Why use sensory kits for travel?
As the holidays are upon us, long car rides and trips are likely, and can be challenging for children. These events challenge many of the sensory systems! Movement in planes and cars (not to mention traffic!) activate our vestibular (balance) system, which can lead to car sickness and an overall unwell feeling. In addition, planes often have strong smells and inescapable noises that children may find difficult to handle. Complaints of car and plane sickness may also be influenced by kids watching videos or reading while moving. Differences in music or listening preferences on those long car rides can also be a nightmare for some children.
Proactively addressing our kid’s potential sensory needs prior to departure can greatly reduce the likelihood of meltdowns, tantrums, and other tricky behaviors! Giving your kids something to do with their hands and their heads can help curb the traveling blues, while avoiding being glued to an iPad or iPhone! Check out our therapist-stamped list of sensory materials that you can include in your travel kit to meet your child’s sensory needs this traveling season!
What to include
1 – Chewing Gum
Chewing gum is something many adults use on planes and something many children use in the classroom. The oral input is soothing for children, gives them a sense of calmness, and is a very easy/affordable option to travel with. In addition, lollipops, dried mango, and other chewy/sucky candies work very similarly if your child cannot chew gum at this time.
2 – Glasses
Sunglasses or visual blockers can help children deal with bright lights, moving traffic, and may even help them fall asleep during a long trip. If your child chooses/requires watching a movie or some type of technology device, consider buying blue-light blocking glasses. This may reduce meltdowns and headaches – and it can be great for adults too!
3 – Essential Oil Rollerball
Essential oils are used in many cultures to soothe and remediate medical problems. In the same way, essential oils can be used to calm a child’s system. Lavender is notoriously soothing and calming, while peppermint and spearmint are activating. Your child may have a strong preference for which scent they prefer, and once they choose one they are comfortable with, rolling it on the inside of the wrist or the non-dominant shoulder is a good option.
4 – Noise Cancelling Headphones or Ear Plugs
Noise cancelling headphones provide two benefits: compression at the head, and blocking out loud noises. A great option for planes, trains, and car-rides (as well as inside the classroom). This allows the child to filter out any non-preferred noises while still being able to be engaged in conversation.
5 – Warmies
Warmies can be quickly warmed in the microwave and have essential oils in them. They are cute, fuzzy, and a great option for kids who really enjoy plush stuffed animals. They are small and portable, making them easy for travel. Purchase warmies here.
6 – Fidgets
Fidgets provide hands-on sensory experiences without being visually overwhelming – which is very important when considering sensory options for children sensitive to movement. Some of the fidgets below require no vision and may give the child something to do/wiggle with throughout the ride. View a wide assortment of fidgets here.
7 – CamelBak Water Bottles
Camelbak water bottles have a rubber straw; children can easily chew on it throughout the ride and stay hydrated. Be careful – some of them are too large to be TSA compliant, and you’ll have to throw them out if they’re filled. They do have smaller ones as well! View a kid’s CamelBak here.
8 & 9 – Small Weighted Lap Pad or a Body Sock
These two items provide proprioceptive input – they recreate the feeling of being “in the womb” and are inherently calming. Body socks can be rolled up very small and are easy to travel with. The resistance is great for kids! View lap pads – some with built in fidgets – here and click here to view body socks.
10 – Sensory Bottles
Sensory bottles can be incredibly calming and a wonderful distraction as they entice visual attention. Pro tip: be cautious with children that struggle with movement and vision related activities – chat with your OT before using! Learn to make your own here.