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|Toys, Strategies, Therapies,
Support, and Advice for Parents
|An infant's developing brain is dependent upon sensory stimulation for its normal growth, development,
and functional and structural organization, most especially from birth to age seven.
As the mom of two curious, rambunctious, strong willed, and intelligent children, I am always eagerly
exploring their growth and what is best for them in order to grow to their fullest. One child was diagnosed
at the age of 6 with Sensory Integration Dysfunction and at the age of 8 after 2 years of therapy, many
meetings, strategy sessions, and family adjustments, was pronounced "integrated". He is now 11, going
into 6th grade and excelling in numerous ways that make me so proud.
In my quest to explore everything I can offer to my children, I have come across wonderful ways of teaching
and educating; I have learned about parenting in a more loving and natural way, and I've found many
other kindred parents. There are great challenges to raising children, but there is also great joy,
spirituality, and personal growth. It is my belief that everybody experiences sensory processing "issues"
and we can all benefit from the activities listed in this site. We as humans were made for moving, working,
talking, listening, and connecting with each other. Introduce a sedentary world where we drive instead of
walk, call instead of visit, and watch instead of do, and there are bound to be some problems. But with the
help of nature, activity, and each other, we can be healthier and happier.
As you browse through each page here, you'll find lots of developmentally appropriate toys and activities for
your baby, toddler, child, and/or student. Play is essential for learning in children and toys are the tools
of play. It is through play that children learn how to do the academic things that allow them to be
successful. Good toys have staying power; they engage. They help build attention spans, not fragment
them. A good toy does not offer answers; it stimulates questions and presents problems for solving. It can
be played with in many ways and challenges a child to do, think, or feel. Which toys combine fun with
opportunities to explore, experiment, and learn? Read the Parent's Choice article for answers. See our
Developmental Toy Page of sensory stimulating toys for ages 0-3, our Natural Toy Store for quality toys
meant to last a lifetime, and our Quiet Kit for a ready to go, pre-made, traveling, sensory experience.
Besides playing with toys, children need to be in nature. Our Nature Page explores the growing evidence
that children will develop more compassion and imagination when they have plenty of unstructured, open-
ended play in nature. Exposure to natural environments improves children's cognitive development by
improving their awareness, reasoning and observational skills. Nature helps children develop powers of
creativity and instills a sense of peace and being at one with the world. Early experiences with the natural
world have been positively linked with the development of imagination and the sense of wonder. The list of
benefits goes on and on. Many states have actually started campaigns called "No Child Left Inside" and
suggest outdoor play for at least 1 hour every day. It's that important to get your kids outside!
Sensory integration is a normal, neurological, developmental process which begins in the womb and
continues throughout one’s life. Babies are born virtually programmed to learn. Before birth, genetics
determine how the brain is "wired." Neurons travel to different parts of the brain, forming connections,
called synapses, that await stimulation. Once a baby is born, every experience-sight, sound, touch, taste
and smell-helps stimulate those synapses and create trillions more. Sensory processing is the process by
which our brain takes in sensory input and interprets this information for use. All of us depend on
adequate sensory integrative functioning in order to carry out daily tasks in work, play and self-
maintenance. Disorders in this domain can greatly influence our ability to function, but also can be so
subtle that they easily go unrecognized. Particularly in the young child, it is easy to attribute behaviors
and reactions to other causes ("He's stubborn, lazy, or doesn't want to do it," or "She's spoiled, shy, or
headstrong.") or to consider it within the norms of the wide range of personality and developmental
characteristics of young children. However, it is important to identify and address sensory integrative
dysfunction to enable the child to function at his or her optimum level and to minimize disruption in
Sensory Integration disorder or dysfunction (SID/DSI) results from inability of the brain to correctly
process information brought in by the senses. When an individual has sensory integration dysfunction, he
or she may have difficulty responding to certain sensory information. Children with sensory processing
problems can be either under or over sensitive to outside stimuli. For example a child who is hyposensitive
to touch will constantly be crashing into things seeking extra stimulation while the hypersensitive child
will avoid being touched or touching things when at all possible. SID can also include children who have
processing deficits in one or more areas. When a child has a visual processing deficit, it does not mean
that they cannot see. It means that they have a hard time finding the words for objects they are viewing or, if
asked to go get an object, they might look right at it and then say they can't find it. This is because they are
seeing it but their brains are not processing that they are seeing it. Auditory processing deficits are the
same, the child hears what you say but the brain does not process it so the child understands or it takes
several minutes for what you have said to "click" with the child.
Sensory integration dysfunction can result in delays in motor skills and problems with self-regulation,
attention, and behavior that can affect performance in school, at home, with peers, and during leisure and
work activities. Sensory integration dysfunction can be a disorder on its own, but it can also be a
characteristic of other neurological conditions, including autism spectrum disorders, dyslexia, dyspraxia,
pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), Tourette's Syndrome, and speech delays, among many others. A
growing number of experts, including Stanley Greenspan, M.D., Ph.D., and autism specialist Ricki
Robinson, M.D., believe that sensory related disorders are frequently misdiagnosed as Attention
Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, (ADD and ADHD) as well as emotional problems, aggressiveness and speech-
related disorders such as Apraxia. Sensory processing, they argue, is foundational, like the roots of a tree,
and gives rise to a myriad of behaviors and symptoms such as hyperactivity and speech delay. Unlike many
other neurological problems that require validation by a licensed psychiatrist or physician, this condition
can only be properly diagnosed by an occupational therapist.
See our Checklist page of signs if you've seen some of these behaviors in your own child or student. Our
What Is SI page will give a more in-depth definition plus treatments and strategies. You can read about my
introduction to Sensory Integration Dysfunction at our About Us page. If you have suggestions, please
email me so I can post them and possibly help make somebody else's life easier and more enjoyable. I'm
interested in products, toys, and activities that your children enjoy. And articles or books you've found
that might interest visitors of this website and myself are always welcome as well. You are not alone in
your journey to support your child and help them to achieve their true potential.
The information found in these pages is what I've learned from the books I've read, the websites I've visited,
the moms, teachers, and therapists I've talked with, and the day to day life with my own two children, but I
am not a qualified professional. Please seek the advice of a medical professional in regards
to all types of diagnoses or treatments.
Here are two great articles to get started with:
The Disorder is Sensory, New York Times, 6/05/07
In Praise of Mud
Published in S.I. Focus magazine (Winter 2004), and adapted from a 1990 article originally published in
Carol Kranowitz's column, "Gentle Reminders," in Parent and Child magazine.
A child comes to school on a soggy day. Tentatively approaching a puddle, she sticks in one spotless boot,
watching with interest as her foot sinks into the mud. She puts in the other boot. She is entranced. Looking
up, she says to her teacher, "Is this mud? It's fun! Is it okay?"
A child comes to school in his caregivers' immaculate car. Tearfully, he announces, "My babysitter said not
to get dirty." He cannot be persuaded to paint at the easel, jump in the mulch, or wriggle on the floor like a
caterpillar, although he itches to get into the play.
A child comes to school on a wintry Monday. He says, "Daddy and I watched football all weekend. We're
couch potatoes!" Good news: Big Potato and Potato Chip spent time together. Bad news: they limited their
sensory stimulation to watching television. They missed the chance at half time to engage in active,
physical contact with each other, a leathery football, scrubby turf, and frosty air.
What's wrong here? Have our children lost the freedom to get down and get dirty? Growing up to be tidy is
commendable, but many children seem to be maturing without a strong sensitivity to touch.
The touch (or tactile) sense is essential to children's development. Like vision and hearing, touch opens
the main avenues of learning. Much of our knowledge about the importance of touch comes from the field
of sensory integration (or sensory processing), pioneered by A. Jean Ayres, PhD, OTR. Her research
revealed that the ability to interpret tactile information not only promotes optimum development of the
young child's nervous system, but also helps the child learn about his world.
Learning about the environment is a child's primary occupation. His brain needs to process and organize
all kinds of sensory information, just as his body needs all kinds of food to function best. His tactile sense
provides information about texture, shape, density, pressure, temperature, and other attributes of the world.
Nature's plan is simple: let the senses, working in sync, do the teaching. For children whose sensory
processing develops typically, learning through messy play is pleasant and interesting. They know how to
get the just-right amount to satisfy their neurological system. Some children with Sensory Processing
Disorder (SPD), however, may seem never to get enough tactile experiences; they crave more, more, more.
Others may have tactile overresponsivity (or defensiveness), causing them to avoid touching and being
touched. Whether seekers or avoiders, kids with SPD need tactile activities just as much as typical kids do.
When we encourage tactile experiences, we do more than provide vital nourishment for children's
maturing brains. We do more than offer the unadulterated fun of molding mud pies. We also open the way
that may become their preferred route to learning. Just as the photographer Ansel Adams took the visual
route, the composer Mozart the aural, and the sculptor Rodin the tactile, so each of us chooses one favorite
What if Rodin's babysitter didn't let him get his hands dirty because he'd soil the upholstery? What if Julia
Child's mother kept her out of the kitchen because she'd spill flour? Or Jacques Cousteau's father told him
to read instead of lingering in the bathtub? Or the pope advised Gregor Mendel to pray more and spend less
time messing with sweet peas? How deprived we all would be!
Rather than deprive our children, let's broaden their sensory input with activities that are S.A.F.E. (Sensory-
motor, Appropriate, Fun and Easy). Let's provide tactile sensations of dough, water, clay, glue, rock, mud,
sap, earth, paint, feathers and fur. Children thrive when their bodies ingest and digest all kinds of sensory
stimuli. They may develop to their greatest potential if they have opportunities to feel rain on their faces,
leaves in their hair, goo on their fingers, and mud between their toes.
See the Value of Play flyer (pdf) and The Vital Role of Play in Childhood.
SOME S.A.F.E. TACTILE EXPERIENCES FOR PRESCHOOLERS
• Finger-painting on a tray with chocolate pudding. This open-ended, hands-on activity feels as good as it
tastes. Next time, offer shaving cream and enjoy the smell and easy clean-up.
• Digging for worms. Handling worms is about as tactile as you can get.
• Going barefoot, lakeside. The differences between firm and squishy, warm and cold, dry and wet are worth
• Forming rice balls or meatballs.
• Kneading play-doh or real dough. Make shapes, people, pretzels, or blobs.
• Ripping paper. Strips of newspaper are useful to line the hamster cage. Strips of construction paper or
tissue paper make beautiful collages. Remember that the process, not the product, is the goal.
• Discovering treasures in a Feely Box. (Cut a hand-sized hole in a shoebox lid. Fill the box with lentils,
cotton balls, packing peanuts, or sand. Add buttons, shells, uncooked macaroni, or small toys.) The idea is
to thrust a hand through the hole and let the fingers do the seeing. No peeking!
• Collecting seeds, pebbles, or shells in an egg carton. Loading up the receptacles and dumping them out is
great fun for a very young child. The ability to sort and classify the items comes later.
• Petting the pet. Drying a wet dog, stroking a kitten, providing a finger perch for a parakeet, or hugging a
baby are tactile experiences that make a child feel good, inside and out.