Sensory integration, SI, is a process we use every single day in almost every activity. It refers to the way our brains organize information received through our senses. You may not realize it, but your senses are constantly working together to complete everyday tasks like eating and getting dressed. It’s easy to see why sensory integration is such an important part of a child’s development.
Most people are familiar with the five senses—taste, smell, touch, hearing and sight. But, we actually have two additional senses that we use to interact with our environment.
The vestibular sense is responsible for movement and balance. It helps us maintain an upright position and lets us know how fast our bodies are moving in space. This sense also allows us to perform activities like walking without falling and riding a bike.
Proprioception is our body position sense. It gives us information about where our body parts are in relation to each other and helps us know how much force to use when picking up an object. Proprioception is why we can touch our nose with our eyes closed and why we can crack an egg without smashing it.
Now that you’re an SI expert, here are some activities that you and your child can do together to work on sensory integration development.
Oobleck is a mixture of cornstarch and water and is an especially unique sensory experience because it acts as both a liquid and a solid. With your child, practice moving your hands fast and slow through the oobleck and see how the texture changes. You can also add food coloring for a fun twist. To make the oobleck use a large plastic tub and combine 2 parts cornstarch with 1 part water. Let the oobleck sit for 5 to 10 minutes and then play away! Chai momma Reena posted a great article about the science behind oobleck, too.
Playground swings are a great way to help children develop sensory integration skills. Try playing a game of catch while your child gently swings. Catching and throwing while swinging back and forth helps develop their proprioceptive and vestibular skills.
You can also try a swing version of hide-and-go-seek. Tell your child to count to 4 and close their eyes while continuing to swing. Then move to another area, in front, behind or next to them and see how long it takes your child to find you. Having your child close their eyes while swinging is great for the vestibular sense.
Water sensory bins are endlessly entertaining and help children get used to the feeling of being wet. Fill a plastic tub with a few inches of water and throw in sponges, pitchers, toys that float and sink and whatever else you think would be fun and safe. Check out our Tray Tasking Activities article also!
Shaving cream is another simple idea with big sensory benefits. Wrap a table in plastic and spray on a pile of shaving cream. Encourage your child to get messy by drawing in the shaving cream with their hands or with brushes, spatulas or plastic spoons. This helps children explore their tactile sense while using their creativity. You can even opt to buy an all natural one!
Information provided by www.pathways.org, a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit organization who strives to empower health professionals and parents with knowledge of the benefit of early detection and early intervention for children’s sensory, motor, and communication development.