Summer Sensory Activities

Anne Trecker, MS, OTR/L of Occupational Therapy Associates in Watertown, Massachusetts tells us about summer sensory activities in this post.

The warmer weather and slower pace of summertime provide an excellent opportunity for children to get increased input through summer sensory activities. Learning new skills may be easier without the pressures of school.

However, for some children with sensory motor problems who thrive on consistency, routines and structure, summer can be disorienting and lacking needed direction. Transitions from school to a summer program or camp may be difficult, and vacations, however enjoyable, can further disrupt a child’s routine.

Below are some suggestions for sensory activities to help children with sensory integration difficulties enjoy the summer months.

Fun Summer Sensory Activities

  • Go to the playground often. Climbing, hanging, swinging and sliding are excellent sensory activities. An older sibling or friend can model play activities to help a child with motor planning problems.
  • Move messy art activities outside for more sensory fun. Invite your child to play in shaving cream, fingerpaint, draw with sidewalk chalk, and “erase” the pictures with a squirt gun. Instead of brushes, paint with sticks, pinecones, and cat’s tails. Instead of paint, use water or shaving cream. Instead of paper, paint rocks, driftwood, and toenails. Add sand to paint for a new tactile experience.
  • Everyday, include water activities, whether swimming laps or playing in a wading pool. Water is an excellent environment for providing strong sensory input and for working on muscle strength and endurance. Slip-and-slides are exciting equipment for older children to use.
  • Build backyard obstacle courses with railroad ties, stepping stones, long boards, and large, sturdy boxes. Take a bowl of flour outside and, to connect distant obstacles, sprinkle the flour on the ground in a tactilely pleasing and biodegradable path.
  • Take family hikes and bike trips, as tolerated by the child, for endurance-building activities.
  • At the beach, encourage your child to build with sand, walk or run along the shore, and, of course, play in the water. To alleviate stress for the child who has tactile defensiveness, bring digging tools, beach shoes, extra clothes and large blankets so that contact with the sand can be somewhat controlled.

Ideas About Camp

  • Inform camp directors and counselors about your child’s special needs. It is easy for uninformed people to misinterpret sensory defensiveness, gravitational insecurity, and motor planning problems as behavior problems. Explain sensory integration, point out your child’s underlying difficulties, and discuss strategies that work for your child. OTA-Watertown can provide written material, and/or your child’s occupational therapist can talk with camp counselors.
  • Include sensory diet items in your child’s backpack. (A sensory diet consists of a variety of multi-sensory experiences that help a child to maintain self-regulation. This kind of program is developed by an occupational therapist and is meant to be implemented by parents, teachers, and other individuals working with the child.) Items such as sour candy, gum, objects to squeeze, theraband strips, and putty can easily travel to camp. It is important to explain the sensory diet concept and the use of the objects to camp counselors.

Car, Boat and Plane Trips

  • For the child who gets motion sickness, provide ginger snaps, candied ginger or ginger capsules, which often help. Acupressure wristbands, available at most drug stores, can aid greatly in motion sickness. Chewing gum, pulling on a piece of theraband, or listening to music or stories through headphones can often alleviate motion sickness and general restlessness.
  • On car trips, make frequent stops that include opportuni­ties for movement. Pushing against a parked car during a quick stop can provide needed heavy work input.


  • Attempt to establish a routine when away from home. Fairly regular mealtimes and bedtime provide needed energy for the next day’s activities.
  • Continue sensory diet activities while away. Bring the child’s favorite, packable toys and comfort items to ease being away from a familiar environment
  • Educate and remind relatives about sensory integration problems and your child’s need for a steady, balanced sensory diet and other accommodations that will help the child have a successful summer