40 Sensory Processing activities to keep your child calm

Does your child find it hard to stay calm? These practical ideas from the Occupational Therapists at Kids First Children’s Services in Sydney’s northern beaches offer easy suggestions for home, preschool and school.

Sensory processing and Occupational Therapy activities for kids

There are many strategies that parents and teachers can use to help children to remain focused and in control. The technical term for these activities is ‘heavy work’ and while this doesn’t  mean that your children should suddenly become weightlifters, it does mean that they could benefit from activities that give them the chance to use the muscles that send organising, calming messages to their brains.

What is heavy work?

Heavy work represents any physical activity which provides resistance and proprioceptive input to your child’s muscles and joints.

Heavy work (proprioception) is essential in helping children’s bodies integrate and process both movement and touch information. Incorporating sufficient heavy work into your child’s day will help to promote a calm and positive learning environment for you and your child.

Heavy work activities are often very helpful for children with sensory processing difficulties because they help kids to increase attention, decrease tactile defensiveness, and maintain regulation during their day. In the same way that adults gain focus and clarity after exercise, yoga or pilates, heavy work can help ‘set’ a child’s level of arousal, activate their muscle tone and improve body awareness.

Children who may benefit from regular heavy work often appear:

  • Sensitive to light touch
  • Clumsy and uncoordinated
  • Inattentive
  • Frequently “On the go”
  • Lethargic and tire easily
  • “Touchy feely” and constantly exploring new surfaces
  • Excessive need to bump and crash into objects and people
  • Difficulty regulating emotions

Heavy work activities for home:

Below is a diverse list of heavy work (proprioceptive) activities that may help to improve your child’s skill development and regulate their arousal level, ability to sit still and attend to a task. These activities can be incorporated into your child’s home, preschool and school environments.

Ideas for activities that support children's sensory processing

Indoor Play

  • animal walks e.g. crab, bear, bunny hops
  • bounce on a therapy/fit ball
  • pinch, roll, squish, squeeze, push, poke and pull playdough, plasticine or theraputty
  • play crash games with cushions off the sofas, pillow fights
  • dance and jump to music
  • wrestling and rough and tumble play
  • sing “row row row your boat” providing resistance as he pulls and pushes
  • sip from a water bottle with a thin straw
  • teething rods and chomping sticks
  • clapping songs

Kitchen/Meal Times

  • eat crunchy foods e.g. carrot sticks, apple, nuts, muesli bars, rice crackers,
  • eat chewy foods e.g. liquorice, sultanas, chewy muesli bars, meat,
  • suck thick shakes or smoothie’s using a thin straw or a special novelty straw
  • wiping table clean
  • assist with taking the rubbish out
  • stirring, needing, squeezing, rolling food when cooking or using tongs/scissors etc.

Food choices play a part in supporting children's sensory processing

Outdoor Play

  • jump on the trampoline
  • jumping and rolling games e.g. star jumps, jumping over things
  • tug of war games
  • hanging and swinging games e.g. monkey bars
  • digging in the sand pit, carrying buckets of sand
  • climbing activities on playground equipment
  • kicking a football or catching and throwing different balls (heavy balls are best)
  • blowing games e.g. whistles, bubbles, harmonica
  • ride a bike

Trampolines give kids 'heavy work' opportunities that support their regulation

Bath/ Shower

  • squeeze water out of sponges/cloths
  • water pistols or water spray bottles
  • squirt water toys
  • chew and bite on flannel or wash cloth
  • pat, rub, squish, squeeze or bear hugs when drying your child

Bath time offers play opportunities for kids with sensory processing difficulties

Travel/Day Trips

  • wear a backpack with a heavy items and drink bottle inside
  • help carry items and bags too and from the car
  • squishy toys
  • clap to songs
  • eat chewy, crunchy foods

Backpacks are a great regulation tool for kids

Household Chores

  • wash the car
  • push furniture whilst you vacuum
  • mop/wipe the floors, tables
  • wash windows
  • help to carry the shopping in from the car
  • help to carry the laundry basket to the clothes line or help push the trolley

Everyday tasks like helping with the shopping can assist with children's regulation


‘Heavy work’ is a very individual thing. It’s most most effective when directed by a professional (such as an Occupational Therapist) who can help to determine the amount of proprioceptive input needed to help your child manage their behaviour and learning.

© 2019 Kids First Children’s Services

Does your child need OT to support sensory processing?

Kids First’s Occupational Therapists are located in Sydney’s northern beaches. They have helped hundreds of children with sensory processing problems, and can help your child too.

Contact us on (02) 9938 5419 or use the private comment box below to give us your details. We’ll contact you to see how we can help.

We’re here to support you and your child - no matter what.

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