Tools for Tots: Sensory Strategies for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Tools for Tots: Sensory Strategies for Toddlers and Preschoolers

If you are looking for expert advice to help children with sensory based behavioural challenges, this is the resource book you need: Tools for Tots: Sensory Strategies for Toddlers and Preschoolers by Diana A. Henry, MS, OTR/L, Maureen Kane-Wineland, Ph.D., OT/L, and Susan Swindeman, OTR/L.  It doesn’t get better than this; advice for parents and caregivers from three very experienced occupational therapists condensed into one easy-to-use, family-friendly, fifty-three page guide book the size of a telephone book.

Be a proactive parent and learn strategies you can use throughout the day to facilitate life skills all children need. Tools for Tots addresses dressing, eating, grooming, using the potty, bathing, socializing, and more. You’ll find activities to help young children who are sensitive to noise or touch, prone to meltdowns, anxious about transitions, overwhelmed by crowds, and for those sensory seekers who are always “on the go”.

Sensory Strategies for Toddlers and Preschoolers by Three OT’s

The activities in Tools for Tots are designed for toddlers and preschoolers who have sensory processing disorder (SPD) leading to difficulties in learning, development, and behavior. The practical solutions can be used by parents, other caregivers, teachers, and therapists to improve the ability of youngsters to function in their environments at home, in child care centers and in school. The many strategies can help make any child’s environment (bedroom, circle time, playground, car ride, playing with toys) “sensory safe” not only those with sensory challenges.

Their two page Introduction answers what, why, where, when, and how to use Tools for Tots. The sensory strategies suggested are not meant to replace private therapy with an occupational therapist but to supplement and enhance the help your child requires to overcome his inability to feel “just right” in his environment and his difficulty to participate in day-to-day activities. Sensory challenges can co-exist with many diagnoses such as autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, attention deficit disorders, etc. therefore, the suggestions in Tools for Tots can be beneficial to many families.

Their first chapter, Understanding Your Tot, explains Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Parents will appreciate the two pages of lists of characteristics which may be seen with the subtypes of sensory modulation disorder, sensory-based motor disorder, and sensory perception/discrimination disorder. Then you learn about the “seven sensory tools” which are activities you can integrate into your tot’s daily routines for each of his seven senses. The authors write that for our bodies and brains to be at their best, they need to be able to receive and process certain sensory input through touching, hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, using our muscles, and moving. Therefore the “TOOLS”/activities are listed in the following seven categories and I have added examples for each.

  • Movement Tools: Rocking or swingingMouth Tools: Sucking foods in a straw, biting chewelry - Photo shows SentioCHEWS Ice Cream shape
  • Muscle Tools: Pushing or pulling
  • Touch Tools: Using a weighted blanket or fidget
  • Ear Tools: Singing a familiar song during transitions
  • Eye Tools: Dimming lights, brightening lights,
  • Nose Tools: Calming scents, holding mom’s scarf with her cologne
  • Mouth Tools: Sucking foods in a straw, biting chewelry

Individuals differ in their sensory preferences for calming, waking, focusing, etc. Tools for Tots has a page that can be reproduced called “My Tot’s Tool Chest” which parents fill out to give to others who care for their child. This list will identify the activities called “TOOLS ” that your child prefers to get him engaged, play, and learn most effectively.

The authors approach each part of the chapters in a similar, efficient way. At the top of the page, they list four or five Challenges a tot may have in a certain area. Then in “Did You Know” they have a simple explanation of the problems and solutions required. In Safety First they have their words of caution or how to be proactive and check with a professional. Helpful tips are given in Consider This. Then they list the activities caregivers can use to help their tot with the challenges in that section.

Do you have problems getting the attention or interacting with your child ? If you are, the pages dealing with “Engaging Your Tot” has great advice. Here are some of the points they cover.

  • My child does not look at me or pay attention to me.
  • My child rarely demonstrates affection or enjoyment.
  • My child would rather move than play with me.
  • My child plays with the same toys over and over or in the same way each time.

Chapter 2 and chapter 3 focus on helping your tot to get along and helping your tot to get ready. Most parents will see a little of their child in the amusing headings: Sluggish Tots, Cautious Tots, Touchy Tots, Tippy Toe Tots, Picky Eater Tidbits, Tubby Time Tips, Potty Pleasers, etc.

Resources and References and even A Letter from a Toddler end the book. I highly recommend that all parents of a young child get Tools for Tots Sensory Strategies for Toddlers and Preschoolers by Diana A. Henry, MS, OTR/L, FAOTA, Maureen Kane-Wineland, Ph.D., OT/L, and Susan Swindeman, OTR/L. Some might need to use the advice and activities often or even many times each day. Others only for specific challenges like potty training or getting use to new foods. The advice on the importance of PLAY is for all parents and for every day. Like the words in the toddler letter, “You helped me play today. You gave me gifts of learning and self-esteem that no one can ever take away.”

About the Authors

Tools for Tots: Sensory Strategies for Toddlers and Preschoolers by Diana HenryDiana Henry, MS, OTR/L, FAOTA president of Henry Occupational Therapy Services, Inc., studied with Lorna Jean King beginning in 1975, and then together founded what is now called the Children’s Center in Arizona. Diana opened her clinic specializing in sensory integration (SI) in 1984 and developed programs for various Arizona schools.

Diana produced the Tools for Teachers TMand the Tools for Students TMvideos/dvds and together with her husband, Rick, she developed the Tool Chest Starter Kit TM, wrote the Tool Chest TM, the Tools for Parents TM, and the SI Tools for Teens TM handbooks. She has recently completed the Sensory Tools for Pets: Animals and People Helping Each OtherTMand the Tools for Tots: Sensory Strategies for Todlers and PreschoolersTM books. Diana is presently working on Tools for InfantsTM book, Sensory Songs for TotsTM CD, and Forever Winter (about Nonverbal Learning Disorder/Disability NLD).

In February 2000, Diana and her husband Rick embarked on ATEACHABOUT. Their ‘sensory’ workshops, individualized for specific communities, are available for administrators, educators, school psychologists, physicians, other health professionals, OTs, PTs, SLPs, parents and caregivers. Read more on their web site.

Read Special Needs Book Review’s  Interview with Diana Henry, MS, OTR/L, FAOTA

Maureen Kane -Wineland PhD, OT/L is the co-owner of Rehab Dynamics Inc. in Toledo, Ohio. Maureen has been working with young children and their families for over 30 years in a variety of capacities. She has developed an expertise in addressing the needs of children with sensory processing disorders, as well as those with difficulties relating and engaging, using both sensory integration and DIR ®/Floortime™ approaches. Maureen is SIPT certified and a PLAY Project Home Consultant. Maureen received her PhD. in special education/educational psychology in 2002 and examined the effects of prenatal drug exposure on sensory processing capacities. She has developed a number of creative programs to meet the needs of children with sensory processing disorders in her private practice, in early intervention, and in the community.

Susan Swindeman, Tools for Tots: Sensory Stategies for Toddlers and PreschoolersSusan Swindeman, OTR/L is a registered occupational therapist  since 1984.  Susan  has served numerous children with autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, prematurity, sensory processing disorder, feeding difficulties, and various other disorders. Sue worked as an independent therapy provider for several years before opening Wee Care Therapy in 1994. She is still  the  CEO of  Wee Care Therapy in Dyer, IN. Susan has over 25 years of pediatric occupational therapy experience. She is certified in the administration and interpretation of the Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests, and trained extensively in neurodevelopmental treatment. Sue also presents continuing education seminars throughout the United States.

She is known for her intuitive sense in appreciating the importance of nurturing the development of “self” in children. Susan is recognized for her work in identifying and treating children with sensory processing disorders.

Tools for Infants: Sensory Based Strategies for Parents, Caregivers, and Early Intervention Providers™ by Susan Swindeman OTR/L,Maureen Kane -Wineland PhD, OT/L, and Diana Henry, Ms, OTR/L, FAOTAToday, Nov.25th 2015, we are updating this post to add info about Tools for Infants.

Buy Tools for InfantsSensory Based Strategies for Parents, Caregivers, and Early Intervention Providers™ (2015)  Tools for Infants’ Web Site

Buy Tools for Tots: Sensory Strategies for Toddlers and Preschoolers (2009)  Henry OT Services Inc.

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This post was written by Lorna
Lorna d’Entremont: Co-owner of SentioLife Solutions, Ltd. the company behind KidCompanions Chewelry (2007) and SentioCHEWS (2013), mother of three, grandma of 5 and wife. She is a retired teacher and special needs advocate. Throughout she has taught all levels from grade 2 to grade 9. Lorna loved teaching and enjoyed seeing the students progress in the school system. During her 30 year career she took a few years off to raise her three children.