Five Tools for Shaking Up Your Sensory Gym

Look up from your screen. Is the first thing you lay eyes on a ceiling-mounted therapy swing?

If so, you’re doing your intervention planning in the sensory gym, and Pinterest is (per usual) being less than inspiring. The kids on your list present unique challenges. Tried-and-true sensory solutions — swings, rocker boats, peanut balls, and spin boards — are just not cutting it.

It’s time to revitalize your sensory gym. Get outside the box and shake up stale intervention routines with the tools described below.

Responsive Equine Simulator Therapy®

Responsive Equine Simulator Therapy® is a child-sized chair that imitates the gait of a horse. At a fraction of the cost of hippotherapy certification, a draft horse, and a corral, you can bring the proven benefits of equine motion into your sensory gym. Anecdotally, OTs note that their clients sustain attention to activity and remain seated longer when using REST® rather than a standard classroom chair. This may be due to the gentle vestibular input continuously delivered to the sitter.

Relaxing Equine Simulator Therapy

The ceiling-mounted swing also provides that gentle vestibular input, but you or your client must expend physical and mental energy both to keep that going and to stay safely seated. Plus, you can’t exactly address scissor skills on a swing. Situating your client on REST® leaves both hands free for bilateral fine motor activities.

REST® adds extra neuromuscular spice to your current stable of visual-motor coordination activities. If a kid consistently demonstrates midline crossing in the therapy gym but still switches his working hand for play tasks at recess, he might need an extra vestibular push. Doing the same midline crossing tasks on a surface that constantly shifts his field of view may offer the just-right challenge for turning that emerging skill into mastery.

Take the gym outdoors

If you have access to a park or a playground and your facility allows it, take your clients outside. Incorporate natural textures and surfaces into motor activities. Encourage visual scanning and in-hand manipulation with a scavenger hunt, use a log as a balance beam and log roll down a gentle, grassy slope for a unique sensory experience. The environment is not as controlled, which can be a good thing for kids who master obstacle courses quickly or are prone to cheating their way through tricky tasks. It’s much harder to skip an obstacle when the alternative is landing in a mud puddle!

Outdoor interventions are not possible for every client. It goes without saying that you will need to take appropriate precautions for allergies, weather phenomena, traffic, and noxious plants. Building a specific skill or working towards a discrete goal can often be accomplished only in a controlled environment like an indoor therapy gym.

Does outdoor therapy include a trip to the stables with your clients? Even if hippotherapy is a regular part of your practice, it’s not something you can do every day. REST® will keep the benefits of equine motion going in daily sessions.

Install a rock wall

Move the ball bucket to a storage closet and use that corner for the ultimate visual-motor coordination and proximal strengthening activity: rock climbing. The Created Home offers a detailed tutorial for constructing your own small space climbing wall with plywood, handholds, and a few hardware store staples. If you aren’t sure that you can do the job yourself, you may have to enlist a local contractor to get everything installed safely.

Once the rock wall is in place, the therapeutic adventures are endless. Have kids fetch bean bags from handholds for visual-motor integration and let fall on a cushy mat for a jolt of proprioceptive input. Children won’t just build hand-eye coordination and strength with a rock-climbing wall. According to Mama OT, children have a habit of climbing their way into higher confidence and increased problem-solving abilities.

Switch up the obstacle course

We’re not suggesting you find yet another combination of squeeze machine, balance beam, trampoline, and spin board to alternate between proprioceptive and vestibular stimulation during a gross motor task. Instead, build on a standard obstacle course by adding extra tactile, visual, and auditory stimulation via custom buttons and switches.

With basic programming skills, you can follow online tutorials with accessible coding environments for making interactive buttons and switches. Challenge motor planning skills by having kids jump, army crawl, and barrel roll to avoid activating wall-mounted motion sensors. Encourage them to cross the midline while pressing light-up LED buttons. Begin or end an obstacle course by having children press a chunky arcade-style button with a pool noodle.

The best part? DIY switches and buttons are relatively cheap, money-wise. The main cost of adding a button that lights up on command lies in your existing ability to code — or to enlist a friendly neighborhood programmer.

Check your inventory for forgotten gems 

Your current stock of toys, seating solutions, and other equipment can pleasantly surprise you. Taking a full inventory of the tools in your arsenal will open your eyes to new possibilities.

That storage tub full of rarely used wiffle balls? There could be a deflated Velcro dartboard at the bottom, ready to be inflated and hung on that wall hook you forgot about. Find a laundry hamper in the back of the closet whose only function for the past five years has been storing a pack of playing cards and a roll of Hello Kitty stickers? Clean it out and turn it on its side to use as a net for pool noodle hockey.

Dig through your shelves and cabinets, and we don’t doubt that you’ll uncover old intervention ideas that can be recycled to yield novel outcomes.

How will you shake things up?

Many of the sensory gym modifications described above require significant investments of time, money, or expertise. As an OT, you’re used to making do with a shoestring budget. Options like taking the gym outdoors or switching up the obstacle course may be the way to go if you have the space and the skills.

If your practice is in an urban environment with limited safe access to natural spaces, taking the kids outside is probably not for you. Ditto for switches and rock-climbing walls if you aren’t much of a hand with power tools and computers. Installing a REST® chair will breathe new life into your sensory diet plans and fine motor interventions. REST® is an all-in-one investment that brings your gym new options for grading activities, novel sensory solutions for stimulation-seeking clients, and fresh opportunities for pretend play.

Whatever you choose, a sensory gym refresh will exercise your creativity and add momentum to your clients’ progress.

REST: Because it works

It’s time to put REST into your life. And take advantage of all of the benefits equine therapy has to offer any time, any place. At Gait, we firmly believe it will be a powerful, rewarding, and effective tool for helping treat your special needs child, children, or adult.


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Please allow 4 – 6 weeks for delivery.

Phone: 844-264-REST