Get an awesome printable sensory diet template! Learn 4 simple steps to create your own sensory diet and get inspired with tons of sensory diet examples and ideas. Affiliate links are used below.
For the last few months I’ve been sharing different pieces of the sensory diet puzzle, and today it all comes together with a sensory diet template that you can use and follow. This sensory diet template is simply a tool, in the form of a free downloadable printable PDF! Whew, that was a mouthful. But, listen, I know the temptation is to scroll through and just print this baby out, and you can do that… Or, you can read the simple sensory diet examples and tips BEFORE printing so you can really rock a sensory diet that actually works for your child without feeling totally overwhelmed.
See us OT’s ,we LOVE sensory and sensory activities and helping parents, but sometimes we can get a little over zealous and make parents feel like they need to be doing 100 different sensory activities everyday. Fortunately, most of my career has been spent in people’s homes, not in a clinic, so I learned very early on that is just way too overwhelming. My focus here is to make it very do-able and for it to be do-able, you need to understand why you’re choosing certain sensory diet activities for the sensory diet you want to create for your child.
If I’m getting way too far ahead of you here, stop now and go read: What is a sensory diet? This will give you a complete understanding of the power behind sensory diets, why you should use one, and take away any negative associations the word might bring. And, if you’re worried that you need to give your child with sensory issues more help, then head to sensory integration therapy.
How to Set Up Your Sensory Diet Template
Yes, I’m giving you a template, but really it is your sensory diet template because your child’s sensory needs may change over time or even from day to day. Before you fill in one section on this PDF, you have to have a sense of what can actually help them. One of the biggest mistakes I see parents make with a sensory diet is that they randomly use any sensory activity during the day without knowing why. I totally get why that happens!
I bet you’re doing research on your own and trying to help your sensory kid, and you may have heard that sensory diet activities can be really helpful, but that’s all you know. Or, maybe your kid is in OT at school or an outpatient clinic? In both of these models, the OT has little, if any time, to explain sensory simply and help you understand why the sensory activities they’re recommending can help your child.
So, let’s change that! I have 4 quick steps I want you to work through so that when you print out your sensory diet template you are completely confident with how (and, why) you’re filling it out. In the next section, I’m going to give you sensory diet examples so you can see exactly how I work through these steps in my home (yes, I have a sensory kid) and when I’m helping other parents.
Step #1: Make a list of the times of day or the environments that your child experiences challenges or seems to be seeking sensory input.
Don’t over think this, just simply grab a piece of paper and start writing out the times your child is tantruming, having difficulty, overwhelming you, or is confusing you with their actions. Sometimes sensory kids have unusual behaviors to get their sensory needs met. Write down anything that comes to mind!
Step #2: Check off any anything on the list that is caused by their sensory needs or you feel could be helped by my sensory activities.
I don’t want to leave any stone un-turned for you here. So, here is a list of common sensory challenges with children and ways they tend to seek input. Head over to Sensory Red Flags You Might Be Missing to find even more. (Hint: most childhood challenges and behaviors can be helped by sensory strategies or activities, at least some of the time, even if your child doesn’t have “sensory needs”.)
Common Sensory Challenges: This is not a complete list, there are sooo many sensory needs and behaviors. Note that any activity with an asterisk is usually a sign that your child is seeking, or looking for, more sensory input.
- Difficulty waking up or getting out of bed in the morning
- Particular about the type of clothing they wear
- Anxious before school or doing a different activity
- Won’t sit still at the table during meals
- Tantrums when its time to run an errand
- Flips out in the store for seemingly no reason or because of the lights, sounds, and environment in general
- Very rough in their play with siblings, parents, and other children*
- Overly shy and awkward in public or on play dates
- Refuses to leave the house
- Climbs furniture unsafely*
- Obsessed with swinging and/or spinning*
- Hates getting messy
- Touches everything and gets overly messy, seeming not notice*
- Licks everything*
- Gags at new or different foods on their plate or even on the table for meals
- Stares at spinning objects like a ceiling fan
- Difficulty paying attention in school or during structured activities
- Completely can’t stand bright lights
- Loses it with loud noises
- Fearful of climbing playground equipment, the stairs, or getting on a swing
- Refuses to have teeth brushed
- Can’t seem to settle down to go to sleep
- Bites people of objects for seemingly no reason or when they are excited or upset*
- Has a hard time sleeping through the night
- Chews on toys, pencil tops, and other objects frequently*
- Smells everything*
Step #3: Choose sensory diet activities to try and offer before/during your child’s challenging times or when they are showing you they have sensory needs!
Ahh, so this is where the rubber meets the road… wait, scratch that. What does that even mean? What I’m trying to say is that this step is really important and you will probably have to come back to it several times. If you are DIY-ing this, then it is going to take some trial and error. Heck, it would even take me some trial and error because every child is totally unique.
But, I do have some short cuts for you, to help you narrow down what activities your child might benefit from! Most important is that you offer an activity as part of your routine because you know it’s a challenging area for your child OR you give an activity when you see they need it. In either instance, you really want to try and think about what your child’s “need” is and then match an activity that might help. It isn’t totally random. We will get into some examples in just a minute.
Before we do though, let me give you another short cut… tons of ideas and inspiration for lots of sensory diet activities:
- 100+ Sensory Diet Activities – The best overall list because it’s filled with and is organized by activities that are calming and those that help your child focus. Includes activities for all 7 senses.
- Oral Sensory Processing Activities – Both for kids that love chewing, licking, mouthing everything, or ones that refuse to do any of those things.
- Powerful Proprioceptive Activities
- Vestibular Activities
- Sensory Seeking Activities – Perfect for “wild” or rough kids
- How to Create a Sensory Tent – A great sensory diet activity that is incredibly helpful for a lot of kids
- Sensory Diet Activities for the Classroom
- Tactile Activities
- Messy Play Ideas
- Sensory and Picky Eating – What sensory activities to focus on to help picky eating
- How to Help Your Child Stay Seated at the Table
- How to use sensory strategies to help your child go to sleep
For some kids, I really like to have a visual to help them choose what sensory diet activity might be helpful.
Step #4: Watch to see if the sensory activity or strategy was helpful.
This last step is to observe how your child responds to the sensory activities that you offer. Remember that the whole point of a sensory diet is to improve their focus, calm them, or meet their needs. If the activity wasn’t what they needed or didn’t “work” for any number of reasons, it doesn’t mean it was a failure. That same activity may work tomorrow. Offer it or suggest it at least 3-4 times before you abandon it.
And, for some kids, I really to have them help picky what they think they need (they often know!) In these cases I really like to use sensory diet cards, which you can use in tandem with your template. This is my set of sensory diet cards that have 60 of my favorite (and most powerful) sensory diet activities on them.
While its really important to be open to offering activities again, you also want to look for what your child likes and what helps them! If you notice that jumping down the stairs in the morning helps them sit better for breakfast that’s awesome, you just created a sensory diet. Definitely try that again. Some kids will want to repeat the same thing everyday and other’s may not even need it day in and day out.
When you use the template, think of it as a sensory diet worksheet that might be ever-changing and flexible!
Sensory Diet Template Examples
Finally, the examples, this is always everyone’s favorite part. I’ve created lots of scenarios of sensory diet examples that can easily be fit into your day. While I can’t possibly cover every scenario, use them to set the stage for your template. A lot of these examples are from my own home or from other’s that I’ve worked with:
- A little girl has a hard time going upstairs for bed and she often tantrums as that happens. Besides giving her verbal reminders of the time, her family gives her a piggy back ride upstairs, jumping and stomping all the way. This is a great way to get in vestibular, proprioceptive, and tactile input.
- A boy comes home from school and is overstimulated and irritable. His mom gives him a cold drink through a straw, puts on relaxing music, and gives him some time in his sensory tent before starting homework.
- When my son was younger, he was very sensitive to different textures and had a small variety of foods. To help him get more comfortable with different textures, he played in different sensory bins a couple times a week. This had a big impact on him expanding his variety of foods. (note: because he was sensitive to touching different textures, I had to take it slow. This wasn’t his favorite activity at first, but we kept trying until he was able to play readily in different textures.)
- A toddler can’t seem to fall asleep every night. To help prepare him for sleep, the parents keep lights dim, read stories while snuggling in a rocking chair, and give a massage with lavender scented lotion. He falls asleep watching a slow changing night light. (We have one like this, it’s one of my favorites.)
- A school aged girl struggles to sit still in school and focus throughout the day. Her dad makes sure she has 5 minutes to jump on a small trampoline in the house before she leaves. Then she rides her bike to the bus stop and has a stretchy band around her chair at school that she can kick when she feels like she needs to move and can’t.
- A boy is really nervous going to daycare every day, to help him he carries a stress ball in his pocket that he can squeeze whenever he needs to. He also has crunchy foods in his lunch, which help him stay calm, as well.
- My son is a seeker and loves to play rough. Throughout our normal daily interactions, I make effort to give him big deep hugs if he walks by or rough house with him for a minute or two. This has become habit for me now and something I rarely think about. It isn’t scheduled into our day at any specific time.
- A girl that is really active and loves to swing has access to a scooter board and rocking toy whenever she needs it. She doesn’t use it everyday, but she knows where to find it and how to use it when she does feel the need.
- A toddler can’t stand getting his toe nails cut so his mom gives him time on a swing first, because he loves that and it helps calm him. Then she holds him tightly in her lap while he holds a weighted lap pillow for comfort and deep pressure input.
- A child hates the bright light and noises in large stores. His family keeps a bag in the car with some headphones, sunglasses, and some toys he likes that distract him.
- A boy won’t climb or swing on anything at the playground. Once or twice a week mom sets up some obstacles with couch pillows for him crawl over in the house. They also take toys to the playground and play on the steps that go up to the low slide, slowing getting closer to the top over time.
The Sensory Diet Template
Here it is! You can see the visual of what it looks like below. Take all the steps, activity lists, and sensory diet examples that we talked about and use it in this sensory diet template for your child. To get the printable, click here, and we will send it to you right in an email so you have it download, save, or print.
We covered a lot today and I know sensory diets can be very be overwhelming. Remember to take it one step at a time and watch for which sensory diet activities your child responds to. Once you have several options you know they like, you can even offer choices to them when you know they need a sensory diet activity. I’ll say to my son, “Hey, its not safe to run around the house right now. Would you like to jump on the trampoline or ride the scooter board in the hallway?” Kids love choices and they usually know how to meet their sensory needs better than we do when we give them the chance.
What challenge is your child facing? What activities are you going to use to help them, as you create your own sensory diet? Tell me in the comments, and we can all learn from each other. Hearing other people’s examples is one of the most powerful ways we can learn!