The Best Sensory-Seeking Activities for Kids

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Is your child constantly on the move and never seems to sit still?

Sensory-seeking kids crave just what their name implies. They want to touch, feel, see and taste unusual things. Learn about how to give your children the sensory experiences they crave with these sensory-seeking activities for kids.

picture a colorful play balls.

What does it mean if a child is sensory seeking?

Sensory-seeking behavior can look like a child who is constantly on the move and is climbing, jumping, or banging on everything. Some children crave this input more than others. 

When sensory-seeking behaviors turn into challenges is when a child is constantly on the lookout for this type of sensory input and is not getting it. 

This could look like constantly putting things in their mouth, even items that are not safe. It could look like bouncing or wiggling in their seat during seated work in a classroom. Or it could look like making noise or constantly craving loud noises. 

These behaviors turn into sensory challenges when a child cannot function in doing their everyday activities until these sensory needs are met. 

Some common sensory-seeking behaviors look like this: 

  • mouthing non-food objects and exploring textures such as chewing on pencils or clothing
  •  unusually high volume in their voice 
  • needs to touch everything (brushing along walls while walking, picking up everything) 
  • seeks out physical contact and touch 
  • the need to fidget in order to focus or when bored 
  • explores objects by smelling 
  • craves certain smells or textures
  • craves jumping, crashing, pushing, pulling, bouncing, or hanging 
  • craves spinning or swinging 
  • has difficulty standing still, is constantly moving (fidgets) 

You can read more about sensory seeking vs. sensory avoiding behaviors here

How to help a sensory-seeking child 

The best way to help a child who is sensory-seeking is to provide the sensory input they are craving. There are eight main types of sensory input. 

  1. Gustatory – the sense of taste
  2. Tactile – the sense of touch 
  3. Sight/Visual – the sense of sight 
  4. Olfactory – the sense of smell
  5. – the sense of hearing 
  6. Proprioception – sensory input from the muscles and joints 
  7. Vestibular – the sense of balance 
  8. Interoception – sensory input from systems inside the body 

You can read more about all 8 sensory systems here

The three big sensory systems that you will often see involved with sensory-seeking behaviors are tactile, vestibular input, and proprioceptive input. This does not mean you won't see sensory-seeking behaviors with all eight, it just means that those three are the common ones that Occupational Therapists will address first. 

If you suspect your child is dealing with sensory challenges, talk to your child's doctor and asked for an Occupational Therapy evaluation. Occupational Therapist practitioners who are trained in sensory integration will be able to help give you a personalized plan and help address any concerns you have with your child's sensory challenges. 

What are sensory-seeking activities?

Sensory-seeking activities are activities that help children meet the sensory input needs they have throughout the day. Generally speaking, proprioceptive and vestibular input can have a calming effect on many children who are sensory seekers. 

Providing activities that address these two sensory systems will often get you the biggest bang for your buck, so to speak. 

If your child needs lots of sensory input throughout their day and has a hard time participating in everyday life activities such as school, they may benefit from a “sensory diet”. Sensory diets are planned activities put into a child's day to help them meet their sensory-seeking needs. Sensory diets should be planned by an Occupational Therapist who can best assess your child's sensory needs and help you put an individualized plan into place. 

Sensory diets can be used in the home or classroom. It is important to have carry-through in the classroom and at home for sensory diets to really work well. Working with an Occupational Therapist who can assess your child and really figure out what their sensory needs are is key. 

As a parent or educator, there are things you can do to help your child or student who needs extra sensory input throughout the day. 

Sensory-seeking activities for kids

Let's look at some specific ideas for sensory seeker kids. Below each activity, you'll find what sensory systems are best targeted with each activity.

1 || Sensory Bins 

Target sensory system: tactile, proprioception

Sensory bins are amazing for sensory seekers, especially those who are constantly craving things to touch and feel. You can adapt these sensory bins to your child's or student's interest, along with fun themes in the classroom. 

Some of my favorite sensory bins are below: 

With sensory bins, you will want to set up some rules and boundaries around them. Our rule was if items inside started to be thrown intentionally outside the bin, then it was time to clean up.

Also placing the sensory bin in a bathtub/shower, on a large sheet, in a small toddler swimming pool, or outside can also help to minimize the mess and clean up. And definitely involve your child with taking care of their bins and clean up. 

2 || Tactile Sensory Play 

Target sensory system: tactile, proprioception

These activities can include anything that would be considered messy play like 

3 || Jumping  

Target sensory system: vestibular, proprioception

Jumping can include crash pads, using a mini trampoline, going to a jump park, jumping on outside playgrounds, etc. 

Our favorite mini trampoline is here.

4 || Controlled spinning – swings 

Target sensory system: vestibular 

Swinging and spinning are great for sensory seekers, however, you want to still look for signs of sensory overload. Even sensory seekers can still have sensory overload, they just might be able to handle more input before reaching their limit. 

If you aren't sure what signs to look for, check out my post here for signs of sensory overload. 

5 || Classes like Gymnastics or Martial Arts 

Target sensory system: vestibular, proprioception, tactile

Classes like gymnastics or martial arts are a great way for sensory seekers to get the added input they need through movement in many different planes. It's also a great way for them to learn motor planning and muscle control in order to complete the various activities and moves in these classes. 

6 || Scooter boards 

Target sensory system: vestibular, proprioception

I loved using scooter boards in the hallways at schools or at home. In our home we have them set up in our basement.

You can set up an obstacle course with them or use them in gross motor games. Here are a few ideas to get you started: 

7 || Deep pressure input 

Target sensory system: proprioception, tactile 

Things like massage, giving arm squeezes, rolling up in a blanket, or laying under a weighted blanket are great ways to get deep pressure input. This can be especially helpful with helping children calm their bodies before bed. 

You can read more about weighted blankets here.

8 || Sucking through a straw

Target sensory system: proprioception, tactile, gustatory 

Sucking through a straw gives great proprioceptive input through the mouth and jaw. Many times children who are constantly chewing on items need additional oral input. Having your child suck through a straw for liquids can help give the additional input they may be craving and seeking. 

9 || Pillow forts 

Target sensory system: proprioception, vestibular, tactile

Building any type of fort is an excellent way to get proprioceptive input. My kids have been building all kinds of shelters in our backyard with leftover wood or sticks in our yard. 

If you don't have a large outdoor area, the next best thing is a pillow fort! Grab all the pillows from your house and start building. And of course, the best part is jumping into them and knocking them down, and building again! 

10 || Jumping into a pile of leaves, snow, or sand 

Target sensory system: proprioception, vestibular, tactile 

Raking up the leaves or moving the snow or sand into a pile before jumping into the pile of leaves is even better!

11 || Chewing gum 

Target sensory system: proprioception, tactile, gustatory 

Chewing gives amazing proprioceptive or heavy work for the jaw and mouth. If your child has sensitive teeth or issues with cavities, talk to their dentist before offering chewing gum consistently. 

If you have a child who is putting things in their mouths or chewing/biting on items throughout the day, offering gum can help them get the proprioceptive input they are craving through the mouth and jaw. 

12 || Providing fidgets 

Target sensory system: proprioception, tactile

Fidgets, whether hand or mouth fidgets, can be a great option for many children. It is important to remember that fidgets are a tool, not a toy however, and should not be disruptive to others or themselves. It may take some time to figure out which fidgets are best for different situations. 

Here are some of my favorite fidgets to try first: 

13 || Heavy work activities 

Target sensory system: proprioception

Heavy work is another term you will often see to describe proprioceptive input. Heavy work can have a calming and organizing effect on many children. 

Here are some heavy work ideas at the links below: 

14 || Crawling through tunnels 

Target sensory system: Proprioception, vestibular 

Crawling is not only beneficial for babies, it's a great way for children of all ages to get proprioceptive input. Setting up tunnels encourages children to get on all fours, getting input through their arms and legs. It's also beneficial for gross motor skills such as motor planning, core strength, and bilateral coordination. 

15 || Wheelbarrow walking 

Target sensory system: proprioception, vestibular 

This classic activity is great to use in a group obstacle course, minute to win it style game, or school gym activity. 

16 || Animal walking 

Target sensory system: proprioception, vestibular

This activity is great for your younger sensory seekers in the toddler and preschool age group. It can also be a great group activity. Here are some animal walk resources below. 

17 || Yoga 

Target sensory system: proprioception, vestibular 

Yoga is one of my favorite ways to help sensory seekers, especially when they need a brain break or need to get some energy out before seated work. It is excellent for learning how to control their bodies and there are so many fun yoga videos and activity cards out there for kids now. 

Two of my favorites for Yoga are listed below: 

What are some activities that you have noticed your sensory seekers gravitating towards and liking? Share your ideas in the comments below! 

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Young boy in a red shirt in the push-up position on his hands and feet. The words The Best Activities for Proprioceptive Input are on a green overlay at the top of the graphic.

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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3 Comments

  1. I am in great need of oral seeking interventions, this is a PreK student, nonverbal, and appears to only want to mouth any and everything, especially metal items, like the hinge on the double-sided small whiteboard. Help!!!!Debra

  2. Hi,
    We definitely had this with our son who is autistic. The loud voice ! Every day we would be saying “Use your indoor voice, please!
    Fidget spinners are very popular for him

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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