If you are seeking playroom ideas for toddlers and kids, consider these sensory gym and sensory room ideas! Sensory gyms are becoming more popular throughout the country, but did you know you can make your own sensory gym at home?
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What is a Sensory Gym?
A sensory gym is essentially a sensory room in a gym setting and is often heavy on the movement (kinesthetic) equipment. A sensory room is a room that offers many different items to stimulate to the senses. It is highly beneficial for natural sensory development and motor development in children, and especially for kids that have sensory processing disorder
It is not an excuse to stay indoors!
No matter how good your sensory room is, the outdoors is better and the benefits of fresh air and sunshine are invaluable. If you are looking for ways to help your child’s sensory experiences outdoors too, read my post on kids fitness here.
I have known several children who do have a hard time dealing with the outdoors because of their sensitivities, but that doesn’t take away the benefits. If they have a low tolerance for the sun, enjoy outdoors time in the morning or evenings. If the grass or ground irritates them too much, wear soft-soled shoes or socks or walk on ground that is ok for them. Modify your child’s outdoor life as needed, but do not take it away! Also, remember to provide sensory experiences while outdoors.
Sensory Room Ideas Individualized
How much space you choose to use is up to you and your home size. Basements are especially ideal if you have one with a lot of open space. If you have a designated playroom or extra bedroom in your home to use, this is the next obvious choice to make into your sensory room. We use one room for our family sleeping room so that area is always quiet and calm, and transformed our kids’ bedroom into a sensory bedroom and sensory gym. If you do choose to use the room your child sleeps in to be their sensory room too, be diligent that it still possesses a quiet, calm aspect in the bed area.
If at all possible, put your sensory room in an area with high ceilings! This makes it easier to have jumping toys or to build climbing equipment.
Small room? No worries! When I had my first child we lived in a small apartment. Instead of putting a dining table in the tiny dining area, I put a gymnastics mat down and that was the start of my son’s sensory room! If you don’t have a room but need the special space for a sensory area, consider hanging sheets or using a tent indoors, or clear out a closet to make an area devoted to your child.
Also read how to create space when you don’t think you have any here!
While hard floors are much easier to clean, they’re also easier to get hurt on when falling! I personally prefer hard flooring in a sensory room, mainly because carpet attracts so much dirt and germs. Also, it’s nice to use hard floors for rolling, sliding, and having an even surface.
If you do have hard floors, it’s pretty easy to set up padding. I prefer using gymnastics mats, as they are designed to last through kids wear and tear and are normally easy to clean. This post is where you can find my breakdown of the top gymnastics mats to buy for your home. These will last years, have a huge resale value, and are extremely versatile.
You can also choose to get a large rug for the room to make sitting on the floor more comfortable, or just use a blanket or floor pillows.
I have seen many interlocking foam type floor tiles like this to use for sensory room floors. It is a budget-friendly option for flooring. However, it should not be considered a protective mat if your child is climbing, hanging, or jumping down from raised surfaces. You should always have proper gymnastics mats for landing surfaces since kids with special needs often can’t correctly land, or fall. The other thing I do not like about the interlocking mats is that they get dirty and age fast. Sensory seekers may love it’s material to tear, or even chew so keep that in mind when choosing this type of flooring.
Sensory Room Equipment for Each Sense
Sensory room equipment consists of items to stimulate or calm the senses. I’ve found most focus on the senses of touch, sight, hearing, and kinesthesia. If your child has sensory delays, focus on those when determining what types of sensory items to include. Some kids would be overwhelmed in rooms that contain certain, or too much, sensory experiences.
I have organized the sensory gym equipment into categories of which sense each best stimulates. Here is a simple chart for items you may consider for your sensory room.
Easy Guide to Sensory Room Equipment - Organized By Each Sense!
|Essential Oil |
|Flat Stones||Mirrors||Music Player |
(Echo Dot for Kids)
|Sensory Bins||Flashlights ||Wind Chimes||Flowers||Bars|
|Weighted blankets||Pictures, |
|Bead Curtain||Lava |
Most tutorials online seem to focus on this when talking about sensory toys. Search for DIY sensory toys on Pinterest and you’ll get dozens of different types of sensory bins and tactile crafts. Choose some of the ones you and your child like best!
The sense of touch is not just for the hands. Your feet need touch too, and often being shoe covered, don’t always get enough! Put large flat stones for a pathway to have to step on or fill a shallow bin with stones or marbles to step in (obviously not for kids that put things in their mouths). A lamb’s wool is amazing in a child’s room for standing on, sitting on, and just feeling it. Many of them are highly processed or faux, but if you can get a real lambskin for your child, here is a good option.
Obvious choices for the sense of sight include books and pictures. I notice that keeping books low and on a rotated display creates more interest. Here are some good kids book options and tips on reading for enjoyment with kids.
Mirrors are a must! Babies, toddlers, and kids love to look at themselves in mirrors and they really love to dance and do tricks while watching themselves. Older kids love to use wipe-away markers on the mirrors too!
Bubbles and bubble makers are great for their eye tracking and hand-eye coordination. Mobiles are as well.
Lights are another great sensory experience. Lava lamps are relaxing and put off a low glow. Lights on strings such as Christmas lights are simple and can add “magic” to the room. Flashlights are cheap and easy and kids love to make shadows on the wall with them, or go under a blanket for light shows!
Musical instruments should be included in every child’s playroom. Simple and free instruments can be made, like sticks to tap together or rattles made from bottles.
I also recommend investing in some quality instruments that will help your child learn tunes.
I bought a kids gathering drum six years ago and, after being stepped on, pounded, and otherwise abused, it is still holding up strong as one of our favorite toys. You can see the one we have here. We have the 22″ because I bought it to use with our homeschool co-op, but I think the smaller one would work well for home use.
My kids also adore their keyboard and use it almost daily! They play it and it also plays several tunes. They can adjust it to go fast, slow, loud, fast, etc. We have a Casio brand that is not a kids toy, but a real keyboard. It is budget friendly and easy for kids to use. You can choose between two sizes (we have the bigger one) and it has great reviews – check the current price here.
Most kids will also love to have a music player in their room. Fortunately for young kids, Amazon has made it easy for them to play music or stories just by asking for them with the Echo Dot for kids. Fortunately for us, it costs no more than many music players.
Often neglected is our kinesthetic sense. This is our sense of balance, knowing where we are in space (or our body position), and how to move our body to get it to do what we want. Promoting kinesthesia in our children has gotten harder with life’s distractions and the popularity of infant seats, swings, and other apparatus that keeps babies from moving as much as normal nature intends. It is more common for kids to be born with motor delays, and less common to get the chance to work on them (what with all the TV watching!). Adding more opportunities to move is one of the best playroom ideas for toddlers!
When adding sensory room equipment, think about getting them to move in different ways (up, down, side to side, back and forth, etc.) and use each muscle group. Also, see my posts on gymnastics for kids for simple gymnastics kids can do at home!
Giving your child opportunities to hang will strengthen their upper body and give them a sense of risk-taking. Playground swinging bars can easily be hung with hooks screwed into the ceiling. Pull up bars that attach and easily unattach to door frames are great, but they are too high for a small kid to reach. Gymnastics bars for home use are easily bought on Amazon, here’s one that folds when not in use! A simple rope hung from the ceiling also encourages climbing, especially if you put a bell or something at the top as an incentive!
Having a sensory swing for autism has become popular, but swinging is beneficial for everyone. The movement a swing provides is harder to duplicate naturally without equipment. Rocking chairs are a similar feeling as swinging, and easy to do together, rocking horses are the same but easy for them to do on their own! A rocking horse also helps their torso strength.
I really like traditional hammocks as they can wrap themselves up in it while swinging and can lay or sit in several positions. Often there isn’t a good place in your ceiling to hang hooks and with hammocks you can use the walls. I love the Hammocks Rada brand and personally own two of them. You can find different sizes and colors here.
Jumping with feet together usually happens around two years old. Often kids with delays can’t jump with both feet until much older.
I have seen many kids that are able to “get” jumping with both feet only after being offered a bouncy surface, like a trampoline. Mini trampolines are an easy way to promote jumping, and makes a great piece of sensory gym equipment!
We have this one, purchased three years ago after our other one broke. I like it because it does not have springs for their fingers to get pinched in, it’s held up to all of us jumping on it (and occasional use in my gymnastics classes), and it is a good price (see the current price here).
I do not recommend the kids trampolines with bars to hold on to for jumping for two reasons. They are not safe, as the child can easily hit themselves on the bar, especially if they like to jump on their knees – ouch! It also takes some of the purpose of jumping away – they should use their whole bodies to jump, but holding on to a bar lessens the burden of their torso, creating an unnatural experience.
A yoga ball is another easy way to incorporate bouncing in your toddler playroom. This one is a popular choice since it has several colors and sizes to choose.
Incorporating climbing in a sensory gym can be easier than you think. Pile up pillows or mats in the middle of the room to climb up. Attach climbing ropes to the wall or even climbing holds to make a rock climbing wall. We built a rope ladder for my kids that they loved to simply climb to the ceiling.
A gymnastics cheese mat also makes a good safe piece of climbing equipment for younger kids and pre-walkers.
DIY Sensory Room
Transforming your children’s playroom (or other area) into a sensory playroom need not be an overwhelming, expensive process. Adding a few individualized sensory toys can go a long way to having a more fun daily environment. If you are handy, or have a friend that is that can help out, you will be amazed at what you can create with a bit of hardware.
Sensory Room on a Budget
Don’t have a money tree out back? No problem! You can still create an awesome sensory room with just a few elements – it really can be simple!
Creating your child’s playroom yourself allows you to completely cater to their needs and wants.
What does your child like and why are you creating a sensory space for them? All kids needs are different – some want constantly to move, while others need complete calmness at times. When you take your child to the park, or if you go to physical therapy, what do they gravitate to? What do they shy away from? These are questions to ask yourself when coming up with sensory room ideas. Don’t leave out things they tend to dislike, those are the ones that they may most need!
Homemade Sensory Toys
With the huge prevalence of kids with sensory delays today, there has come an increase in sensory toys, special needs toys, and sensory toys for autism specifically. In hopes they will help, parents are buying these toys at high prices. But you really don’t need the specialized toys to create a beneficial environment for your sensory seeking child, or for any kid. Take, for example, this homemade busy board for toddlers. It’s just one great and easy idea to make your own sensory toys.
Stay tuned for my second post on sensory room ideas to transform your children’s playroom! It will focus on DIY ideas for a sensory room and homemade sensory toys and sensory room equipment.
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