Four Super-Simple Sensory Activities for Occupational Therapy

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Four Super-Simple Sensory Activities for Occupational Therapy

Here at Therapy Source, we’ve been avidly reading about the latest and greatest ideas on sensory processing activities and we’d like to offer all occupational therapists four ideas: two that really impressed us, and two that were shared by our own staff. Whether students on your caseload experience sensory discrimination challenges, sensory modulation issues or other sensory-related challenges, we hope you’ll enjoy integrating these ideas into your occupational therapy sessions!


  1. Sensory Salad

Children love to play “kitchen” and host make-believe tea parties. When you put imagination to work in a food theme, you’re sure to gain cooperation from your students in occupational therapy! And, who knows – “sensory salad” materials, although they aren’t edible, may even incline students towards leafy greens and overall healthy eating. Those in school-based OT jobs can introduce the sensory salad activity to individual students, or use in group occupational therapy sessions. The idea, proposed by an occupational therapy student contributor to OT Plan (Twitter: @OTPlan), is intended to help children use their imaginations in tactile perception and processing – all while building fine motor skills.

Materials: large bowl, paper plate, green construction paper, tongs, scissors, straws, pom-poms, buttons

Directions: Have the student tear up pieces of the green construction paper to make lettuce leaves. Let the child add the pom-poms, buttons, blocks and any other creative input. Encourage creativity by asking what the various objects might represent – for example, red pom-poms as cherry tomatoes, black buttons as olives, etc.  Have the child toss the salad by hand so he or she can feel the various textures in the bowl. Use the tongs to “serve” the salad.  Social skills can be bolstered in this OT activity, too – simply task the child with serving the salad and ask him or her to say “please” and “thank you” at appropriate times.


  1. Nebula Jar

What child wouldn’t be enthralled by a pint-sized, sparkling piece of the “universe?” A nebula – a colorful dust-cloud where stars are born – is a truly stellar model for an OT activity for students in elementary school. We credit MomDot for the idea, with some substitutes (sequins aren’t messy like glitter, and child-friendly colorants are better than toxic or fumy paints).

Materials: jar, cotton balls, sparkly sequins, food coloring (or non-toxic, child-friendly watercolor paints), beans

Directions: Have the child fill the jar with water, asking him or her questions about the temperature. Let the child tear apart cotton balls and place them in the water, swirling the water around. The child can push down more cotton balls, whole or torn. Have the child try dipping the cotton balls in food coloring before placing in the jar. Alternatively, the child can immerse a cotton ball in water and pat it into various non-toxic watercolor paints before entering the “nebula.” For more tactile, auditory and visual processing, instruct the child to add beans and different colors of sequins. Together, mix in more food coloring or child-friendly paint. Ask the child to shake it up and watch the movement of the objects in the “nebula” – and watch the wonderment that ensues!


  1. Rock Garden

Occupational therapists – especially those in school-based OT jobs – know that for some children, both sensory processing issues and disorganization can weigh heavily. Help lighten the load with this creative “garden” activity. Students can be helped with tactile processing and visual perceptual skills (and auditory skills, as students follow your cues and instructions!) The objective of this fun, down-to-earth (literally!) activity is to address special needs related to sensory modulation, sensory discrimination and related sensory processing disorders requiring the intervention of a school-based occupational therapist.

Materials: Rocks, stones and pebbles (various sizes and roughness), fishbowl, large plastic mixing bowl, funnel, uncooked brown rice, bent pipe cleaners (various colors), and coins

Directions: Dump all rocks, stones, pebbles and brown rice, pipe cleaners and coins in the mixing bowl so that everything is mixed up. For the first part of this occupational therapy activity, have the child sift through the rice to find and remove all of the coins. Next, ask the child to sift through to gather the largest rocks, and place them in the fishbowl. To build visual perceptual skills, OTs can request the rocks, stones and pebbles be placed in the fishbowl in size order – largest rocks first, followed by medium-sized stones and small pebbles. Finally, the child will remove the pipe cleaners, unbend them, and set them aside momentarily. And now it’s time to pour “mulch” (i.e. uncooked brown rice) into the “garden” and “plant” pipe cleaners!  Ask the child to use the funnel to scoop and pour rice into the fishbowl, then make and insert “plants” – green pipe cleaners for stems with leaves, using other color pipe cleaners to image buds and blossoms.


  1. Make-Your-Own-Maracas

This unique occupational therapy activity can be of great help to students who demonstrate hypersensitivity to noise stimuli. By participating in the process of both making and using a noisy instrument, students’ sensitivity may actually diminish. The materials are simple and the craft can be set up in less than 5 minutes. Side perk? Materials include items that can trigger multiple senses.

Materials: two empty water bottles with caps, whole coffee beans, pennies

Directions: Ask the student to pick up coffee beans (encourage smelling them!) and plop into the water bottles one at a time.  OTs can then have the student count multiple beans and put them in the bottles until it’s filled to an appropriate level for noisy maracas. Instruct the student in the same way with the pennies. Place the cap on each bottle and voila – two maracas!  Now it’s time to shake it up. OTs can integrate lessons on following directions as the student plays his or her new instruments!



What super-simple OT sensory activities have YOU incorporated into your occupational therapy sessions? We would love to learn more – please share your comments below!


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