slow. Seamless transitions do not always happen right away. Encourage your child along the way, if they make a mistake it is okay. Sensory play is about being creative not about being right or doing something a certain way. The way your child will explore and expand their mind is by learning to grow and maybe even failing. So be patient and encouraging with your child.
Sensory overload can happen to us all, but those with sensory processing disorder have a greater struggle filtering out all of the noise that can be thrust upon them on any given day, especially a school day. Helping them to transition to after school will help them emotionally regulate.
People with a sensory processing disorder, ADHD, or autism have a difficult time processing big emotions. This is not necessarily a bad thing; these children are just wired differently. In order to help your child when they are emotionally dysregulated you will need the tools and understanding to help. Many times, these children will act out and experience behaviors that are challenging for families and the people in their world. Behaviors like acting out, huge outbursts, anger, meltdowns, shutdowns, or even a defiant attitude are examples of these behaviors.
Transitioning to Sensory Play
For children with sensory processing disorder, this transition is very hard. Transitioning from one task to another, or one environment to another can very challenging for them. When your child is trying to move on to the next thing or transition to something else, even something enjoyable, it can leave them feeling tired, irritated, and even overwhelmed. Creating a routine based on simple tools can help to counteract those feelings of irritation and being tired.
Support a Seamless Transition
Helping your child to change clothes when they arrive home can help them to separate the school day from the evening at home. Sending your child to school in clothes such as Compresso-T or seamless socks is a great way to help manage their sensory challenges during the day. The same can be said about returning home. Changing into a new set of these clothes can help them differentiate the two environments as well as feel safe and calm.
Have a Snack
Starting with a snack is one way to help your child transition from one thing to another, especially from school to home. Giving your child a chance to have a break after school and fuel the body with food is a great way to help them transition.
Types of snacks like protein and healthy fats are great for your child’s brain. If your child has ADHD or autism, a diet that is higher in protein and healthy fats and lower in processed carbohydrates has been shown to improve brain function and focus. Help your child by helping them eat the right foods. Sometimes a snack like some fruit after protein can help them to get a boost of focus as well.
Make Sure to Move
Move on to activities that are either physical or allow your child to let emotions move through their body. Those who have ADHD, autism, or a sensory processing disorder will tend to have a dysregulated nervous system and accompanying emotions. Children who battle with dysregulation benefit from somatic techniques.
Some examples of somatic techniques are deep breathing exercises and sculpting with clay. The purpose of somatic techniques is to support the body in releasing energy that is pent up or bottled up within the body. This bottled-up feeling can lead to meltdowns, big emotions, or even a complete shutdown.
Sensory play and somatic techniques can help your child to move through these big and often times overwhelming emotions.
If your child has been exerting mental energy all day, you and your child may find it helpful to do things that are more physical in nature so as not to overstimulate your child’s brain.
Sensory Play Activities
1. Play with Clay
Not only is playing with clay relaxing and calming, but it also helps to develop coordination and motor skills. While your child uses their hands to create, they are also using the muscle groups in their fingers and hands. These skills will also help to benefit them in school with tasks like writing and typing.
2. Sensory Breathing
Breathing exercises help to manage negative emotions. This is especially helpful for those with sensory processing disorder. In addition to managing negative or big emotions, breathing and mindfulness exercises will help your child learn easy techniques that do not just help at home when transitioning from school. These tools can also help when your child is at school and facing a hard or particularly overwhelming situation.
If you have a swing in or outside of your house, this is a great activity for your sensory-sensitive child. Benefits of movement include strengthening your body and your mind as well as confidence. Movement relaxes you and allows your body to feel a sense of calm. This sense of calm comes from your ability to move emotions through your body as you move. Another benefit is balance. Balance and the awareness of the body in the physical space around you is something that children and people with a sensory processing disorder, ADHD, and autism can struggle with. Doing exercises like walking, yoga, or even running and playing outside can help your child to feel confident in the space around them.
4. Sensory Mud
This is a very tactile activity and will help your child to develop and improve motor skills. Letting your child get a little messy is a great way to let them be creative. Use this recipe to create an edible and easy-to-make sensory mud.
Ingredients: Cocoa powder or hot chocolate mix, flour, mixing bowl. And a whisk or spoon.
Method: Mix 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder or hot chocolate mix and 1 cup of the flour of your choosing into a bowl. Next, slowly mix in ¾ to 1 cup of water. Mix until you have a mud-like consistency.
5. What's in the Bag?
Place an item in the bag such as a banana, a toy, or something soft inside of a brown paper bag. Have your child feel around inside of the bag with their eyes closed. If they do not like to close their eyes, then have your child look away from the bag. Have them explain what they are feeling. Ask them questions about the item. For example, is it soft? Is it firm? Does the item have sides that are straight, or do they curve around?
A Sense of Calm
Sensory processing disorder can be challenging and overwhelming to both you and your child. But there are ways to help manage and work through these challenges. Working with your child to help them learn better coping skills and ways of working through their thoughts and emotions will not only help them to transition from school to home but will also become the building blocks for tools as they become adults. Learning techniques that help to support your child to feel calm doesn’t have to be hard. We hope that these tools and activities help you and your child connect, find calm, and navigate their emotions. Transitions don’t have to be filled with tears.