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Must Haves for Kids with Sensory Needs

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

Four of my kids have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). It’s been a challenge to learn what works best for them but now that we have been on this road for many years, I have discovered things that make their lives so much easier. I wish I had known in the beginning what a huge difference a few small changes could make. These are some of the must-haves that I have found in working with them. It was hard to create this list because not only are there different types of Sensory Processing Disorder that present very differently and can actually present opposing needs, but each child is also so unique. You can read more about the signs of Sensory Processing Disorder here. I am sharing what works for some of my kids. What works for other kids with sensory needs may vary.

These are must-haves if you have kids with sensory processing disorder (SPD).

The books…

There are several books geared towards children regarding Sensory Processing Disorder and I have shared some in Our Favourite Books for Kids About Special Needs.

The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping With Sensory Processing Disorder and Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder are two must-reads for parents or teachers of kids with SPD. The Out-of-Sync Child has Fun also has great ideas for activities and practical suggestions that are very helpful.

Sensory Processing 101 is a very comprehensive book written in part by a mom with a child with SPD. It explains SPD very well and also has a large section on activities and contains handy printables. It is great for teachers, professionals and parents.

Weighted items…

Not all of our kids like weighted items but the ones that do, love them! We buy our weighted blankets, capes, neck rolls, and neck curves at Innovaid (you may recognize some of the models on their site as my kids!).

Two of our kids who like deep pressure have a very hard time sleeping without their weighted blankets. Those same two have an easier time attending during our homeschool lessons if they wear a weighted cape or neck curve. They also have weighted stuffed animals that seem to help calm them.

There are tutorials available that walk you through making your own weighted blanket. (hint: click that highlighted text to take you to a list of online tutorials) There are also tutorials for making your own weighted vests.

weighted blanket

Fidgets…

Fidget toys such as the ones from Tangle Creations can be very helpful in focusing. Especially for children who have to attend for longer periods of time, they can make a tremendous difference. In order for something to be called a fidget toy, it doesn’t need to be officially sold as such. The one most often used by my kids is sensory balls and we make our own for pennies.

Create Your Own Sensory Balls (for pennies each)

My kids also use things like knobby balls or stretchy snakes when they are sitting at their desks so that they have something in their hands to squeeze and pull and move around in their fingers but that doesn’t make a lot of noise or distract the other kids.

knobby balls

Project Sensory offers a wide variety of fidgets as well as other sensory items. They are focused on helping children succeed at navigating the world around them.

Fidgets image

Seat Aids…

Two of my kids really like the Movin’ Sit Cushion. This wonderful invention allows them to stay seated but move around silently at the same time! Not all of my SPD kids like it though.

movin' sit cushionThere are other ways to help your child with SPD in sitting. At places like Ikea, you can buy round textured disks that are about the size of a seat and some kids like the feel of sitting on them.

Another adjustment you can easily make to the chairs in your home to make them more SPD-friendly is to put a theraband or other type of stretchy band around the legs of the chair. This provides sensory feedback to a child who is sitting swinging their legs, as the backs of their legs will make contact with the theraband. One way to explain why some children find this helpful is this…children with SPD do not always have a good sense of where their own body is in space and when their legs swing freely while they sit, it can be an unsettling feeling, but providing a resistance band on the legs of the chair gives them feedback and lets them know where they are in relation to the chair and to the room around them.

Other suggestions include things such as bean bag chairs or swivel chairs, though I don’t recommend swivel chairs in a classroom setting! We have a bean bag chair in our homeschool classroom and it is very popular!

Sensory Bins…

We use sensory bins every day in our home and our homeschool. All of our kids love them and they have been particularly effective with our kids who have SPD. I try to make a different sensory bin every week. I sometimes incorporate what we are learning in our homeschooling into the sensory bin.

The Ultimate Guide to Sensory BinsChew Toys…

Some sensory kids feel the need to chew on things. If they are not given something to chew on, they will chew on pencils, clothes, toys, or even their own fingers. For “chewers”, chew toys are a healthy alternative to those things. There are chew toys that can be purchased, Chewlery (chewable jewelry), pencil toppers designed to be chewed on, or chewy wrist bands.

Play Dough…

Play dough is an inexpensive and effective tool to use with kids with SPD. If you have some readily available, kids can use it when they are anxious, overstimulated or even while they are trying to sit still and pay attention. The store-bought play dough doesn’t stay soft for very long and can get crumbly and messy, so I prefer to make my own such as this lavender scented playdough (although I don’t love all that stirring!). There are many wonderful recipes available for homemade playdough online like Jello Playdough and I have included some recipes in my Sensory Bins book.

Anxiety Aids…

Sometimes, sensory issues and anxiety can go hand-in-hand. For my youngest daughter who deals with anxiety due to other issues, I have created an anti-anxiety kit and many of the items in the kit are useful with all of my kids, particularly when they are overstimulated and are having a hard time self-regulating.

Create an Anti-Anxiety Kit for Your ChildSnugness… 

Some of my kids are more comfortable wearing tight clothing or having the feeling of being snug. There are several ways that we achieve this. One is by them wearing a gymnastics body suit (the kind that goes down almost to the knee) that is a size or two too small underneath their clothing. Innovaid carries a pressure vest that provides essentially the same effect and can be worn under or over clothing.

pressure vest

Another way is by using a sensory sock. You can make your own by sewing a tube with stretchy fabric.

Music…

Some children with SPD find music soothing and it can help with their self-regulation. For kids who prefer white noise, a small sound therapy machine can be invaluable. When it comes time to do quiet seat work in our homeschool, ironically, the classroom is actually quieter if I play music while the kids do their work!

Noise Reduction Headphones:

One of our sons could not get by without his noise reduction headphones. He is extremely sensitive to sound and uses them in the house and especially when we go somewhere that is going to be loud. I try to remember to bring them with us when we will be going to see fireworks or in a crowded place that may be noisy. They have made a huge difference.

Must Haves for Kids with Sensory Needsimage copyright: bnehus1 / 123RF Stock Photo

What items have you found to be must-haves with your kids with sensory needs?

If you are looking for more ideas for sensory needs, you may be interested in following my Sensory Activities for Kids and Sensory Processing Disorder boards on Pinterest.

Follow Sharla Kostelyk’s board Sensory Activities for Kids on Pinterest.

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Cheesy Slow Cooker Hash Brown Casserole

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

This cheesy slow cooker hash brown casserole is perfect for potlucks or brunches. I especially like that I can  quickly make it the day before in the crock pot and then put it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, I take it out of the fridge, plug it in and turn it on which frees me up to make the rest of the items for the brunch. We have a large family so I have developed a fair amount of easy breakfast recipes for large families or groups over the years and this one fits that perfectly.

Cheesy Crock Pot Hash Brown Casserole. This easy breakfast recipe is perfect for a crowd.I’ve actually been making this recipe since the 90s (yes, I am that old!) and it’s one of those tried and true ones that many of my friends now make too because every time I’ve brought it with me to a potluck, I get asked for the recipe. I had always made it in the oven but I was recently planning a brunch where I needed both my top and bottom oven for other dishes so I tried making it in the slow cooker. It worked wonderfully!

If you really want to save time, you can make this as a freezer meal (make several at one time) and put them in large resealable freezer bags. Take the air out before sealing and freeze flat. On the day you want to make this, thaw the bag. If you forget to take it out ahead of time, you can put the bag in a sink full of room temperature water for 20 minutes to thaw. Dump the bag contents into the crock pot to cook.

Slow Cooker Hash Brown Casserole Recipe:

1/2 cup butter, melted
10.5 oz. can cream of mushroom soup
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese*
pepper to taste
1 kg frozen hash browns

*Note: you can also try this recipe with a variety of other cheeses. I often use a combination of cheddar and jalapeño jack cheese to give it some extra kick.

In a large bowl, mix together the cream of mushroom soup, melted butter, onion, shredded cheese, and pepper. Once that is well combined, stir in the frozen hash browns.

Slow Cooker Hash Brown Casserole squarePour the entire mixture into a greased crock pot. Cook on high for 2-3 hours or on low for 4 hours. I find that crock pots really vary in their cooking time so the time will depend on your particular crock pot. This recipe is pretty fail-proof though.

Slow Cooker Hash Brown Casserole

Serve this slow cooker hash brown casserole as a breakfast side dish. I like to top mine with hot sauce but that’s just a personal preference.

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Squishy Shark Sensory Bag

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

The Ocean Sensory Bottle I made last month was one of the kids’ all-time favourites so I decided to make a sensory bag to go along with it. They loved our squishy Shark Sensory Bag.

Squishy Shark Sensory Bag - a fun sensory activity for toddlers and preschoolersTo make this shark sensory bag, I used what was left of the blue body wash we used for the Ocean Discovery Bottle and topped it up with some liquid hand soap. The liquid hand soap that I used was green so I added some blue food colouring to the bag to create a really vibrant blue. Then I just plopped some toy sharks into the bag and sealed it up.

Materials needed:

  • medium sized resealable bag (I used a freezer bag because I wanted it to be stronger)
  • blue body wash or liquid hand soap (or you can use both like I did)
  • small plastic sharks
  • optional: blue food colouring
  • optional: clear packing tape

Squeeze the body wash and/or liquid hand soap into the resealable bag. Fill it about half full. For a more vibrant blue colour, add some blue food colouring to this step and then squish it around to mix.

Shark Sensory Bag squareAdd some toy sharks to the bag. The ones I used were plastic and weighted because they are meant to be a diving toy in a pool. I bought them from the dollar store. Any small shark toys would work well.

Take out the excess air and seal the bag. If you are using this bag with little ones, I suggest that you fold a strip of packing tape over the top of the bag after sealing. This will ensure that the bag won’t get opened by little ones and that you won’t get goop on your floor!

Shark Sensory Bag FBFor toddlers, you can tape the bag onto a table to make it easier for them to move the sharks around. Of course, as with all activities, your child should be supervised while playing with their shark sensory bag.

This would a cute and easy way to create a sensory activity for Shark Week.

Ocean Sensory Bottle squareOcean Sensory Bottle

3 Ingredient Frozen Oreo Pie

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

There is a saying that necessity is the mother of all invention. Well necessity birthed this ice cream pie! In our family, we have a tradition that the kids can pick anything they want to eat for their birthday supper and dessert. They sometimes choose the strangest combinations! This week, it was our son Jonah’s birthday. He chose hot chicken and pasta in spicy sauce on top of Caesar salad (sounds strange, but it’s a family favourite recipe) and Oreo ice cream cake for dessert.

This 3 ingredient Frozen Oreo Pie is so simple to make. Your guests will never know what a fast and easy dessert it was to prepare.I went into town to buy the ingredients for the supper, four kids in tow, got home, started unpacking the groceries, and realized that I had forgotten to stop at Dairy Queen to pick up the ice cream cake on the way home. That was a big oops because I did not want to pack the kids back up and drive back into town. I also knew that I wouldn’t have enough time to get the supper made in time if I did. I was stuck and needed a quick solution so I searched the pantry and freezer and was able to invent my own 3 ingredient frozen Oreo pie.

3 Ingredient Frozen Oreo Pie Recipe:

pre-made chocolate pie crust
4 oz. Cool Whip (1/2 of an 8 oz. container)
3 1/2 cups Oreo or cookies and cream ice cream (1/2 of a 1.66L tub)
optional: chocolate cookie crumb topping

Let the ice cream sit out at room temperature for a few minutes to soften. Scoop 3 1/2 cups of the ice cream into a medium to large size bowl. Fold in the Cool Whip. Scoop the ice cream and Cool Whip mixture into the chocolate pie crust. If desired, top with a sprinkling of chocolate cookie crumbs. Put the Oreo ice cream pie into the freezer.

Oreo ice cream pie squareKeep the pie in the freezer for 2 hours or until ready to serve.

I will be making this simple dessert often in the future now that I know how easy it was to make and how quickly it was eaten. The only thing I will change for next time will be to make 2 ice cream pies at a time so that I don’t have disappointed kids who wanted seconds and couldn’t have them!

Oreo ice cream pieI guess a trip to Dairy Queen wasn’t necessary after all. My homemade ice cream pie was just as good as theirs would have been.

Sugar Cookies with Maple Icing squareSugar Cookies with Maple Icing