I will be providing various toddler activities for a "sensory diet" during the next few blog entries. You may have heard the term sensory diet but weren't sure what it is. Well, it is extra sensory input provided to a person on a regular basis, just as food is provided on a regular basis throughout the day. We all get some amount of sensory input at all times: hunger, thirst, sights within the room, the feel of our clothing or jewelry, sense of motion and balance as we walk around, etc. But many of us need more sensation than just mere existence provides. This is especially the case for toddlers and preschoolers...they are in the sensorimotor stage of development. They need extra time for dancing, climbing, running, swinging, singing, coloring, building blocks, etc. That means some sit down fine motor play, but it also means "wiggly" gross motor play. Gross motor play is easy to provide a child when you have a park or swimming pool near your house, but not as easy on rainy days or for someone who lives in a high rise apt. with no place to run around.
I have blogged previously on obstacle courses and other indoor activities. But one of my all time favorite indoor gross motor toddler activities is having the child pretend that he is taking a ride on a magic carpet. The "magic carpet" could be a sheet, quilt, or blanket that is sturdy. Have the child participate by being the passenger or being the person that pulls another person as they are being taken for a ride. I often start out by letting the child be the passenger first and having him lie down on the blanket. Then, I hold one end of the blanket and run as fast as I can across the cleared room or hallway. Language skills can be addressed as well by having the child request to go slower or faster, or when to start and stop. If you really want to challenge the toddler's balance, have him sitting up as opposed to lying down. Whether the child is the passenger or the puller, he gets sensory input. Being the passenger provides tactile and vestibular input. Being the one who pulls the other person provides tactile, vestibular, and mostly proprioceptive input. Proprioception is the sense of body-in-space awareness and proprioceptors are located in muscles and joints. Anything resistive will provide proprioceptive input.