Tactile Play with the use of sand

Sensory Corner

While planning sensory activities for the Activities 4 All Abilities class that I hold, I stumbled upon www.HouseofBurke.blogspot.com. She had the great idea of combining sand with paint. In the summer I fully support my kids getting messy and then washing them off with the hose.  I liked her idea because it didn’t require many supplies.

Sand – either craft sand or beach sand will work just fine.

Paint – I used acrylic because that’s what I had on hand and it’s cheap (you could always use Elmer’s glue).

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Paper – Yo
u will want something sturdy. I used Creatology’s Paint Pad Paper.


All you do is mix paint and about a Tablespoon or two of sand in a bowl (I used plastic cups for easy clean up). Dump it on the paper and let the kids spread it all over the paper. When it dries flip over the paper and trace different shapes on the smooth back. Then cut out your shapes.

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Some children may not want to touch it so don’t force them. It may help to let them feel the ingredients separately before mixing them together.

Here feel the paint. Here feel the sand. Now feel the sand paint. If they can’t tolerate the feel then encourage them to spread the sand paint with a paintbrush or a stick or a smooth edged rock. Adjusting the Central Nervous System to the texture of something can take weeks, months or even years for some people with sensory issues. Remind yourself that it is a process and do NOT force the issue.

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For instance, it took me an entire summer to acclimate my daughter to the texture of sand. Some people wondered why I would even bother. The answer is simple – I love the beach. I have always vacationed at the beach and I wanted my daughter to have that tradition. Obviously without being able to touch or feel sand I couldn’t bring her with me. We didn’t go on vacation for many years, but I am very happy to say that now we have started going to the beach every summer and all my kids love it.

The process I used was simple. Just think – baby steps. Babies do not walk over night and neither will a severe sensory aversion. For the first week I would put a toy that interested her in the sand box.  This was to get her to go near the sand box.  Sometimes she would have to step in the box to grab the toy, but the sand didn’t have to come in contact with her skin at all because she had shoes on.

The next week, I bought her new sand toys to entice her to play with the sand. She would stand on the outside of the sandbox and shovel the sand into a bucket. Again, I will remind you that she never actually touched the sand but would instead use sand tools.

The following week I slowly convinced her to sit on the edge of the sandbox while scooping and shoveling.

It is important that you show your child that it is ok and safe to get in and handle the sand and sit in it. Lead by example.

The next week she actually used her hand to pat the sand down in a bucket.

She quickly wiped off her hands and we needed to go wash her hands, but I kept giving her positive reinforcement. Also, I pointed out to her that she wasn’t hurt. Although she was uncomfortable for a few minutes, she was able to touch it without a negative repercussion (such as vomiting) and her goal was met. She finally made her own sand castle. I made a huge deal out of it. Took pictures and hung it up on the fridge.

Leslie Burby

Leslie Burby

Leslie Burby is a former Editor of Autism Parenting Magazine and a public speaker on autism related issues. She is the author of three autism related books: Emotional Mastery for Adult's with Autism (2013); Early Signs of Autism in Toddlers, Infants and Babies (2014); and the children's book Grace Figures Out School (2014).

  • Avatar Jon Morin says:

    My two little guys with sensory issues love the My Little Sandbox sets. One boy is a sensory seeker and the other needs some encouragement to do sensory play. Before that we used a rice box, which was fun and cheap compared to the sandbox sets.

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