Sensory Processing Play: Tunnel Play to Encourage Crawling

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Today I am very excited to be sharing some sensory processing play ideas with you. We are talking about activities to engage the vestibular system.

Sensory Processing Play

What is the Vestibular System?

In short, the vestibular system is located in the inner ear and has to do with balance. The key with vestibular movements is getting the head into as many different positions or planes as possible since that is what activates the various receptors in the inner ear. Jumping, swinging, rolling, hanging are usually associated with vestibular because of the head position. Scooter boards can also be considered vestibular input. 

You can read more about the vestibular system in my post here:

Crawling is such an important developmental skill for your child. It is the beginning of fine motor skills as well as giving your child a strong core and bilateral coordination skills (using both sides of the both together) for gross motor play. However, sometimes children do not show an interest in crawling much or don't crawl at all.

Today's activity focuses on encouraging your child to crawl, as well as incorporating some balance, rolling (part of the vestibular system), proprioception and fine motor skills to keep it fun and engaging.

What is great about today's activity is that most of the items are up-cycle items, so you won't need to purchase much.

Items Needed for Tunnel Play Activity

I put all the food pouch lids into the small wooden bowl on one end of the tunnel. Then I placed the baby wipes container on the other end of the tunnel.

Tunnel Play for Crawling 2


It is very simple to do and my daughter was entertained doing this for at least 15 minutes to half an hour. I handed her the first food pouch lid and then encouraged her to crawl through the tunnel to the other side. She has played with just the food pouch lids in the baby wipes container before, so she knew to put the lids into the container. Then I had her crawl back through the tunnel to the wooden bowl to get another lid.

While she was in the tunnel once, she actually lost her balance a little and landed on her stomach and rolled slightly. So I took this opportunity to really add some good vestibular input by taking the tunnel and gently rolling her from side to side while she was lying down in it. She immediately flipped onto her back and began laughing and saying “wee” as I rolled her back and forth.

*NOTE* Please do this portion of the activity at your own risk and at your own discretion. Many children may not be able to tolerate the rolling back and forth. As soon as you begin to see signs of them not tolerating the activity (flushed cheeks, complaining that they feel sick, crying, or even just quiet and not really responding to the movement) please stop rolling them IMMEDIATELY! Also be aware that movement like this can induce seizures in children who have a history of seizures. Please do not do the rolling part of this activity with them.

Also, make sure when you are rolling that is a slow and gentle movement, not fast or jerky. My daughter tends to seek out vestibular type movements so I could actually see her starting to get too excited and “revving up” while she was rolling. She began to laugh louder and actually started doing most of the rolling herself, without me even having to move the tunnel. Once I could see she was starting to get too much input and getting too excited, I stopped her from rolling immediately and took her out to let her calm down.

After her break, she continued to go back and forth between crawling through the tunnel to put the lids into the baby wipes container and lying down in the tunnel and rolling herself. I made sure to monitor her while she was rolling and she did a good job of actually knowing when to stop the movement herself!

Sensory Processing Play

This activity is great to focus on the following skills:

  • Vestibular (rolling, crawling through the tunnel, balancing their body weight on all fours while crawling)
  • Proprioception (crawling, bodyweight being balanced across your child's joints (arms and legs)
  • Bilateral coordination – using both sides of the body together
  • Visual-Motor skills (eye-hand coordination – being able to put the lids in the wipes container)
  • Fine motor skills (pincer grasp holding onto the lids)
  • Gross motor skills (core, neck, shoulder, and leg strengthening through crawling)

Heather Greutman, COTA

Heather Greutman is a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant with experience in school-based OT services for preschool through high school. She uses her background to share child development tips, tools, and strategies for parents, educators, and therapists. She is the author of many ebooks including The Basics of Fine Motor Skills, and Basics of Pre-Writing Skills, and co-author of Sensory Processing Explained: A Handbook for Parents and Educators.

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  1. My 3 and 7 year olds LOVE our tunnel! We’ve been using it as part of an obstacle course before we start school time. Great idea to add carrying an object through the tunnel.

  2. Great tips! I’m so glad I found your blog today. I love discovering a new OT blog to follow 🙂

  3. My girls love playing in tunnels. We have quite a few of them now and when I hook them all up we have a nice tunnel maze to crawl around in.

  4. We don’t have a tunnel – we used to, but it died after 15 years of play – I think making games into a challenge can really give achild a sense of achievement with something very simple 🙂

  5. Tunnels are awesome for kids of all ages. We have one I like to pull out on indoor days the kids always enjoy it.

    Thank you for stopping by the Thoughtful Spot Weekly Blog Hop this week. We hope to see you drop by our neck of the woods next week!

  6. diosa navos says:

    i found your blog helpful…my youngest was diagnosed withASD tendencies and has been on early intervention therapy since she was 22mos old…recently, i witnessed her display the fight or flight response when she was on the gym ball, i almost cried on the spot as the teachers disregarded her tears and still continue with the activity even thru her wails…i wanted to smack someone right there and then, upon coming home i stumbled upon your blog through Scanlon Therapy in FB… I was relieved somehow knowing that I can do something to help her out and help myself as well (I easily become dizzy which too much movement and if am on high places). The activities you suggest are something I can do at home and know that these activities can help her gain focus and help with her behavior…I am a nurse and am struggling with how to best help my child, since i dont know where to start…You’re blog helps a lot…you are an angel on earth and am thankful that you;re willing to share your knowledge…

CONTENT DISCLAIMER: Heather Greutman is a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant.
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All activities outlined on the Website are designed for completion with adult supervision. Please use your own judgment with your child and do not provide objects that could pose a choking hazard to young children. Never leave a child unattended during these activities. Please be aware of and follow all age recommendations on all products used in these activities. Growing Hands-On Kids is not liable for any injury when replicating any of the activities found on this blog.

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