One of the best things I learned from this book is that sensory activities are a major benefit to Ryan.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’d never heard the term “sensory activities” before reading that book. Here is how author Mary Sheedy Kurcinka describes how these activities benefit spirited children:

“Spirited kids are very sensuous. They enjoy activities that allow them to touch, smell, taste, hear or see things. Using their senses calms them.”

It explains why Ryan gravitates toward toys like Magna-Tiles, Legos and Play-Doh. Spirited kids are both emotionally intense and exceptionally creative. They get bored playing with toys the “right” way. They want to use their senses while inventing their own scenarios.

I’ve never really focused on creating sensory activities for Ryan; but looking back, I can see that I intuitively knew these sorts of things calmed him down. Whenever he got particularly rambunctious during warmer months, my go-to move was to march him outside to fill up his water table. After every rain storm, we splashed in puddles. Once the weather became colder, we started doing mid-day bubble baths and baking LOTS cupcakes so that he could help crack the eggs, mix the batter, separate the cupcake papers and apply the sprinkles.

I knew these things calmed him down, diffused his intensity and focused his energy. I just didn’t fully understand the why part, so I wasn’t taking full advantage of it.

Now that I know the why, I am working hard to create at least one new fun sensory activity for him each day during the week. As a one-working-parent household, we’re very budget conscious, so all the activities I’ve dreamed up have involved materials we already have sitting around our house.

Here are some of our favorites so far:

We call this one "Dirty Dinosaur." One large bowl of dry oats, one cup of water, and other assorted cups for pouring and mixing. And then, of course, some plastic dinosaurs for dunking and burying.

We call this one “Dirty Dinosaur.” One large bowl of dry oats, one cup of water and other assorted cups for pouring and mixing. And then, of course, some plastic dinosaurs for dunking and burying.

Dry rice, two large bowls, a measuring cup and a plastic lobster.

Dry rice, two large bowls, a measuring cup and a plastic lobster.

One large bowl, one box uncooked penne pasta, one random plastic cupcake container leftover from some Valentine's Day treats and, yes, a plastic dinosaur.

One large bowl, one box uncooked penne pasta, one random plastic cupcake container leftover from some Valentine’s Day treats and, yes, a plastic dinosaur. (In case you’re curious, the triceratops is about to dive into the bed of penne to go to sleep. Just like in nature.)

A large shipping box and lots and lots of bubble wrap.

A large shipping box and lots and lots of bubble wrap. (“Can you find me?!?”)

Another variation: Box of packing peanuts.

Another variation: Big box of packing peanuts. (“I’m crackin’ these eggs.”)

And perhaps our favorite so far: Shredded paper, one plastic storage tub, one large bowl, a pair of kitchen tongs and - you guessed it - a plastic dinosaur.

And perhaps our favorite so far: One plastic storage tub, shredded paper, one large bowl, a pair of kitchen tongs and – you guessed it – a plastic dinosaur.

Are these activities messy? Yes. Yes, they are.


But the clean-up often becomes part of the activity. If there’s one thing my kid loves more than playing with shredded paper, it’s helping to sweep it up.

Even so, I’m very much looking forward to spring, when I can bust that water table out and maybe add a few new messy outdoor sensory activities to the mix.

(In the meantime, yes, it has crossed my mind to set the water table up on my kitchen floor with a vinyl tablecloth underneath it. Depending on how long this winter weather keeps hammering us, I haven’t entirely ruled it out yet.)

One day when I’m feeling particularly dedicated, I’m going to attempt to recreate this amazing “Glow Bath” concept that my bloggy friend Stef dreamed up.

If you have kids, do you do these sorts of activities with them? If you’re a teacher, do you incorporate them into your classroom? I want any and all suggestions you have.


If you’re on Instagram, follow me here for more sensory activity suggestions.

11 Responses to How sensory activities calm my spirited child.

  1. Angie says:

    Love all of theses! And I say bust out the water table! We use ours year round, inside and out. I put down big beach towels underneath them. But you don’t have to fill it up with water. I’ve done snow (and even had them “paint” the snow with colored water). I’ve also done shaving cream, rice, magnetic letters they fished out with homemade fishing poles, playdoh, etc. You don’t have to put just water in a water table. Shocking, isn’t it? Or if you prefer to keep water where it belongs, just pull up a chair to the sink, fill it up and have him play in there. My boys do that, too. I give them some measure cups, spoons, bowls, add bubbles, whatever. They could play at the sink all day long.

    But, seriously, isn’t it spring yet?!!

  2. Angela says:

    Modern Parents Messy Kids is a blog you might find interesting and helpful. A ton of ideas for open ended play and sensory activities.

  3. So interesting! I have always called Owen a “kinesthetic learner” because I, too, noticed a long time ago that he learns better (and acts better) when his body is allowed/encouraged to be moving, doing, touching, manipulating. I never really understood the “why” either, though I chalked it up to excess body energy that needed to be let out in a channeled way.

    We do a lot of jumping/dancing at the moment and not so many crafty sensory things. That may have to change very soon! That said, they do a TON of sensory activities at school every day, and I am constantly amazed at the things they come up with. One cool one that Owen loves (and is in the dinosaur theme) is freezing little plastic animals/dinosaurs in a bowl full of water and then letting the kid chip away at the ice to free the animals. This past week the sensory table was filled with cracked cocoa beans and they were pouring and measuring and dumping. That one smelled delish, too.

    Keep these posts coming, I am learning so much!

    • LOVE the frozen dinosaur idea. I bet Ryan would freak for that. That is so great that Owen’s school incorporates a lot of those sorts of activities. I think that is so, so important. I actually think one of Ryan’s main issues at school might be that he isn’t getting enough of that. There seems to be a lot of circle time (which he has a hard time sitting still for) and “free play” time (which, as far as I can tell, doesn’t involve a whole lot of sensory tables or activities and thus cultivates too many opportunities to get himself into trouble). They do a lot of crafts, which is good, but he seems to get bored when someone says “here, do this project exactly like this.” I’m touring a new preschool this week and hoping there’s a bit more of a focus on individual learning styles and temperaments.

  4. ack says:

    Hi there… over the past week with all of the snow in the Northeast, we played with snow indoors. My 3-year old daughter stood on a chair at the kitchen counter and I gave her a bucket of snow and a bunch of kitchen tools – spoons, a funnel, spatulas, a little ladle, bowls – and she scooped and poured and melted (with water added) and so on. A little messy, but we put some towels down and it was fine. And the snow is free! She played like that for an hour each day….

  5. Stacy says:

    My son is 3 and so similar to Ryan! I laughed out loud (and could totally relate) to your description of trying to get him dressed – sitting there holding out a pair of pants while he suddenly decides he needs to organize his stuffed animals or pick lint off the carpet or any number of other things! I discovered this activity quite by accident: one day a container of corn meal fell off a pantry shelf and spilled all over the kitchen floor. Being a particularly obnoxious breed of Type A, my first instinct was to clean it up as quickly as possible. But my son came running in to see what was going on and his eyes lit up. “No, don’t clean it up!” he exclaimed and went running for his matchbox cars. I’ll be darned if he didn’t play in that cornmeal for a good hour – driving the cars through, making tracks, inventing scenarios, etc. Then cleaning the cars off at the sink became an additional activity! I don’t advocate dumping corn meal on the floor, but a baking sheet works well to contain it :) We’re from Upstate NY and can’t wait for this weather to break either!

  6. […] (P.S. For more info on the benefits of sensory play and sensory activity suggestions, read this post.) […]

  7. […] still sensory-activity’ing it up around here. In case you were […]

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