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Rocking Around the Christmas Tree: Sensory Play During the Holidays

Nov 30, 2023

Can you hear the jingles bells ringing in the distance over the chilly winter nights? What about the smell of Santa’s homemade chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven? There’s no denying that a lot takes place during the holiday season. Our senses are really put to the test this time of year, and we love it! Your child will benefit from intentional sensory play and the experiences that come with it. Let’s not hold back when it comes to playing this winter. 

Gift Ideas for Sensory Development

Santa’s elves are busy building toys and gifts that your little ones will love. Some of those gifts are great ideas for sensory play. If you’re seeking 12 Days of Christmas gift ideas for kids, why don’t you focus on gifts that support sensory development for each day? Kids’ sensory toys are easy to find, and there are plenty of options. We have a few suggestions that we really enjoy.

Weighted Blankets

Weighted blankets are high on our list for gifts to ask Santa for. These heavy blankets are excellent for kids that are seeking extra proprioceptive input such as if they are craving pressure. If you notice your child needing lots of tight hugs, a weighted blanket is likely to be a good gift. Plus, weighted blankets can be calming. For kids with sensory processing disorder, they will often find themselves on high alert. Place this cozy blanket over them, and they’ll be relaxing and sleeping a little bit better. Keep in mind that some kids might not love the extra pressure though. If that’s the case, mom or dad might just be getting an extra present this year. 

Make a Squishy Mess with Play-doh

Play-doh is a long-standing classic. Even Santa Claus knows that, but toys like clay and play-doh are also good for your child’s development. Playing with Play-doh is messy fun that nurtures the sense of touch. Not only that, but Play-doh is also great for fine motor skill development and creative thinking. Check out these Play-doh activities for a seriously engaging time. Play-doh may be a classic, but it will never get old.

Pop Fidget Toy

Pop fidget toys have become pretty popular in the last year. There’s something to be said about them when it comes to sensory play too. These small trinkets are ultra satisfying to pop, and as a result, it creates a unique sensory experience. Many kids will find the poppers to be calming as well. It’s true that pop fidget toys are small, but they have big benefits and you can include them as a stocking stuffer. 

Integrate Sensory Activities Into Holiday Traditions

Christmas is so much more than toys and gifts. The experiences that the holidays bring will certainly fill you with immense joy. Be sure to incorporate some holiday traditions and Christmas sensory activities that get the family experiencing all the sights, sounds, and smells that the holidays have to offer.

Holiday Sensory Bucket

Buckets and bags filled with holiday goodies make for an exciting sensory play activity. Fill the bucket with sprinkles, whipped cream, sand, or shaving cream and bury a variety of goodies inside. Your little one will have a blast getting messy and their hands a little dirty. Some items we suggest placing inside of your holiday sensory bucket are:

  • Ornaments of interesting textures or shapes 
  • Gingerbread Cookie Crumbs (Just don’t eat them if buried in sand or shaving cream)
  • Christmas Bows 
  • Fuzzy and Colorful Pom-poms
  • Green and Red Beads 
  • Candy Canes 
  • Buttons 
  • Holiday Squishy Toy 

Get Outside this Winter

Baby, it might be cold outside, but that’s no excuse for not getting out this holiday season. Allow your kiddo to enjoy the sights and sounds that Christmas lights bring. Play in the snow (if we get any!). Take in the fallen leaves and participate in holiday events that are sure to bring a smile. Embracing winter life outside the home will definitely give your child plenty of sensory experiences to learn from and enjoy. 


You probably already guessed that this one would make it on our list, but baking is hands down one of the best Christmas activities. It’s a great option for both family bonding and sensory play. You heard us right! Play! There’s no fun in baking without a little mess. No matter how old your child is, baking messes can be really good for the soul and tactile senses. Building a gingerbread house or whipping up some Christmas cookies also gets the attention of your sense of smell and of course, taste. When it comes to taste, we encourage you to try a new recipe or maybe even a new food with your little one. You can find plenty of baking Christmas ideas online like apple pie nachos and a fruit pizza Christmas wreath.

How to Navigate Sensory Play and Processing Challenges During the Holidays

For a child who struggles with sensory processing, the holidays can be a really challenging time. Remember that the winter season is time for fun. How can you help your child with sensory processing disorder at home? First, you’ll want to make sure that your child has a safe place to go if things become a bit too overwhelming. This doesn’t mean that you shelter them from experiences, but rather, start new experiences slowly and talk to them in advance about how experiences will play out. Preparation goes a long way for both kids and adults. We encourage parents to challenge senses, but be sure to keep all of these tips in mind. The holiday season is a time to be enjoyed after all.

When sensory play becomes less play and more stress, an occupational therapist can step in and take the reins. Giving your little reindeer help now makes the holidays more pleasant and can also benefit your child lifelong.