Have you ever heard of Kinetic Sand? It’s super cool but extremely difficult to describe. Kinetic Sand is a sand-like substance that is easily moldable, yet also free flowing. It hardens when squeezed, yet “melts” when released. It has the properties of wet sand, yet is not wet. It sticks to itself, yet is not sticky. It is soft, yet not fluffy. Like I said, difficult to describe!
As a pediatric occupational therapist, I am always looking for materials that can be used in therapy to help children further their developmental skills. Kinetic Sand is an ideal therapeutic material due to its versatility and its ability to offer a wide variety of benefits to the kids (and adults) who engage with it!
Here are 8 benefits of using Kinetic Sand in therapy:
1. Fine Motor Development
Kinetic Sand is a hands-on material so, yeah, it can help develop fine motor skills! Squeeze it, squish it, or smash it with a potato smasher to strengthen hands. Poke it or pinch it to further develop those index finger skills. Roll it into balls or flatten it with a rolling pin to develop bilateral skills. Scoop it or cut it to practice grasping and using tools such as spoons, ice cream scoopers, and knives. Press cookie cutters down into flattened sand or pack it into little cups and flip them over to build sand castles and further develop those small muscles in the fingers and hands. The fine motor benefits are seemingly endless!
2. Sensory Processing
Kinetic Sand is the perfect sensory material for kids who either crave or are sensitive to tactile input. Kids who want to touch everything and are constantly seeking tactile input will gladly touch, squeeze, and play with Kinetic Sand … it might seem like they won’t be able to get enough of it! Because Kinetic Sand can be squeezed it provides deep pressure, which is a form of tactile input that is calming and organizing to the body. This is especially helpful for those who are sensory seekers!
On the other hand, kids who are sensitive to or avoidant of “messy play” experiences (or who are hesitant to try out new things in general) will likely be open to engaging with Kinetic Sand due to its soft, non-sticky texture. I have seen this first-hand with my tactile defensive OT kiddos. You really have to feel Kinetic Sand to know what I mean. Even though it looks and acts like wet sand, it is soft, dry, and cool to the touch. It doesn’t get stuck in your fingernails and doesn’t feel sticky or scratchy. Perfect for kids with tactile defensiveness. Even if the child is not open to touching the Kinetic Sand right away, they can easily engage with it by using a tool such as a spoon in order to avoid touching it but still get used to engaging with it.
3. Drawing and Pre-Writing Skills
Before kids are old enough to use a pencil to learn to write (which really should not take place until Kindergarten), they should be given opportunities to practice their drawing and pre-writing skills in multi-sensory materials. Kinetic Sand is perfect for this! Kids can use their fingers or tiny tools (such as toothpicks, Q-tips, or the non-brush end of a paintbrush) to scribble, doodle, or draw shapes or pre-writing strokes. This can give them some additional sensory input and help them practice their pencil grasp without even using a pencil! Find more fun multi-sensory activities for drawing and pre-writing on my blog by clicking HERE.
4. Creative Thinking
Because Kinetic Sand is an open-ended material (i.e., there is no one right way to play with it), it can be great for challenging kids to use their creative thinking skills. This is part of something that we in the OT world like to call “praxis”. Praxis consists of three steps — ideation, motor planning, and execution. When engaging with an open-ended material, a child first must engage in ideation — being able to come up with an idea for how to engage in a novel motor task. Once ideation is achieved, the child must then be able to come up with a cognitive “motor plan” for how to go about that novel motor task. Once the motor plan is established, then they can follow through with it, thus demonstrating “execution”. Kinetic Sand is especially useful for addressing ideation, which can be particularly challenging for children with autism. By giving the child a tray of Kinetic Sand, along with a few tools, materials for molding or building, and the cue Hmmm, what can we make?, you are providing that child the opportunity to work on ideation, which contributes to the foundation of creative thinking.
5. Pretend Play
While pretend play does tend to involve creative thinking, it requires a different set of developmentally-based cognitive skills and is definitely its own category. Research shows that toddlers and preschool-aged children require concrete props in order to facilitate symbolic play, so pull out those miniature bowls, spoons, and characters (like these mini animals) to stir up a little creativity! The preschool years are the prime years of creativity, so follow the child’s lead as they use Kinetic Sand to feed the animals, give them a bath, or scoop you a bowl of chocolate ice cream.
6. Speech and Language Development
Did you know sensory play with materials such as Kinetic Sand can actually help children expand their speech and language skills? It’s not just the Kinetic Sand, it’s the interaction that occurs between the child and their communication partner (that’s YOU!) that helps expand those speech and language skills. Speech-Language Pathologist Katie Yeh shares a host of tips on her blog about how to help your child talk! A few simple yet powerful tips include slowing down and being present, getting down at your child’s level and making eye contact, following your child’s lead, becoming a narrator, and commenting and asking questions. Click HERE for all of her easy-to-implement tips to help your child talk as you engage with him or her through play (including sensory play!).
7. Increased Attention
As I mentioned earlier, deep pressure can be organizing to the body. So all that squeezing can actually do more than simply strengthen little hands. It can get brains ready to learn, too! I often use squeezable materials with my clients in therapy before they must sit and focus on a task such as writing, cutting, or playing a game at the table for this very reason.
8. A Sense of Calm
I recently shared my Kinetic Sand with one of my OT colleagues and, after just a minute of running her hands through it, she told me she felt more calm. Almost zen. I’d have to say I agree. Kinetic Sand’s smooth and airy texture, its ability to “melt” and gently roll over your fingertips, the way it encourages you to slowly and repetitively run your fingers through it as you instinctively slow your breathing…it all promotes a sense of calm. Ahhhhh. And who doesn’t need a little more calm in their life, especially when working with kids, right? I have used Kinetic Sand in my OT sessions and within seconds, I have observed children’s breathing patterns change. They nearly instantly begin to take deeper, slower breaths. You can hear it in their nose and see it in their body. What a great way to help a child prepare themselves for the next event, whether it’s bedtime, mealtime, social time, or learning time.
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Christie is a mama to two precious kiddos (a baby and a toddler) and an OT to many. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a minor in Education from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and a Master of Arts degree in Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy from the University of Southern California (USC). Christie has experience working as an occupational therapist in early intervention (birth to three years), clinic-based, and school-based settings. Outside of working in the BEST PROFESSION EVER, Christie enjoys playing with her crazy adorable boys, going on dates with her husband (who is also a fellow Bruin), finding great deals on fun kid stuff, turning household recyclables into therapy materials and, of course, rocking her UCLA pride to try to make up for the fact that she went to USC for grad school (Go Bruins!).
You can keep up with Christie on her blog, MamaOT.com, where she shares tips and tricks for those who care for children, and be sure to follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter (@mamaotblog) for more helpful tips and photos!