Check out these 4 easy-as-pie sensory routines that leverage simple sensory diet activities to calm, focus, and organize kids from morning to bedtime.
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Sensory activities and tools can be a powerful way to help kids calm down, pay attention, and work through challenges they struggle with. And, they can be leveraged at different times of the day, depending on when your child is having difficulties.
The sensory activities will vary from child to child, and could vary from day to day too.
But, some kids will love having a predictable sensory routine to help them get up in the morning, transition to being home after school, or get ready for bed.
Once you understand your child’s sensory issues, or needs, you can hone in on sensory activities that may help them.
Is a Sensory Routine Similar to a Sensory Diet?
This strategy is frequently used by occupational therapists like myself, but it’s typically referred to as a sensory diet. A sensory diet means giving your child a “diet” of sensory activities when they need them, just like you do with food.
However, I’ve gotten away from using the term because there are so many layers of connotations to the word “diet,” many of them negative.
For instance, I never want you to think that a sensory diet is rigid or should be done regardless of how your child is responding. Unfortunately, “sensory diet” can imply those things, but that’s not at all how it was ever intended.
For the purposes of this post, let’s think of these specialized sensory activities that your providing for your child as a sensory routine!
What Ages Are These Sensory Routines Helpful For?
The examples you’ll find below do focus on kids that are school age. BUT, sensory routines are very beneficial for toddlers and preschoolers that have sensory symptoms, too. Even babies can benefit from sensory routines
And, don’t discount teens and even adults. Sensory routines are a great way to transition to different locations and activities.
All of the sensory routines can easily be adjusted based on your child’s age, if you need help figuring that out, let us know in the comments below.
Morning Sensory Routine Example
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For any of these routines, there are countless sensory activities that you can use. The key is to think through what challenges your child is facing and use activities that address that.
This is an example of a sensory routine for a child that has a hard time waking up in the morning. They’re cranky. Crying and whining for an hour or two after waking.
For a sensory routine, I would try:
1. Dimly lit light to slowly wake up – This may mean your child needs to wake up a little earlier if they have to get up at a certain time. A more subtle light can help them acclimate and not be as harsh or jolting to the sensory system!
2. Rock in a rocking chair with weighted lap pad – Once your child has woken up a little bit, you can scoop them up and hold them in your lap with a weighted lap pad or favorite stuffed animal on their lap. The lap pad and you holding them give a lot of calming proprioceptive input, and the rocking is a soothing vestibular input.
It’s also okay to let your child rock themselves, if they’re big enough. Or, some kids may get irritated by the weighted lap pad or rocking, if so, omit either!
3. Pack book bag, carry out garbage, unload dishwasher – All of these activities are functional and provide calming heavy work input, which is another way to stimulate the proprioceptive sense!
4. Get headphones, sunglasses, and other tools ready for the day – I love to ask kids what will help them today. This gives them a chance to pause and creates personal awareness of their needs. It also helps them feel proactive and promotes self regulation of their sensory system.
I’m also amazed at how kids, even from a very young age, can answer this question very intuitively. As long as the item is appropriate that they suggest, have them pack it in their bag as a support.
If your child doesn’t come up with anything, you can offer a few suggestions for challenges they typically have. For instance, if the lights often bother them, you can ask if they want their sunglasses or hat, assuming using these have been discussed with the teacher!
See more morning sensory routine examples!
School Sensory Routine Example
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If your child has a hard time focusing at school, sitting still, socializing, or following directions because of their sensory needs, a school sensory routine can have a massive impact on these skills. In this example, I’m providing sensory strategies you can control and teach your child to use.
But, if sensory issues are significantly impacting your child’s ability to learn at school, I recommend talking to the teacher. There are many simple ways teachers can incorporate sensory activities that benefit everyone into the classroom.
Read more in 13 Easy Sensory Strategies for the Classroom.
Your school sensory routine may include:
1. Squishy fidget in pocket – If your child can keep a small squishy fidget in their pocket, squeezing it can decrease overwhelm, anxiety, and be a quick fix for kids that need to move. Squeezing also gives proprioceptive feedback.
2. Spouted chewy water bottle to drink from – I like Camelback style water bottles that have the chewy spout on the top. A child has to bite it to drink from it and can give it a couple more bites throughout the day. This is great for sensory seekers!
3. Wear a compression shirt or pants – Compression gear is in style, and putting some on your kid could help them feel a little more snug, grounded, and secure. Yet, another proprioceptive strategy, it is the powerhouse of the sensory system!
4. Take a bathroom break to stretch legs – Teach your child to take occasional bathroom breaks if they have a hard time sitting still. Although, you want to make sure they don’t over use this. Tell them to stretch a little as they walk and take a minute to shake all their wiggles out before they come back to their seat!
After-School Sensory Routine Example
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Some kids with sensory issues or sensory processing disorder work really hard to keep it together all day at school and then lose it when they get home. Others are stressed from a day of being bombarded with sensations or not being able to move as much as they need to.
Helping them transition back to home with a sensory routine can be a life saver!
Your After School Routine May Look Like:
1. Ride a bike home from bus stop – Walking, running, skipping, scootering, or biking are all excellent sensory activities that can organize and regulate the sensory system. Can you incorporate one from the bus stop or school to home?
2. Eat a crunchy snack – Strategically serve some crunchy foods for sensory seekers when they get home from school. Kids with other types of sensory needs may enjoy something warm or cold.
3. Do 25 jumping jacks – Or, some yoga poses. Or, bouncing on a yoga ball or using a scooter board. What matters is that your kid gets moving. You can even give them sensory cards to pick what they’d like to do.
4. Read a book while using a weighted lap pad – After movement, your child may benefit from relaxing a bit. Looking at or reading a book with the extra deep pressure from that weighted lap pad is a great way to do it!
Get 4 more after school routine examples.
Bedtime Sensory Routine Example
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Finally, bedtime. For many parents, this is the most challenging part of their day if their child has sensory issues. They may struggle to fall or stay asleep and by this time, mom and dad are quite tired too.
Creating a simple sensory routine can go a long way:
1. Jump on the bed 10-20 min – This might seem counter-productive, but sensory seekers need the sensory input they crave. This is their outlet.
2. Take a warm bath – The bath is a great activity to begin to calm them down. Consider some relaxing music or a drop of lavender essential oil into the water too.
3. Brush teeth with vibrating toothbrush – Vibration is very strong sensory input and another quick dose of that will help seeking kids. If your child is an avoider, at least with vibration or near their mouth, you might want to skip vibration before bed. Here’s some help for kids that hate brushing their teeth.
4. Read a book while snuggling a rocking chair – We’ll end the day with how it may have started. That rocking chair is a powerful tool to help kids begin to calm down their body! Listening to a story helps them focus and stay seated, as does holding them on your lap or close to your side!
Sensory routines and activities can be very simple. Often, you don’t need any complicated tools or expensive sensory toys.
Planning Your Own Sensory Routine
Want to know how to target your child’s sensory needs and make sure you’re using the best activities for them, when they need them, throughout the day?
You’re just in time, we’re about to kick off our first ever free Thriving with Sensory 7 Day Challenge. It’s packed with information that you can use to plan your own sensory routine AND you’ll get to connect with other parents that are facing the same challenges as you.
Of course, we’ll have free printables too!
We start tomorrow! Grab a spot here before it’s gone!!
More About Sensory Diet
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.