What is a Sensory Diet?

A sensory diet is a family centered approach of providing sensory integrative therapy to meet the needs of a specific child and family. Sensory diets are not food diets, although food may be used in them. Sensory diets are activities that we use to help us feel calm, alert, and in an “optimal” state of arousal.   Sensory diets are planned, scheduled activities imbedded throughout the day to help these individuals achieve or maintain an optimal arousal level. A sensory diet can be supervised by a parent, a teacher or any other involved adult.

Sensory Activities

Sensory diet activities are usually quite simple. The following lists offer a few examples of activities that may be done at home:

Games (alerting activities)

  • Tag
  • Follow-the-Leader
  • Obstacle Courses including dragging/sliding things
  • Silly Walks (e.g., crab walk)
  • Red Light/Green Light
  • Running Races
  • Tug-of-war
  • Simon Says
  • “Stop Dancing” where you freeze and hold you body posture at breaks in the music

Swinging/Bouncing (alerting activities)

  • Inside swings
  • Trampoline
  • Hang-bar
  • Outside swings/hammocks
  • Outside trolley
  • Exercise ball
  • Jump Rope
  • Stilts/Roller Skates

Exercises (organizing activities)

  • Jumping Jacks
  • Climbing
  • Situps and Pullups
  • Tumbling/Head Stands
  • Wheelbarrow/Camel Play: Have the child carry loads on the back like a camel.
  • Pushing a loaded box/wagon/cart.  
  • Running/jogging/biking/Stair Climbing
  • Horsie and Leapfrog: These are great contact sports. Leapfrog is where one person jumps over the other. Next the other person does the same.
  • Roughhousing: This can be a good all over sensory experience especially if you push, pull, tug, roll, and tumble. Make sure to use proper safety precautions.

Other Sensory Stimulation (organizing activities)

**If a child is sensitive to touch they should not be forced to do texture activities

  • Silly putty, Play-doh
  • Paper Ripping: Let the child have some type of paper material. Allow them to tear strips, squares, or circles from the paper.
  • Catch and Kick The Ball: Toss a Ball back and forth. Then roll the ball back and forth. Finally kick the ball back and forth.
  • Imitation songs and hand games
  • Music listening/dancing/singing
  • Pushing and pulling activities: playing with a "stretch " toy or stiff clay
  • Playing in a sensory table filled with dry beans such as navy or lima, sand, pebbles, or water.
  • Finger painting with plain paint first then adding in; sand, cereal, rice, or other textures.
  • Cooking Play: When you are cooking let the child play in the cookie dough, bread dough, etc.
  • Dress- up: Collect a box of dress-up items for the child to use. Items can include hats, gloves or mittens, scarves of different materials, etc.

 Calming Activities

  • Slow swinging or rocking
  • Cuddling with pillows in a “hideout”
  • Making a "kid burrito" by rolling the child up tightly in a blanket, or a "kid sandwich" by (carefully) squishing the child between two gymnastic mats or sofa cushions.
  • pressure massages, back/neck rubs, cuddles or hugs
  • "Heavy work," such as moving furniture, carrying heavy bags, or lifting weights.
  • Hideaway: Use towels, sheets, blankets, and other materials for placing over a table or two chairs put together to make a fort for the child to play in.
  • Quiet music listening, books on tape
  • Warm bath or shower
  • Pushing on walls with, back, buttocks, hands, head, or shoulders.
  • Sucking on something - it can be ice water from a squeeze bottle, a lolly or anything else the child enjoys

 Considerations in Planning a Sensory Diet

An occupational therapist should work with you to tailor the sensory diet to your child’s needs.  

A sensory diet should include alerting activities, organizing activities, and calming activities based on the performance of the child.  This includes interventions for specific problems areas, using “calming activities” during stress periods and “alerting” activities during slow periods.


  • Routines are important so start simple and work up. An example might be after breakfast, after lunch, after school, before bedtime, or every 2 hours.
  • Use an activity that the child has an interest in, this will stop an opening confrontation.
  • When the transition is made between activities and during an activity. Try counting to 5 before making a transition.
  • Watch for signs of child starting to relax by facial expressions, these mean the child is involved in a activity that is working at that time. Crying, whimpering, and laughing, can mean it is time to cool off or calm down.
  • Change the routine occasionally for variety. This will help to keep the sensory diet interesting. This also helps with the ability of change in their environment
  • Talk with your occupational therapist regularly to make sure the diet that you are using is age appropriate and is still fitting your child's sensory needs.