You may have seen this colorful sensory activity on instagram or Pinterest; buckets full of bright blue rice and aquatic toys. Or bright green rice with tiny plants and jungle creatures. These fun and whimsical worlds are actually extremely educational and beneficial to your little one’s development! Their base is made of dyed rice and provides unlimited opportunities for your little one to develop their fine motor skills as well as engage in sensory play. And we’re gonna show you how easy and fun it is to make! Skip to the end to find out how sensory rice may be beneficial to you too, mama!
But first, what is sensory play and why is it important? Great question! Our senses are how we intake information about the world around us and learn to navigate it. We are born with these senses, but we must learn how they work and how to use them. Sensory play involves activities that stimulate your little one’s senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell and movement) and increase their threshold for sensory stimulation, essentially making their senses sharper. Sensory play encourages exploration and that exploration helps build nerve connections throughout the brain. These new connections allow your little one to take on more complex tasks and promote cognitive, motor skill, language and problem solving development, which is another way of saying this type of play actually makes your baby smarter (1).
Ok, now it’s time for the fun part. This process is super simple and all the ingredients are probably already in your cupboard somewhere.
What You Need:
What You Do:
Fill your bag with ½ – 1 full cup of rice
In a separate cup, pour in ½ tablespoon or less of vinegar
Add a few drops of food coloring to your cup of vinegar
Swirl the dye mixture around to make sure the vinegar and food coloring fully mix together
Dump your dye mixture into the bag of rice
Now the fun part! Zip your bag closed and squish it up. Make sure the dye works its way through the bag and touches all the rice. It will pool in the bottom of the bag and form pockets so make sure you mix and squish it enough to cover all the rice in dye.
Let the dye soaked rice sit in the bag for a little bit, rotating it every 20 minutes or so to make sure the rice is evenly colored.
After an hour or two, most of the food coloring mix will have been soaked up or evaporated off. Pour the now brightly colored rice into a bowl and place it in the refrigerator to dry the left over vinegar and get rid of the strong smell.
You don’t actually have to measure any of the ingredients, eyeballing everything works just as well.
A lot of rice + a little dye = lighter colored rice
A lot of rice + a lot of dye = brighter colored rice
A little rice + a little dye = brightly colored rice
A little rice + a lot of dye = darker colored rice
You can mix food coloring to create new colors just like with paint. If you’re mixing colors, you will need to pay attention to ratios and eyeball your measurements carefully. A bad ratio of colors can turn your rice dark and muddy.
The good news is that, like with paint, you can continue to add one color or another to lighten, darken, or tone your dye mixture. For example, when we made our first batch of purple, we used entirely too much blue. The mixture turned a blue tinted black color, but was able to be toned back down to purple by adding in more red.
When mixing a new color, start with a base of the lighter color and add in the darker color one drop at a time. Colors with deeper pigments will absorb and darken higher concentrations of lighter colors. Think of what happens when you add white to any color of paint. The mixture may lighten slightly, but the white will be completely consumed by the pigment of the original color. The principle applies to food coloring as well.
Brown rice can also be dyed, but produces more jewel toned colors compared to the bright colors created using white rice.
You’ll Love It Too!
If you enjoy working with your hands, and don’t mind a little mess, you’ll probably have some fun making this rice, and might want to consider making an extra batch for yourself!
Remember in inside out, when we’re meeting Riley’s emotions? Joy, ever the optimist, describes Anger as someone who ‘really cares a lot about things being fair’ right before he blows his top over not being able to have dessert. If you, as a mom have never had a moment like this, we…well we wanna know your secret! But if you’re like us, and blow your top from time to time consider keeping a small stash of this pretty rice to play with when you’re feeling agitated. Just a few minutes of ‘playing’ with a manipulative, like a stress ball, zen garden, or a handful or rice, can have intensely calming effects. The process by which we find relief from objects like this, called fidget widgets, is mostly psychological. Our brains intake information in two ways: physically, through our senses, and cognitively, with our mind. Sometimes, when we’re stressed or overwhelmed, it becomes difficult for us to process all the information our bodies are taking in, and we become distracted or unable to focus. When we play with a stress ball the physical distraction allows our brains to slow down and relax, and thus refocus on processing cognitive information or problem solving (2).
These devices can help address anger in a way that is similar to how they address stress. As with any emotion, our bodies produce a cognitive and a physical response. Often, our physical responses are more extreme than our cognitive responses and we have much less control over our physical responses than we do our cognitive, making it reletively easy for our bodies to overpower our minds. Fidget widgets use the same power of distraction, or redirection, to distract our minds from the physical manifestations of anger: sweating, increased heart rate, muscle tension, and shortness of breath (3).
Not only is this colorful rice a fun activity for you and your little one, but it can atually make your little one smarter, and help you be a more relaxed and focused mama! what could be better? Please share with us if you’ve made this fun rice, and tag us on Instagram so we can see all the lovely colors you make!
I hope you’re all ready to talk about something other than coronavirus and quarantine, cause we sure are! Today, we’re going to begin exploring the world of neurodiversity.
Nuerodiversity is a word that has been around since the late 90’s but really gained traction in the last 3 to 5 years. It refers to “the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioral traits, regarded as part of normal variation in the human population (used especially in the context of autistic spectrum disorders)” (23).
If you’re new to the journey of nuerodiversity, it can be extremely overwhelming, especially if you’re struggling to get a grasp on what your little one may be struggling with. So we’ve compiled a beginner’s vocabulary list with the intention of helping you better understand the needs and challenges of a child with sensory processing disorder. We believe that understanding is the foundation for strong connections and proper care, the cornerstones of a healthy and balanced life.
This list and the words on it can be difficult to wrap your head around, so we divided it into three categories, each dealing with different concepts relating to sensory processing and Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD). We’ll circle back to this list and expand on these concepts and ways to address them at home in the coming weeks.
The Basics: What is sensory processing?
Sensory Processing: refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into responses in our bodies. (1)
Nervous System: A complex collection of nerves and specialized cells called neurons that send and receive signals to different parts of the body. The nervous system can be compared to a home’s electrical system, carrying ‘messages’ of electricity all over the house. (3)
Senses: Senses are the ways in which our bodies take in information about the world around us. There are actually 8 senses, not 5, that help us navigate the world: visual (sight), auditory (sound), tactile (touch), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), vestibular, proprioception, and interoception (14, 15).
Vestibular Sensory System: The vestibular system is a complex system of structures located in the inner ear and is responsible for providing our brain with information about motion, head position, spatial orientation, and helps us to keep our balance, stabilize our head and body during movement, maintain our posture and control our eye movement (15, 16). It is an essential part of movement and equilibrium.
Proprioception: The proprioception sensory system is the sense that lets our brains perceive the position, location, orientation and movement of our muscles and joints. It provides us with a sense of the relative position of neighboring body parts and the effort needed to move those body parts. The proprioception system runs throughout the body with receptors in the inner ear, joints and muscles. There are two kinds of proprioception, conscious and unconscious, each with its own distinct pathway of communication to the brain (15, 17).
Interoception: The sensory system that relays information to our brains about the physical or physiological condition of our bodies. Sensations of hunger and thirst are examples of the interoception system at work. This system’s primary function is to guide the regulation of our bodies through heart rate, respiration, hunger and elimination. Interoception tells us what our bodies are feeling by creating feelings like pain, temperature and itch, among others. There is some evidence to suggest that our feelings of energy, stress and well-being are based on sensations received from our interoception systems and interpreted by our brains (15).
Bilateral Coordination: the ability to use both sides of the body at the same time in a controlled and organized manner. This can look one of three ways: both sides doing the same motions, alternating motions, or different motions on each side (11). Bilateral coordination is key to the development of gross motor skills (12).
Motor planning: the ability to conceive, plan and carry out a non-habitual motor task in the correct sequence from beginning to end (10).
Occupational Therapy (OT): a form of therapy that works with patients throughout the lifespan, to help them develop the skills necessary to complete tasks or activities of daily living (ADL) through the therapeutic use of daily activities. Some of the most common occupational therapy interventions include working with children with disabilities, helping people recovering from injury to regain skills, and providing support to older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes (19, 20).
Praxis: The complex, multi step neurological process where cognition (thinking) directs motor action (movement) in our bodies (7). The process that is praxis is made of three distinct parts; ideation or the ability to conceptualize an activity, motor planning or the brain’s ability to organize and sequence novel (or unfamiliar) motor actions, and finally, execution, performing the motor action (8).
Sensory Inputs: The stimuli that is perceived by the systems of sensory receptors located throughout our bodies. Each system responds to different inputs or forms of stimuli. Anything that you perceive with your senses can be called sensory input.
Sensory Perceptual Disorders: Cognitive disorders characterized by an impaired ability to perceive the nature of objects, concepts or environments through use of the sensory organs throughout the body. (21)
Stimulation/Stimuli: Relative to Sensory Processing, stimuli is an object or event that is perceived by the senses and elicits a response from the body. The stimulus can be from light, heat, smell, taste or any form of information perceived by our eight senses (18).
Sensory Processing Disorder Patterns and Subtypes
Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD: A complex set of conditions that involve an inability to accurately intake and correctly process sensory stimulation, or information(13). Current research suggests that there are six subtypes of SPD that fall into three major patterns, each describing a different way sensory perception is affected (13). A child with SPD will perceive and respond to stimuli differently than a child without it (2). The brain misinterprets the incoming signals, causing it to misfire and give an inappropriate response (4). Imagine a child with poor eyesight trying to play baseball without their glasses. When the ball is thrown, their brain misinterprets it’s location, causing them to react too early, too late or maybe not at all. It can cause a great deal of frustration for the child and eventually lead to a meltdown. Sensory processing is just like this, except that it involves multiple senses at once, instead of just one (4). The three main patterns are Sensory Modulation Disorder, Sensory Based Motor Disorder and Sensory Discrimination Disorder.
Sensory Modulation Disorder: a pattern of sensory processing disorder where a chronic and severe problem involves the ability to turn sensory information into behaviors that match the nature and intensity of the sensation. Children with Sensory Modulation disorder fall into three subcategories: Sensory Over Responsive, Sensory Under Responsive, and Sensory Craving, or can display a mixture of the three. Sensory modulation difficulties can affect all eight senses and can cause disruptions to more than one sensory system at a time (5).
SensoryOver Responsive / Sensory Defensive: Children who are sensory defensive experience an over response from their body to sensory stimulation. These children experience sensory messages more intensely, more quickly and/or for a longer period of time than a child with typical sensory perception. As a result, they are in a heightened state of arousal more often than a typically developing child. This means that sensations that are harmless and even pleasant for you or me, can be overwhelming and even painful to a person who is sensory defensive, or over-responsive. This can cause children to become anxious in environments and situations with too many sensory stimulants at one time, like a graduation ceremony or airport, for example (5).
SensoryUnder Responsive/Lethargic: Children who are under responsive to sensory stimulation have less of a response to stimulation than what is required. They may take longer to react, or require longer or more intense forms of sensory stimulation before their body can produce a response. Sometimes called sensory seekers, individuals who are under responsive may fail to notice activity going on around them, people speaking to them, something touching them, or even their own body sensations like being too hot or too cold. Sensory seekers may display an insatiable desire for sensory stimulation and will require guidance about appropriate ways to get what they need (5).
Sensory Craving: Sensory Craving is a subtype of SPD that falls into the pattern of Sensory Modulation Disorder. Children who are sensory craving actively seek out sensory stimuli and can display an unquenchable desire for sensory input. Unfortunately, the input often results in disorganization and does not satisfy their need for more (13).
Sensory Based Motor Disorder: a pattern of sensory processing disorder where a child has difficulty with balance, motor coordination, and the performance of skilled non-habitual and/or habitual motor tasks (13). There are two subcategories of Sensory Based Motor Disorder: Postural Disorder and Dyspraxia.
Postural Disorder: Impaired perception of body position, poorly developed movement patterns that depend on core stability, thus making the individual weak and/or low endurance. A child with Postural Disorder has difficulty stabilizing their body during movement or while at rest in order to meet the demands of a given motor task or environment. When a child has strong postural control they can reach, push and pull with the appropriate amount of resistant force. When postural control is weak, a child may not have the body control to maintain a proper standing or sitting position (13).
Dyspraxia: a condition where an individual has difficulty with the praxis process, most often in the motor planning stage. The underlying disruption is usually caused by a deficit in tactile, proprioceptive and vestibular sensory processing. These three senses are the foundation for developing a body percept, an essential – and unconscious – part of understanding how our bodies work and their physical limitations (8,9).
Sensory Discrimination Disorder: A pattern of sensory processing disorder where a child has difficulty accurately precieving the qualities and/or characteristics of sensory stimuli they recive (13). This manifests as difficulties discerning what they are seeing, hearing, feeling and even what they are doing with their bodies, and creates perceptual questions like, “Do I hear ‘cap’ or ‘cat’?, Is that a quarter or a dime in my pocket?, and Am I falling backwards or to the side?” Sensory Discrimination Disorder can interfere with processing information from any of the eight sensory systems (13).
Still with us? That was a lot, we know! Feel free to bookmark this page, and use it to refer back to as you begin your journey with nuerodiversity. It’s a lot of information to take in, so don’t beat yourself up if after a once over, you still feel overwhelmed. That’s why we broke it up for you. Start with The Basics, and don’t move to the next section until you feel like you really understand those concepts. Take it a day at a time, a section at a time, or even a word at a time, if you need to. We’ll be here waiting for you.