Lots of kids struggle getting up in the morning, getting out the door, or being focused at school or daycare. Use these 7 morning sensory routines full of sensory activities and positive parenting skills!
It’s a story I’ve heard 1000 times…
They’re so irritable when they wake up in the morning, they cry/yell/tantrum/start fights, won’t eat breakfast…
They’re so wild in the morning, it’s difficult to get them to get ready for school/daycare, let alone eat something…
They manage to get up and out the door alright, but then, they are out of control at school, not being able to sit still, pay attention, or follow any of the teacher’s directions…
In each of these situations, the child is likely struggling with their sensory processing. They’re in a state of dysregulation and they don’t know what to do about it.
But, you can help them get into a state of regulation where they’re calm and focused with a simple morning sensory routine!
What is a Morning Sensory Routine?
A morning sensory routine is planning and offering simple sensory activities and strategies when your child wakes up that help balance and regulate the sensory system, often positively impacting the rest of their day.
These activities can be as simple as dimming the lights for 5 minutes before the alarm goes off. Or, they could be more specific like jumping on the trampoline for 10 minutes before hopping on the bus.
I’ll give you lots of examples and some beginning steps to provide the best activities to meet your child’s needs in just a minute.
Does Your Kid Need a Morning Sensory Routine?
But first, I want to clarify which kids need a morning sensory routine.
Of course, not every child needs one. If your child gets up consistently pleasant and is able to move through their day as you’d expect them to based on their age, then they don’t need a morning sensory routine.
Sensory activities are incredibly beneficial though for every child’s development, so feel free to use these ideas with any child.
Kids that might benefit from a morning sensory routine may:
- Struggle with waking up and moving forward with their day
- Don’t seem like themselves, are irritable, or cry a lot when waking up and for up to several hours afterwards
- Bounce off the walls and struggle to slow down enough to eat or get dressed
- Have a hard time sitting still, playing with peers, or learning at school or daycare because of their sensory needs
- Have a hard time transitioning from the house to school or daycare in the morning
If your child has any of the above challenges, a morning sensory routine can make a drastic difference in their ability to calm down and focus.
How to Create a Morning Sensory Routine for YOUR Child
Whenever we talk about sensory processing, which is a function of the brain, it’s important to know that it’s a unique experience for every child. Meaning, the routine that works for one child may not work for another.
And, what works one day may not work the next, because a child’s sensory processing fluctuates as a result of the changing environments they’re in at any given moment as well as how well rested they are and what they’ve eaten.
Learn more about sensory processing here.
Having said that, children love predictability and the routine itself so you may not need to change the aspects of your routine at all from day to day.
In the next section, I’ll share lots of examples of morning sensory routines that will give you a good starting point, but you may need to make some tweaks and changes to nail down the most helpful routine for your child.
Don’t hesitate to experiment and customize the routine for your child.
Get started creating your custom morning routine with these steps:
#1. Decide what your goal is for the morning routine. Is it to help them wake up easier? Focus at school? Be more calm in the morning? Identifying the change you’d like to see will help you narrow in on the right morning sensory routine.
#2. Consider which activities you think they’ll respond positively too. This isn’t a time to work on getting them used to getting their hands messy or riding a swing, if they’re uncomfortable with those activities. The morning sensory routine is about regulating their sensory system. Think of this as grounding them or leveling out their sensory needs.
Some sensory activities and strategies can wind kids up, making them more hyper as well. You’ll want to avoid those types of activities too, unless of course your goal is to increase their energy levels!
#3. Experiment with different routines and watch for their reaction. If you try bouncing on a yoga ball and they cry more, think about using some of the more gentle activities.
Or, if you use joint compressions and it only seemed to help their hyperactivity a little, then you likely need some more intense movements to help them reach that regulated state.
*If all this sensory talk is a little confusing, my free workshop 3 Expert Secrets to Calm and Focus Your Child with Specialized Sensory Activities can help you understand and begin using the right sensory strategies and activities for your child. Click here to get a seat!
Examples of Morning Sensory Routines from Babies to Teens
You’ll find examples of morning sensory routines below for babies, toddlers and preschoolers, school aged kids, and teens. Most ages have two variations, one for more sensitive kids and one for more active children. The sensory way to say this is sensory avoiders and sensory seekers!
Remember, these examples are a starting point. If you have specific questions about which activities will be the most helpful for your child, leave them in the comments so we can point you in the right direction!
Morning Sensory Routine for Babies
- Wake up to dim, soft light
- Snuggle and rock in rocking chair for a few minutes
- Nurse or give bottle while snuggled (sucking is a very calming)
- Burp with firm taps to back
- Wear baby in a wrap to keep upright after eating and lots of proprioception for 15-30 minutes
- Lay baby on floor on tummy and set up black and white or sharp contrast images/toys for them to look at and play with
You may look at this routine and think it looks very similar to what most parents would do with a baby, and you’re right.
But, being intentional about a few steps in this routine can make sure you’re amplifying their sensory input which supports their development.
The good news is a lot of baby toys and seating options are designed to give lots of sensory input. Bouncy seats, swings, and wraps all are sensory activities.
Other activities you could include are: sitting in the bouncy seat, playing in an edible sensory bin (for older babies), or playing soft music after waking up.
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Morning Sensory Routine for Toddlers & Preschoolers #1
For the toddler/preschooler that doesn’t wake up easily or is sensory avoider
- Allow child to wake up on their own (if possible, making sure they went to bed early enough the night before)
- As soon as you hear them wake up, wrap them in a weighted blanket for calming proprioceptive input and snuggle them without any sound for up to 15 minutes
- Carry them out of their bedroom with lights off/blinds closed as you hold them tightly
- Give them joint compressions (if they allow it)
- Allow them to do their own thing for 10 minutes
- Eat breakfast with some crunchy foods to help for additional proprioceptive input
- Take a short walk outside
With every single one of these morning sensory routines, know that the amount of sleep and your child’s bedtime will have a direct impact and how they wake up and what their sensory needs are.
Also, for kids of any age that struggle to wake up in the morning and are very irritable, the key is to ease them into the morning and rely heavily on calming deep pressure activities to help them reach that state of regulation.
Morning Sensory Routine for Toddlers & Preschoolers #2
For the toddler that struggles with sitting still at daycare/preschool or is a sensory seeker
- After waking, challenge them to hop down the stairs or out into the main living area
- Play in a sensory bin for 5-10 minutes
- Jump on a trampoline, the couch, or their bed for 5-10 minutes
- Eat a crunchy breakfast (cereal, rice cakes, crisp toast, fresh veggies/fruits)
- Give joint compressions
- Give them a small bookbag to carry on their back to the car, public transportation, or as they walk to school for extra proprioceptive input.
For children that are described as wild and are often bouncing off the wall, giving them heavy work activities or movement combined with a purpose can help them focus and calm down.
Some sensory seeking kids will get more wound up by jumping on the couch, if that’s the case, hold their hands while they jump and count to make the activity more rhythmic instead of wild!
Morning Sensory Routine for School Aged Kids #1
For the kid that doesn’t wake up easily or is sensory avoider
- Wake up 10 minutes earlier to allow them time to lay in bed and slowly wake up
- Turn on dim lights and wake up by gently rubbing their back or arm
- Give firm squeezes to their legs and arms as they wake up all the way
- Roll an essential oil scent they like (orange, lavender, peppermint) on their wrist or chest
- Have clothing that was picked out the night before ready to be put on (consider compression shirt or pants for kids that like deep pressure)
- Use a vibrating toothbrush
- Have a smoothie ready for breakfast (sucking through a straw gives proprioception)
- Do 3-10 yoga moves
- Put on bookbag and carry to car/bus stop/school
When kids have to get out the door or start school by a certain time, the morning can feel very rushed, so planning in some extra time to slow down and adjust more slowly to waking up can make a huge difference in their agitation and sensitivity.
Morning Sensory Routine for School Aged Kids #2
For the kid that struggles with sitting still at school or is a sensory seeker
- Put on rhythmic music after waking (wild, fast paced music may wind some kids up)
- Brush teeth with vibrating toothbrush
- March to kitchen, stomping feet to breakfast
- Eat a crunchy granola bar and apple
- Get squished under a pile of pillows or by rolling a yoga ball over top of them as they lay face down
- Ride bike or scooter to bus stop or to school
Anytime you can combine a child’s sensory needs with an activity they need to do anyways, it’s a huge win. Riding a bike or scooter to the bus stop is a perfect example of that. If the weather is good, it doesn’t require any extra time or planning!
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Morning Sensory Routine for Teens #1
For the kid that doesn’t wake up easily or is sensory avoider
- Wake up to subtle alarm, earlier than they need to wake up
- Take a shower
- Use vibrating toothbrush
- Do stretches or yoga poses for 5-10 minutes
- Drink a cold smoothie or eat something crunchy
- Listen to music on the way to school
- Squeeze a stress ball or other fidget on the way to school
Teens can have sensory needs too!
Encourage them to be an active part of creating their routine by asking them questions about what they think would help them based on where their challenges are.
Teens are notorious for staying up too late so helping them set some boundaries like phones off at 9PM, or whatever time your family decides, can help a lot with waking up easily the next day.
Morning Routine for Teens #2
For the teen that struggles with sitting still at school or is a sensory seeker
- Wake up and brush teeth with vibrating toothbrush
- Run outside or on treadmill for 10 minutes
- Take a shower
- Drink a warm beverage like tea and eat breakfast
- Carry heavy backpack to school
Extra time in the morning for running could be challenging for a teen, ask them to experiment and see if it’s helpful. If it’s not, swap in another activity. Some aspects of the routines above for younger kids can still be helpful!
Get More Inspiration with Our Free List of 25 Sensory Activities
If you’re new to sensory, I hope you’re starting to see how easy it can be to incorporate into your child’s routines. The benefits are often life changing. Whether you’re new to sensory or not, our list of 25 sensory activities can give you more ideas to include in your morning sensory routines!
More on Sensory Routines
Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 17 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.