You have a list of activities, products and exercises from your occupational therapist. Excellent.
Except, you don’t know where to start.
And, you’re overwhelmed by the combined cost of all these recommended products and therapies.
But you want to do the best for your child!
So what do you do?
It’s true, helping your child regulate their sensory needs can become quite expensive. Especially if you buy all your sensory needs from dedicated therapy suppliers.
However, do you know your local hardware store could hold the key to sensory hacks you can get for the fraction of the cost?
Now, a word of warning before you get too excited. If you are interested in looking outside the box for cheap and easy alternatives to sensory products, you will need to undertake a little bit of research before buying anything.
The suggestions below are just suggestions. I do not endorse these items in any way and I cannot vouch for their safety as most have not been designed specifically for sensory regulation.
But, these sensory hacks might give you some ideas on how you can help regulate your child’s sensory needs right now. Using items you can commonly buy at any large hardware store.
45+ Sensory Hacks from Your Local Hardware Store
If your child seeks or avoids noise, they may have an auditory sensitivity. If they tend to get upset when in a loud room or if they instinctively put their hands over their ears, they are probably experiencing auditory overload. A pair of ear muffs or ear plugs can be just the thing to help calm them down and cope better with noisy environments.
If your child loves making sounds and seems drawn to noise, there are many ways you can give them more auditory input:
- buy a box of washers and a small plastic container and you have an instant noise maker.
- a bird bath or small water feature can be a source of background noise and calm in the backyard.
- a tray of pebbles can bring auditory fun by shaking the tray and dropping the pebbles.
- windchimes provide beautiful sounds and stimulation for auditory seekers.
- bells and whistles can be added to the garden to provide noise and garden decoration too.
For kids who avoid visual stimulation & can’t sleep with light coming in, the hardware store can usually provide block out blinds. You can also get safety glasses with a UV coating which makes them look like sunglasses too. Great for playing outside without being quite so bothered with glare.
You may have a child who is stimulated by watching objects move or who loves to sort by shapes, sizes or colours. A few easy hacks from the hardware store for visual seekers include:
- purchasing a small windmill or garden ornament that moves in the wind so they can watch.
- getting some bright pots and flowering plants and getting them to help you create a visually stunning garden display.
- buying coloured pebbles, rocks, gravel or crystals and encouraging your child to sort by shape, colour or size.
- using paint to create visual interest throughout your house and garden.
- introducing a night light to create visual interest at night and help with sleep.
Many kids are quite sensitive to smell. In fact, my son won’t even go to my local hardware store because he gets overwhelmed by the different odours that greet him from the entry doors. I really should get him a face mask for those occasions, or even better, a respirator to really stop the odours!
Meanwhile, the hardware store provides a host of hacks for kids who try to smell everything. A few ideas to get your started include:
- fragrant plants – create a sensory garden with lavendar, jasmine, roses, herbs and rosemary.
- use incense to provide the olfactory stimulation they are seeking in the comfort of their own room.
- a freshly sawn piece of timber can be highly fragrant for olfactory seekers.
- kid safe mulch can be used in the garden to provide a strong scent.
It can be a little harder to find hacks for oral avoiders and seekers at the hardware store but one obvious place is the gardening section. Help your child pick out fruit and vegetables to grow in the garden from seeds or seedlings. Herbs may provide a more immediate sensory fix too. Talk to them about their sensory preferences (hard, soft, crunchy, chewy, mushy) and work together to grow and prepare homegrown product to their liking.
Another option for oral seekers is to purchase a piece of plastic tubing for them to chew on. It goes without saying that you’ll need to check with the manufacturer to ensure there are no nasties before trying this one out!
The hardware store is a tactile seeking wonderland. SO MANY THINGS TO TOUCH!
It also provides the tools to to help kids who are not so keen on feeling new sensations.
So, it’s no surprise the following list is much larger than any other sensory group!
Tactile seekers can get their sensory fix through some, or all, of the following:
- being brushed with a paint brush or rolled with a paint roller.
- finger painting with paint.
- running through the sprinkler in the backyard.
- letting you hose them down with different garden nozzle settings.
- busting metres upon metres of bubble wrap.
- playing around with rope, making knots and tugging and pulling.
- touching plants and feeling the different foilage, fruit, flower and leaf sensations.
- building towers with sanded offcuts of timber.
- running their fingers through sand, soil, gravel, pebbles, rocks and mulch (kids safe).
- adding water to sand or soil to create a mud lovers paradise.
Meanwhile, tactile avoiders can be introduced gently to new sensations by:
- purchasing a wading pool to get them used to the sensation of water. These can also be used as sandpits too, providing more safe tactile exploration options.
- using kid safe sand, a storage container and pebbles to encourage sensory exploration.
- helping to plant seeds and seedlings in soil, a great activity to get their hands dirty.
- watering the garden with a watering can for a controlled experience with water, dirt & mud.
- creating a sensory-friendly terrarium using a clear container, pebbles, sand, rocks & garden ornaments.
If your hardware store sells swings, hammocks and swivel seating, you have found paradise for kids who need more vestibular input. These kids love to swing, spin, move around and feel in motion.
If this is the case for you, here are some suggestions to give them what they need:
- traditional swings, disc swings, net swings, foot swings are all perfect for feeding the vestibular system and giving kids the input they crave.
- Swing seats and hanging seats are another, more gentle way, to provide vestibular input. These are a good choice to help those who are not totally comfortable off the ground or when in motion (vestibular avoiders).
- great for relaxation, hammocks are also good for providing a gentle, rocking motion too.
- some hardware stores have all sorts of play equipment, like see saws and slides. Playground favourites, these are perfect for kids who tend to seek lots of vestibular stimulation.
- you could just go all out and get an amazing play gym for your kids, already decked out with every sensory stimulating activity possible!
Proprioception is the sense that helps tell us where the different parts of our body are at all times. It helps us stay coordinated, assists in motor planning and can help us determine if something is too heavy or light.
A lot of kids can find this sense difficult to manage. Here are some more hacks to help you, help them:
- crawling through a play tunnel or tent can help develop body awareness. It can also provide deep pressure and heavy work too.
- using an industrial dolly as a scooter can encourage your kids to use their hands and legs to move about as they lay face down. This is a great activity for strength building, motor planning and coordination.
- playing tug o war with a rope is fun and helps build strength, develop motor planning and body awareness.
- attaching a rubber strap to the legs of a desk or chair. Letting your kids play with the strap with their legs and feet can help maintain attention, concentration & body awareness when seated.
- placing moulded climbing hand-holds on play equpiment or the side of your house will promote a range of proprioception skills.
- setting up a rope ladder or climbing rope is perfect for encouraging coordination, motor planning, heavy work and strength building.
- hanging on a trapeze can further develop these skills and build upper body strength too.
I found examples of all these products (and the images used in this post) from Bunnings Warehouse (my local hardware store). I hope these ideas help you find cheaper, easier and immediate sensory hacks to meet your child’s sensory needs.
I’d love to hear the sensory hacks you’ve been able to source from your local hardware store!
Would you like more support as a special needs parent?
Subscribe to Positive Special Needs Parenting to receive updates, advice and support from someone who's been there (and is still very much there!)
My goodness! You’ve put so much work into this. This is such a comprehensive selection of ideas. The swing is a very relaxing and calming activity in our household and the girls love planting too.
Wow. That needs to become a guide in some ways for many to use. Like Renee said you have put so much into this Kirsty! I guess, given WHS etc that you would need to have all the boxes ticked and that’s why you wrote your disclaimer. Really good work and huge research done I am sure!! Denyse #teamIBOT
This is awesome! My 4 year old has developmental delays and his therapist has recommended that we invest in sensory toys (which are so expensive!). I didn’t know we can use most of the stuff in my shed!
Great hacks! 🙂 The wind-chimes work really well, the little boy at home loves how relaxing the sound can be every time the wind blows through them. Introducing him next to herb gardening. I’m glad I came to across your site. Thanks for putting this together!