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If you have a child with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, you are probably familiar with sensory toys for ADHD. These can help give your child’s brain the stimulation it needs without compromising their focus on schoolwork. But if you aren’t a trained physical therapist or special education teacher, you might not know about all the options available.
In my classroom, I had a large bin of sensory toys available for all my students to try out. This was great because it normalized self-stimulatory behavior, or “stimming” for my kids with diagnosed sensory needs. It also allowed for students without diagnoses to still meet sensory needs they might not understand but still experience. Finally, having many toys available meant students could switch when they got desensitized to one sensation and needed another.
Consider adding sensory toys for ADHD symptoms to your homeschool shopping list this year. It’s better to be prepared ahead of time than to scramble around after you’re already having focus problems. Some of these items you might already have around the house, and some you can easily make. Others are specialty items, or could pose a choking hazard if homemade, so leave it to the professionals.
You can also tap into your special needs parent network. (I say special needs and not just ADHD since kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder, anxiety, and more can have sensory needs, too!) Consider setting up a “lending library” that the whole group can use and trade around on a regular basis. (Obviously, things that go in mouths might not be a great candidate for this project.) Sharing ADHD sensory toys, properly sanitized, will keep things fresh!
I’ve broken this list down to types of stimming so you can stim right to your child’s needs. If you aren’t sure what your child needs, but suspect sensory toys might help, I’ve given some indicators to help you narrow it down. After all, a child’s brain knows what kind of stimulation it needs to function properly. Your job is to help them get that stimulation without it distracting from school work!
Full body ADHD sensory toys
Possible indicator sensory-seeking behaviors: jumping all over the house, throwing self onto couch or bed, tumbling/gymnastics, rocking or swaying side to side, etc.
Yoga balls were a must have in my classroom. Though it does take some teaching on how to use them properly (and not pop them or literally bounce off the wall). These are great for kids who need some repetitive motions for their whole bodies.
These are also known as “Cuddle hammocks” or “snuggle swings.” I’ll admit, I haven’t personally tried these out, but I’ve seen so many positive reviews from parents who have noticed positive changes in their kids.
What’s great about these is its dual function. On the one hand, your child can use it when they need to spin, swing, or wiggle. On the other hand, it can help them cool down if they’re starting to get overstimulated. There’s enough fabric that it sort of turns into a cocoon!
Have you ever tried one of these? Weighted blankets are awesome! Not only do they function as a sensory toy for ADHD kids, but they’re great for anxiety, ASD, even insomnia! There are so many different kinds too. Make sure you check the labels so you don’t get one that’s too heavy for your little guy.
This is one of those stim toys that would work better for breaks than simultaneously with working, IMO. Though maybe your kid can bounce and read at the same time, who knows?
Manual manipulation sensory toys for ADHD
Possible indicator sensory-seeking behaviors: cracking knuckles, tapping pencils, rubbing fingers together, repetitively playing with hair, etc.
These were my favorite sensory toy for ADHD that even I would pull out of my bin from time to time. There’s something about the sharp prickles and the cylindrical shape that just feels good! If you don’t have any pine trees nearby, honestly a foot massager like this would serve the same purpose.
Obviously these are great not only as a sensory toy, but they’re a great homeschool learning tool, too! You can turn a lesson on the human body or plant structure into a sensory-friendly activity with play doh. You can also have a chemistry lesson when learning to make slime. And of course, no elementary art class is complete without some time working on sculptures, right?
These were another HUGE hit in my classroom. My students were constantly asking if I had any more stress balls lying around, because the rest were all in use. Eventually, I started making homemade stress balls by using balloons and filling them with a mixture of cornstarch or flour and water. I will warn you that they make a huge mess if they explode, however!
Fidget cubes / fidget spinners
The fidget spinner craze was one of the best things to happen in schools, in my opinion. Suddenly, all kinds of kids were normalizing sensory-seeking activities. Of course, it was challenging if some kids treated them like toys instead of tools, but you won’t have that problem as much in your homeschool! Set boundaries on ADHD sensory toys just like everything else, and you’ll see positive changes in your kid.
This was another stim toy I constantly needed to resupply in my classroom. It’s cheap, disposable, and makes a great popping sound, too!
This was something my program’s therapist saw used more often than I did in the actual classroom, but it’s still useful. Kids can rub it with their fingers, use a mini rake to make designs, or just sift through it.
Oral sensory toys for ADHD
Possible indicator sensory-seeking behaviors: chewing hair, biting ends of pencils, chewing on lips or cheeks, collars or sleeves of shirts always in mouth, nail biting, etc.
If your child is old enough to not swallow gum when you give it to them, this can work great. Gum chewing was frequently an accommodation I had placed on children’s IEPs in school because it helped keep them so focused.
The one I listed above is the kind my cousin uses to tremendous effect. Admittedly she has ASD and not ADHD, but sensory needs are sensory needs!
Lower body sensory toys for ADHD
Possible indicator sensory-seeking behaviors: legs bouncing up and down, foot tapping, knees knocking, tapping/banging table legs, etc.
These are great for kids who have TONS of energy! They hide under desks perfectly, too. Hey, maybe you can conduct a science experiment to see if your kid can power the whole house with her energy!
Strong, athletic headbands
I’ll be honest, these didn’t get used all that often in my classroom. But for the kids who ended up using them, they worked so well! I would use thick headbands or athletic resistance bands and wrap them around the front two legs of a student’s chairs. Then, the kid could kick them and get some sensory feedback, bounce with them (and not make noise that would disrupt other kids), or twist his feed in and out of them.
Bucket of sand
If your child is more interested in novelty-seeking behaviors than repetitive motions, consider a bucket of sand under his or her desk. You can hide marbles, jacks, small toys, and even measuring spoons in the sand for them to find with their toes.
Foot massage mats
These are great for kids to explore barefoot. They also can roll up and be used for kids whose feet like to rock back and forth. And apparently, these also have great acupressure properties. Who knew?
Let me know if there are any other kinds of great sensory toys for ADHD kids you (or your child’s teacher) have used in the past. What are you trying this year?
For more reading on this topic:
- Executive Functioning Activities: 50 Skill Builders for Kids of All Ages!
- Help My Child Focus Naturally: 5 Tried and True Strategies for Home
- Accommodations for ADHD: 25+ Tips & Recommendations
- Executive Functioning Checklist: Where does your child fall?
Hillary is a former teacher who went rogue and became a freelance writer. When not offering support and advice to homeschooling families, she tends to her own garden, family, and cat. You can connect with her on her website, homegrownhillary.com.