Update: I now have an entire page dedicated to Sensory Processing/Play. If you are looking for more information about sensory play, click here.
The term “sensory” is becoming more mainstream, but I know it is still a foreign concept to many people. So, before I dive into what the sensory tunnel is, let me explain a little about “sensory” play, and I do mean a little, this is a very broad topic that I could devote an entire blog to. Sensory play/integration/processing (a variety of terms are used depending on who you are talking to) refers to our ability to take in sensations throughout our environment. I am talking about the five senses (get it sensory) we all learned about in school: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. In addition, we also receive input about where we are in space (i.e.: my hand is holding up the phone), which is called proprioception. The receptors for proprioception are located within the joints throughout our body, as our receptor for sight is our eyes. Vestibular input provides our brain with information about our body’s movement, such as when we are driving on a car or riding a swing. The receptors for vestibular input are located in our inner ear. Our brains are constantly taking information or input in from these various senses and processing it. Providing kids with sensory-rich activities helps to organize their systems and may improve their motor planning and attention to tasks.
The sensory tunnel is a “sensory-rich” play idea that is great for kids 3 and up, although a 2 year old can do it with encouragement and help. I have done this with kids as old as 14 and they really enjoy it. There really is no limit on age. Basically, a sensory tunnel is a large, stretchy, tube shaped piece of fabric that you can crawl through.
- Hide objects in the middle of tunnel and have your kid go through to find them. This particular task helps improve tactile discrimination, which is the ability to discern what an object is through touch, not sight. Kids really enjoy looking for hidden objects and figuring out what they are in the dark.
- Wrap the tunnel around your kid tightly, like a burrito, if they tolerate it. Some kids may not like this activity, but if your kid is cuddly or likes climbing in tight spaces they may really enjoy this. Sam didn’t like his arms wrapped inside, but you could certainly wrap them up mummy style, which would give even more proprioceptive input. In the picture above, I am pulling the wrap off so that Sam spins quickly- great for vestibular input. With sensory activities, you always want to follow your child’s lead and watch for any cues that they may be uncomfortable. Be quick to stop immediately if they seem unsure at any point. Vestibular input can be very strong and can cause nausea. Never force a sensory activity. Encourage, but don’t force.