Special Needs Sensory Activities

For a kid with special needs, (and even those without!) sensory activities are a must.  One of my favorite activities is creating sensory tubs for Parker.

Sensory activities and sensory tubs tend to rely on a lot of rice for their touchy- feely goodness.  Oh, I’ve also seen birdseed used.  And lima beans.  And other ‘where’s the vacuum cleaner’ types of mediums.

Unfortunately, for a kid with a trach and a love of throwing stuff, the smaller the sensory activity medium, the bigger the headache for the Mama.

By Mama, I mean ME of course.

I started looking for a new base for our special needs sensory activity medium.  Something too big to put in a mouth, but not so expensive as to make my eyeballs pop out.  Something very Montessori friendly with a splash of Waldorf fun mixed in.

After weeks of looking at online sources and through the isles of countless big box stores, the answer came to me as I cruised the produce section of my neighborhood grocery store.

Walnuts!  Yup.  These little sensory packed bundles of joy not only caught my attention, but met all my criteria of a sensory activity for a trached kid with special needs.

That wasn’t all though.  My wandering eye landed on another item.  Small.  Round.  Orange…….the Cuties that are out now would also work.  Yay me!  (Hey, if you aren’t willing to give yourself credit where credit is do…..who else will?)

I combined everything in to a small wooden box that was originally what our blocks came in.

And then I got to thinking.


Grabbing my red and green colored  gems, I picked out the biggest of the lot and mixed them in.  Smaller than the walnuts, yes.  But no where near as annoying to clean up as the rice.

(BTW, I picked up these little beauties from Zulily.)


When the gems get to be old hat, I have these yard sale jingle bells I can add.  Parker loves a good jingle bell.  Or maybe I’ll grab some of the plastic, non-glittered, snowflakes.  I’m tellin’ ya, I’m on a roll over here.


I’ll still keep my eye on our Hero as he explores this new sensory activity.  Who knows what ideas lurk in that mind of his.  Seriously.  The last time I asked him where his chewies were, he walked over to the nearest vent, lifted up the cover, grabbed his favorite chewy from below, and walked it over to me.


What do you use in your kid’s sensory activity boxes?

PS:  Searching for more sensory activities?  Take a look at Totally Tot’s What’s in the Tub feature!


About Tammy and Parker

Special Needs Blogger, and homeschooling Mom, heavily involved in advocacy for all kids with special needs in Utah.


  1. Beans, rice, and birdseed have been our best so far. My son likes to pour things, and needs that tactile input. He loves the sand table (now that he hasn’t got a trach), but I’m not sure I want that mess in the house this winter.

    Water beads (or whatever they’re called) were ok for a few days. Cotton balls were a disappointment. I’ve been contemplating jello & little plastic frogs and snakes, but I’m not sure I’m up for the mess yet. I’ve been contemplating glass globs, and tumbled stones (from the business I used to run, I know a good wholesale place to get stones for like $3.50 a pound, and 10 pounds would probably do it).

    Oranges wouldn’t work here. Too much like balls, and balls are for throwing. We had to put the ball pit away too.

    • I like the jello idea……. BTW, where would one fine glass globs and tumbled stones that you speak of. :D

      • The glass globs you can likely find at a craft store – they’re sort of dome shaped (flat on one side, round on the other) and about the size of a nickel, which might be smaller than you really want right now, but there are bigger ones too.

        The places I order tumbled stones in those sorts of quantities are all wholesale only and require a sales tax license. You might, however, be able to find a rock shop (the kind of place that sells fossils and the like) near you that would cut you a deal.

      • Kelly says:

        You can find the glass globs and rocks at The Dollar Tree. A decent sized bag is $1. Depending on the size of sensory tub it wouldn’t cost too much! Good luck!

  2. I have to admit I had a good giggle over Parker’s chewy storage solution.Thank you for sharing your sensory tips with us. Working with Matt on his sensory issues is one of my big focuses right now. I got him this for Christmas:http://www.amazon.com/Learning-Resources-Ruffs-Teaching-Tactile/dp/B004DJ1EH2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1354855735&sr=8-1&keywords=ruff%27s+house+teaching+tactile+set

  3. Kerry says:

    I put together a tub of sensory items for my 3 y/o son who has a SPD. He got bored of the rice and dried pasta this past summer. So I tried to see if I could come up with something else. We took a walk around the neighborhood and found small pine cones and some really large ones. Then we got all different kinds of rocks. Small, round, flat, rough, etc…. Then we got some leaves (store bought). I then did an arts and craft project with him and we put glue on the pine cones and sprinkled glitter on them.. That mixed it up a little for him… It has been about a month and he asks to play with the bin on a daily basis… I am always looking for new ideas…

    • Kerry,

      yay! I add lots of transferring utensils in Parker’s boxes too. Things like chopsticks and a rice bowl to transfer into. I LOVE your ideas and how you broadened the activity to include an art project!

      • Kerry says:

        Awe. Thank you for the nice comment… :)
        He has a little scoop and spoon in the box. I need to come up with something else for him to use. He loves moving items from one spot to another. I have always loved to do arts and crafts. Now that he is a little older, it is easier to do them with him.. The glue and glitter were a big challenge at first because he couldn’t stand the feeling of either one of them on his hands. But after a couple of months, he was ok with it. Now glitter glue is his favorite..

  4. I love the way you adapted your sensory tub to meet Parker’s needs. I pinned your post to my Special Needs board at http://pinterest.com/debchitwood/special-needs/

  5. A beautiful and creative collection.

  6. Sarah says:

    I teach in a self contained classroom with students who can be very aggressive. I’ll hide magnet letters and/or numbers, small target objects – anything really – in a bin of puzzle pieces. II save all those pices from puzzles what are missing too many pices and create a sensory bin/station. Often, I’ll have the children take turns selecting and identifying the objects. I’ll even give them a template to match target numbers, objects, letters to – this allows it to be a bit more independentant at times.

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