Finding the Best Toys and Furnishings for Sensory Children
by Deborah Brooks
I didn’t think my youngest was overly sensitive to physical things. Surely, he was just being picky or wanting more attention. But he was my only child who complained about shirt tags, cried if I put him in footed sleepers, and very quickly became attached to certain blankets refusing to use other perfectly good blankets. Similarly, he was drawn to certain colours and textures.
I believe most people are sensitive to certain things but with children, it is especially magnified during stressful situations, such as back-to-school time or starting at a new child care centre Sound familiar? Stress brings out children’s sensitivities and makes them hyper-aware of their surroundings.
I now know my youngest is a sensory child and I have figured out a few helpful things along the way about toys and furnishings for him.
Four Ways to Best Support Children with Sensory Needs
1. Create a Quiet Sensory Area in our Home
Sensory overload is a real thing. Children need a place to calm down and relax. Furnishings with calm colours and textures will provide this space. Look for soft, short pile fabrics. Generally, microfibers are not a good choice for sensory children. Chenille or velvet are good options because they are soft but still structured. Ideally, the furnishings you chose, will have removable cushions that can be used to create a private space. A sensory area does not have to be an entire room. A small corner of a room works. For my son, the cozier the area the better, so our sensory space includes soft furnishings (a play couch), blankets, and pillows.
2. Design a Safe Place for Gross Motor Play
Do not underestimate the importance of physical play for sensory children. They need to be moving and letting off energy in a safe environment. Running, jumping, crawling, and balancing on equipment are so important for them. Children learn to balance and use the stabilizing muscles that are so important for healthy child development with gross motor play. You do not need a separate gym area in your home. Providing a play couch, or other similar cushions is ideal.
3. Family Inclusion and Engagement
A toy that’s appropriate or beneficial for a child with sensory needs is one that enables the child to engage in play with their family, friends, and peers. With 9 years between my eldest and youngest child, I often struggle to find activities that everyone equally enjoys. Our play couch bridges the age gap. Everyone loves building with it, sitting on it, or jumping on the pieces.
4. Less is MoreA final note about children with sensory needs. My son prefers a clean open space over a crowded toy room. We have tried to adopt the “less is more” principle. I say “try” because it’s always a work in progress. The focal point of our sensory area is our play couch. It sits in a corner and we allow my son to use it how he wishes. He can build a fort, an obstacle course, or a cozy chair to read. It’s his space and this ownership is a key part to him benefiting completely from the space.
This blog was originally published with Kids & Company.