Play is the occupation of children. Through the action of playing, children are able to develop themselves as well as explore the world around them. Sensory integration is a process that automatically occurs in most individuals, such as when everything we see, hear and feel makes sense to us. Some individuals have a difficult time in processing sensory information. Sensory integration provides the groundwork for developing better physical, academic and social skills. Four aspects of sensory integration as well as activities to enhance them are listed below:
The touch sense involves the tactile system. It is defined as a sensation that is derived from stimulation to the skin. Through this system, we learn about various textures, shapes and sizes. We are able to differentiate between soft and rough, sharp and dull and small and big sensations. The sense of touch offers feedback, allowing us to utilize a pencil, button a shirt or even zip a jacket.
Holiday activities that are able to aid the tactile system:
- Finger paint with Christmas/holiday colors
- Create gingerbread men ornaments or cookies
- Snow play
- Snow angels on the carpet
- Decorate the Christmas tree
- Play with Christmas/holiday-colored play dough
The gravity and movement sense involves the vestibular system. It is defined as a sensation that is derived from stimulation to the vestibular mechanism found in the inner ear that occurs through both movement and position of the head. This system contributes to posture and the maintenance of a stable visual field. When we close our eyes while riding on a roller coaster, we are aware that we are moving as well as the position of our body.
Holiday activities that help better develop the vestibular system:
- Ice skating
- Sleigh rides
- Passing snow balls overhead or through legs
- Lying on the couch with head upside down
- Watching a holiday-themed movie
- Toy soldier marching.
The body position sense involves the proprioceptive system. It is defined as a sensation that is derived from movement, muscle and joint perception. We are aware of what items we are holding in our hands with our vision obstructed. Children must be aware of how far to flex and extend their upper and lower limbs so that they are able to climb the playground or to hold a utensil.
Holiday activities that are able to enhance the proprioceptive system:
- Making a snowman
- Making snow angels in the snow
- Digging snow tunnels
- Rolling out cookie dough
- Shaking a heavy snow globe.
Many of the activities that help establish the tactile, vestibular and proprioceptive systems will also aid in the development of motor skills. This process is called praxis. It is the ability of the brain to conceive of, organize and carry out a sequence of unfamiliar actions. When we were initially taugt how to climb a ladder or ride a bike, we had to think about how to determine our movements.
Holiday activities that help improve praxis:
- Constructional toys, such as holiday-themed Legos or making a gingerbread house
- Making winter holiday cooking recipes
- Coloring and cutting shapes for a winter holiday picture
- Creating an obstacle course in the snow to crawl under, over, through, etc.