The Ultimate List: Tactile Sensory Toys
We receive so much information from our senses; sight, touch, smell, taste, hearing (vestibular & proprioceptive) and our brain/nervous system needs to know how to handle all of this information. That is where sensory processing comes into play, literally and figuratively. Not only do we need our brains to understand how to process all the information it's receiving so we know how to function, sensory play also has some major benefits to your child.
One way we receive messages is through our sense of touch, or tactile system. Tactile system includes your entire network of skin, including your mouth. Tactile input includes:
light & firm touch
discrimination of different textures (dry, wet, messy)
can be alerting, calming, overstimulating (depending on person)
It’s a very complex system and is different for everyone. The Inspired Treehouse described it perfectly…
Sensory play is beyond important and should be incorporated as much as possible with all kids. We also use sensory play to help Adeline refine her thresholds for different sensory information, so she can learn which information is useful and which can be filtered out. For example, a child who is does not want to eat a certain food or a food with a certain texture the use of sensory play can assist the child with touching, smelling and playing with the texture in an environment with little expectation. As the child develops trust and understanding of this texture it helps build positive pathways in the brain to say it is safe to engage with this food.
My daughter was born at 26 weeks gestation, and had an IVH (intraventricular hemorrhage or brain bleed) at 2 weeks old. These two things make her have a much higher risk for sensory processing disorder or SPD. There are many factors that could make it a higher risk such as brain injury, ethnicity, sex, and gestational age but what one study found was that 39% of preemies (born before 32 weeks), had an atypical score in at least one section or quadrant of their sensory profile compared the 6% of babies born after 32 weeks. The sensory sections most likely to be affected were auditory, tactile and vestibular processing. If you are a parent of a premature baby, this is important to keep in mind.
Your child may have difficulty processing some tactile input and signs could include; irritation over tags in clothes, overly upset when brushing hair, oversensitive to temperature, over or under reactive to pain, difficulty with fine motor tasks, picky eater or avoids certain texture, anxiety in crowds, avoids certain textures such as grass, sand, etc. If you feel like your child is struggling with tactile input, you can schedule an appointment with an Occupational Therapist.
Adeline has a sensory processing disorder and we are currently working with an Occupational Therapist (OT) through private insurance as well as through Infants & Toddlers since she was 6 months old. I’ve rounded up some of our favorite tactile toys! You can just click on the image to shop and if you purchase through my links I will earn a small commission and is at no additional cost to you.
Therapy Brush We’ve used brushing off and on for AB for a variety of reasons; benefits may include improved ability to transition between daily activities, improved attention span, and better self-regulation. We follow the Wilbarger Protocol.
Moon Sand This toy has been a staple in our house for years and may be the most played with item we own. DIY moon sand is just not the same. Of all the toys we own, she will play with this the longest and I change up what’s inside our box based on the time of year (eggs during Easter, holiday shaped cookie cutters for Christmas, etc.).
Water Wigglies This is such a fun fidget because it’s hard to hold, so it sort of forces your kiddo to be engaged with it. It’s a great way to keep hands busy while waiting, and these are a staple in my diaper bag.
Play Foam The claims that this never dries out are true. It’s mess free, and kids can squish the PlayFoam up, shape it however you like, squash it back down, and start all over again. It also provides a unique texture to give lots of good tactile input and it does not stick to anything.
Hand Massager There are a lot of vibrating toys to provide kids with some good proprioceptive and tactile input but this is affordable and easily accessible. It provides soft, consistent, highly tactile, vibrating sensory input.
Slime I like this particular slime because it’s not sticky yet still gives you an opportunity to play with that unique slime texture. We hide different items inside the slime so Addie has to dig through to find the little treasures. This is a favorite currently and we call it “Unicorn Poop.”
Sensory Stepping Stones These are great for indoor play, following directions, and give a variety of great input. Adeline also likes to sit on them, play with them while doing an activity.
Electric Toothbrush Tactile input includes the mouth and this can provide input to the tongue, cheeks, palate, and lips. It can be used in off position as well but many kids find this vibration in the mouth soothing.
Stretchy String You can stretch, pull, twirl, wrap and squeeze them - then watch them bounce back to their original shape! They're perfect for sensory and tactile stimulation and made with very safe products (hypoallergenic, non-toxic, BPA free), etc.
Tactile Blocks AB loved these as a baby and it’s a great toy for learning colors, shapes, stacking, building, all while providing some good tactile input.
Wikki Stix Such a favorite and this toy is good for young toddlers all the way up to elementary age kids. There are so many educational benefits to this toy but you can build, create, and it’s sticky bumpy texture provides good input.
Puffer Ball Super gooey and gives great stress relief and tactile input. AB loves to squish it, pull on strings, and I find myself borrowing it quite often.
Squiggly Wiggle Writer Basically this is a vibrating pen, always a favorite in my kindergarten classroom. Especially for kids who did not enjoy writing.
Model Magic Create a sculpture that will dry overnight. Its not messy, it won't crumble or stick to skin and clothing. The dried pieces can be decorated with Crayola markers, paints, and glitter glue. The clay provides a smooth texture and builds hand strength.
Snap & Click Fidget I personally love this fidget and keeps kids busy by stimulating their sensory by creating and twisting it in different shapes, designs and create color patterns. Each twist makes a satisfying clicking noise.
Sequin Fidget You can find these everywhere right now and there is something soothing about brushing your hand back and forth over sequins. It provides good input and this ball makes it a bit more realistic to have with you than a pillow.
SloMo Bump Ball easy-grasp surface with feather-light safety and tactile feedback. Designed to improve and develop throwing skills. It's light enough to move through the air like a balloon which provides more time for eye-tracking and a higher level of success.
Compression Clothing Kozie explains these shirts perfecty, “Evidence suggests that weight and pressure inputs provide both tactile and proprioceptive input to the body, calming the central nervous system. Compression increases endorphin levels and decreases heart rate and blood pressure. Deep touch pressure causes the release of both serotonin and dopamine in the brain. These are "happy " neurotransmitters and produce a feeling of calm. “
Weighted Blanket That deep pressure they provide sends messages to the nervous system to improve awareness of their position in space, as well as calms and organizes their sensory system.Think about how it feels to be hugged tight. Most of us love and seek that deep pressure input. Well, now you can have it all the time!
Water Beads This is a staple during every one of our inpatient stays. These beads grow when placed in water, are kind of rubbery and jelly, and provide endless sensory input with the hands.
Body Sock The body sock gives immediate feedback to the tactile and proprioceptive systems when it is worn, and there are so many things you can do with it. It’s a good quiet space, good for movement activities, yoga, pretend play, etc.
Color Changing Putty Fantastic sensory tool that can be used as therapy putty, and it changes color when you play with it. Stretch it, pop it, bounce it, roll it, flatten it, play with it, and it can help with concentration, focus and anxiety relief.
Pop Toob These things are the best and various therapists have been using these with Addie since she has been 6 months old. This creates a popping sound as you expand and compress it, or twirl it around in a circle to hear it whistle
Fingerpaint Finger paint is great for tactile seekers to engage in messy play! Looking for a cleaner alternative- try unscented lotion instead.
If you like any of these toys, you can purchase through the links I provided. By doing that, you are supporting this blog and all the work & time that goes into writing these articles. We appreciate it.