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4 OT sensory box ideas for kids
Ever wondered what Occupational Therapy (OT) sensory boxes are and how your children can benefit from them? Inge Sonn from the Child and Family Studies Unit at the University of the Western Cape weighs in on the issue, plus, here are 4 sensory box ideas for you to create your own!
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What are sensory boxes? 

Inge Sonn states that sensory boxes or bins are boxes or plastic containers filled with small toys and a variety of materials. She says it stimulates the senses while addressing "fine motor skills, tactile defensiveness, visual perception, sorting and sequencing,  grasp development, grasp strength and holding attention." The sensory box can be any size you like, it naturally depends on the contents of the box.

She adds, "The sensory boxes may be themed too i.e. colours and shapes. The older child then either has to have their eyes closed, feel and describe it or group all the same colours and shapes together. For a toddler that is starting to learn about shapes or colours, they could just group the ones that look the same. However, in general it could be used for sensory stimulation and the development of the above-mentioned skills." 

Why do children need them? 

Sonn says, "When a child engages with a sensory box, the following senses are stimulated (depending on the materials inside the box): the sense of taste (sweet, sour, salty, spicy/ pungent, bitter, dry/ astringent); the sense of smell; the sense of touch (tactile); the sense of hearing and the sense of vision."  

She continues saying the items within the boxes usually hold some therapeutic value and may be calming or assist in managing anxiety. "It provides an opportunity for the child to play especially if the environment or context is not conducive to the children exploring and playing outside. When the child engages with the sensory box and all the senses and motor skills are stimulated it ultimately leads to brain development. Children who receive and engage in early sensory and motor stimulation, are better prepared and have a better start to when they attend formal schooling.

"In addition, when parents think about and create sensory boxes for their children, they also become aware of childhood development and what is needed progress to the next developmental milestone. Therefore, parents become more mindful and invest time in their child in this fast and busy world that we are living. 

"Instead of sensory boxes, especially when driving or travelling, are portable sensory bins (in a cloth bag), it will keep your child calm and entertained because the items may be replaced at any stage."

What are fine motor skills?

Sonn states, "Fine motor skills refer to the person’s ability to control the small muscles and movements of the hand and fingers as well as the small muscles of the mouth, face and feet. Fine motor skills are important for fine motor development because the hand and fingers need to work together in order to control the pencil or pen for handwriting or tying one's shoelaces."

What are gross motor skills?

According to Sonn, "Gross motor skills refer to skills that develop through and the use of large muscles (e.g. arms, legs and torso/ trunk for postural control) of the body. Gross motor skills are used during activities such as rolling, crawling, walking, jumping, running and riding a bicycle.  Gross motor skills development is important because it supports the development of the fine motor skills. For example, if the child has a lack of adequate postural control and ends up slouching in his/ her chair, it will have an effect on their ability to grasp and control a pencil." 

DIY sensory Box ideas

1. The bits 'n bobs box 

OT sensory box

1. Shredded paper 

2. Cotton wool

3. Bubble wrap

4. Beads (variety of sizes)

5. Wool

6. Feathers

7. Buttons

8. Slime (smooth or granular)

9. Water babies

10. Gem stones

11. Little bells (auditory)

12. Kinetic sand

13. Sucker sticks

14. Play dough (non-toxic or home-made, smooth or course, with added coarse salt)

15. Colourful pom-poms

2. Nature sensory box

OT sensory box

1. Beach shells

2. Leaves

3. Pebbles

4. Pine cones 

5. Flower petals

6. Sticks

7. Essential oils (A few droplets e.g. lavender for calming and to stimulate the sense of smell). 

3. Food sensory box

OT sensory box

1. Raw spaghetti

2. Uncooked lentils

3. Raw oats

4. Ice cubes (naturally, this can't stay in the box)

5. Uncooked rice

6. Popcorn kernels

7. Uncooked beans (different sizes)

4. Bath time sensory box

OT sensory box

1. Bath sponge

2. Bath bomb

3. Bubbles 

4. Spray bottle 

5. Loofah

6. Bath salts

7. Plastic cups

8. Shaving cream

9. Water gun

Extra things you need:

  • -A box or plastic container 
  • -Plastic or colourful toy scoops (can be used to scoop up items - grasp development)
  • -Small, plastic blunt tweezers (may be used to pick up items - grasp and fine motor development)

Have you made a sensory box for your child? What are some of the things you've found useful? Let us know by emailing us at chatback@Parent24.com and we could publish your comments. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous. 

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