Sensory Story Tots

Program designed by: Barbara Klipper, youth services librarian, Stamford, CT and Gabriela Marcus, The Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT

What You’ll Need

  • Visuals: Boardmaker® or other software to make visuals; free from
  • A laminator (or plastic sheet protectors)
  • Weighted bean bags: 1/2 pound each, 2 per child preferred ($19.95 for 5,
  • Designated seating for children and parents (The Ferguson Library uses Educubes for the children and stools for the adults.) (Educubes can be purchased for about $150.00 for four)
  • Large sensory ball(s)
  • Shapes cut with an Ellison die-cut for nametags
  • Velcro dots
  • Thera Bands (yellow, cut into 5-6 foot lengths) or large rubber bands  (thera bands are $12.49 for six yards from )  
  • Yoga mats (one for each child) or beach towels
  • Flannel board
  • Other materials for activities that go with rhymes and books

Program Guidelines

  • A series of 3-4 programs, held on Saturdays at 11 am (but this also can be done as a single session on a regular basis, like monthly)
  • Each program lasts about 45 minutes
  • The plan alternates activities that are arousing with ones that are calming
  • The program is open to children age birth through three who have autism or sensory processing issues (along with a participating caregiver).  Parents are requested not to bring siblings to the program.
  • Registration is required, and limited to 6-8 children plus caregivers.
  • Two adults lead the program.
  • Participants are asked to arrive at least 10 minutes before the program begins
  • When selecting activities keep in mind that the physical abilities of a 2 ½ year old child with developmental delays is often that of a typically-developing 12-month-old.

Visual Supports

Using Boardmaker® or another source of images (free from, individual 8 ½ x 11 pictures with titles are made for each activity in the program, and a separate schedule is produced that includes all of the activities.  All are laminated or placed in plastic sheet protectors, and backed with Velcro dots.  Before the children arrive, all of the visuals are placed on a large flannel board in the order in which the events will happen. Presenter removes the picture of the corresponding activity when it is completed, and points to the next one and says what will come next. We also have a single sheet (81/2 x 11) with all of the visuals on it (view in FireFox or Chrome), and she walks around and shows the picture of the next activity to each child in turn. [See photo of presenter with visuals.]


All registered families are sent a letter that describes the program (dates and times and what the program is about). The backside has a Social Story™ the parents can use to help prepare their children for the program.  Carol Gray’s website has information about Social Stories: (

The Environment

The leader(s) sit in the front of the room next to the flannel board.  The children sit in a semicircle on Educubes, which are strong plastic cubes in bright colors that can support children of various sizes by seating them on different sides of the cube. They contain the child and cut down on squirming and roaming, but what is most important is designating the spot where each child should sit (not just saying "sit somewhere on the rug".) Inexpensive soft round floor mat cushions (from are available for children to put on the Educubes if they find them to be too hard. These mats can also be used to designate seating on the floor.  Parents sit on stools behind the children or on the floor behind the children. The idea of that is that we want the parents close by, for support and to assist, but the children are the front line in the circle, facing the program leader.   

The room is set up for all of the activities before the children arrive. There is open floor space available for the beanbag and any other movement activities. Tables and chairs are available in the room if they will be needed for other sensory activities.

Other materials are out of sight but accessible. Distractions are removed from the room if possible.

Typical Program Plan

As parent/child pairs arrive, the parent checks their name on an attendance sheet and takes their child’s nametag, which is made of a die-cut shape with a Velcro dot on the back.  Boys are given a boy-shaped tag, and girls a girl-shaped one.  The parent is asked to help the child place the nametag on the flannel board. (Or parents can put the nametag on the board and point it out to the child).

An assortment of age-appropriate toys is available for the children to play with as they arrive.  This helps pass the time while early arrivals wait for the other families, and also helps the children get comfortable in the space.

When the leader announces that the program is about to begin, everyone helps put the toys away so they will not be a distraction, and everyone moves into the circle.  Children who won’t sit on the Educubes can sit on their parent’s laps, or stand next to the circle.  It is okay if they move around the room.

1.  Introduction (first meeting only)

Parents and children are welcomed and parents are told that:

a. The goal of the program is to make their children comfortable in the library
b. Their children are accepted as they are.  It is okay if they can’t sit still or don’t participate in the activities.
c. We will try to entice the children to join in and we’ll model ways that the parents can do things with the children at home
d. We want them to do the activities with their children
e. If a child has a meltdown or is being destructive, he can be removed from the room.  When he is calm he is welcome to return.  Crying in the room is not a problem.

2.  Hello Activities (Do one or both of these or choose your own; use consistently.)

a. Song:  “Hello everyone, how are you, how are you, how are you; Hello everyone, how are you, how are you today?”
b. Welcome each child:  Referring to the nametags, the leader welcomes each child in turn, using his or her name at least twice.

3.  Welcome with ball

The leader rolls the sensory ball to each child in turn, asking him to roll, kick or throw the ball back:
(to the tune of Row, Row, Row Your Boat)

“Roll, roll, roll the ball, Roll the ball to [child’s name]
[child’s name 4 times], roll it back to me”

4.  Rhyme Time

The leader introduces two rhymes from the chart .  The rhyme is read from a book, said or sung, with finger play motions if appropriate.  The rhyme is repeated. Then one or more activities related to the rhyme are introduced.  Always use one rhyme from the previous meeting and introduce a new second rhyme.  Activities can be expanded or simplified as needed.

Little Boy Blue

Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn,
The sheep’s in the meadow
The cow's in the corn.
Where is the boy that looks after the sheep?
"He's under the haystack, fast asleep."

Breathe and blow activities: blowing bubbles or paper blowouts (Walmart™ party supplies).  You can have the children lie down and pretend to sleep as you cover them with an object with some weight like an old heavy quilt. Or cover the children with a yoga mat or towel and have the parent put weight or deep pressure on the children.

Jack and Jill
Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water,
Jack fell down and broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after

Children can act as “Jack” and carry or lift sand pails filled with weighted beanbags.  Children can also act as “Jill” and roll on the floor.

5.  Stretch Songs With Thera Bands

Each child is given a five to six foot length of yellow Thera Band.  The Thera Bands are anchored in the middle and the children are asked to pull on the ends as the leader demonstrates the motions for each song. The band can be anchored by the child’s feet, the Educube, or by sitting on it. Parents can also sit the child on their lap and wrap the band around the back of their waist, letting the child pull the Thera Band ends away from his parent’s body.  If a child won’t participate in this activity at all, his parents can model the pulling motions and introduce the child to the feel of the Thera Band. (A number of long rubber bands can be hooked together and used in place of the Thera Bands).

Some songs that work well with Thera Bands are:
Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes
Itsy Bitsy Spider
Row, Row, Row Your Boat
The Noble Duke of York

The idea is to do the heavy work of pulling and releasing the band rather than to do the traditional movements that go with these songs.

6.  Bean Bag Activity

Either a parade to the song, “Bean Bag Parade” (from Action Songs Vol. 2 by Tumble Tots), or a body parts recognition activity using the song “The Bean Bag” (from Can a Jumbo Jet Sing the Alphabet? by Hap Palmer 2004).  In both cases the CDs are played and the children do the activities mentioned in the songs.  These can be adapted to the abilities of the children.  Bean bags can be placed on shoulders, not heads in the parade.  Parents can touch the children’s body parts mentioned in the song or they can model putting the bean bag on various body parts.  Instead of throwing the bean bags in the air, the children can drop them to the floor then pick them up.

7.  Book and Related Sensory Activity

A book is read by to the group by the program leader, followed by a sensory activity that relates to that book.  If the book is wordy or uses complex language, abridge the text.  Examples of books and activities you can use are: [Choose one.]

• Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin

Color sneaker shaped cut out (made with Ellison die-cut).  Also, let frozen strawberries and blueberries defrost, and place each fruit in a separate bowl.  Give each child a bowl filled with water, to which a little lemon juice has been added.  Give each child a piece of white cloth, (a cut up white handkerchief will work for this), and let them dip it in the strawberries.  When it is red, dip it in the water to rinse off the color.  Then do the same with the blueberries.  Tasting the fruit is fine.

• Pancakes for Breakfast by Eric Carle

Use play-doh™ or other modeling substance to make pancakes.  Have rolling pins available so children can roll out the dough.  An old frying pan or toy pan can be used to “cook” the pancakes.

• Bubbles, Bubbles by Kathi Applet

Any bubble blowing activity goes well with this book.  You can have the children blow bubbles with bubble wands or bubble pipes.  Or, you can put large cups filled with soapy water inside a big plastic tub.  Using large straws, ask the children to blow on the straws so the bubbles foam out of the cups into the tub.  Have parents monitor to make sure that the children aren’t sucking in the soapy water.  If the children are not ready for blowing their own bubbles, the leader or parents can blow bubbles that the children can visually track and pop.

• The Wide-Mouthed Frog by Keith Faulkner

Throw objects into a frog’s mouth, or feed a frog.  We use the frog topped children’s waste can from The Container Store™.  You can “feed” him plastic toy bugs, use beanbags, etc.  If you put in different toy foods, you can talk about what frogs eat, what people eat, favorite foods, etc.  You can also draw a frog on poster board and cut out the mouth.

• Jump Frog Jump by Robert Kalan

Practice frog jumps.  From a squat have the children jump up when it says the frog jumps in the book.  After you can have them do frog jumps on command (call out a name, or ask all of the girls to jump, or anyone wearing a certain color, etc.)

• Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen Christelow

Parachute activity.  Use a large fabric parachute, or an old sheet.  Place five stuffed toy monkeys or monkey puppets on the parachute.  Ask all of the children to hold the parachute and shake it up and down to toss the monkeys off.  If children have trouble holding on or shaking in a controlled way, parents can do this with their children using hand over hand (the child holds the parachute and the parent puts his hands over the child’s, guiding the movement).  You can also use balloons if you don’t have stuffed monkeys.  The balloons will float up and you can ask the children to visually track them (use balloons of different colors).  After, children can sit on the parachute while parents circle slowly, first in one direction and then in the other, giving them a “ride”. 

• Split! Splat! by Amy Gibson 

This book goes well with rain, mud or sun activities. Sing the song
“Rain, rain, go away,
Come again another day,
All the children want to play.” 

Then, turn the Educubes on their sides to make tables and have the children make “rain” on the tables, drumming gently for drizzle or light rain, and pounding hard for heavy rain.  Set up a large plastic bin (an under bed storage bin works well).  Put plastic people or animals in the bin and tell the children they are going to make “rain”.  Give the children squeeze bottles or watering cans, and let them “rain” on the plastic pieces.  Have them touch the water and feel its temperature and texture.  [See photo of "making rain"]

Transition the children away from the water bin by showing them a picture of a bright yellow sun and talking about how the sun came out in the book.  Hand each child a sun prop and a tree prop and play the song “Mr. Sun” by Raffi (from Singable Songs for the Very Young).

8.  Wrap in a Mat

To calm the children at the end of the program, parents are asked to have them lay on the floor on the narrow end of a yoga mat (or beach towel).  The parent then rolls the child up in the mat, and the child lies on the floor for a few minutes while wrapped in the mat.  Quiet music is played in the background during this activity. A good choice is “Thanks a Lot” by Raffi (from the Baby Beluga CD).  If children refuse to lie down and be wrapped, they can be wrapped in the yoga mats while standing up, they can just lie on the mat, or the parent can fold a portion of the mat over the child.  If the child is not comfortable with any of this, see if the child will touch the mat to get an idea of how it feels.

9. Goodbye Song (Do one or both of these or choose your own; use consistently.)
Goodbye Song 1:  “ I take my little hand and wave bye, bye, bye
Bye, bye, bye, bye, bye, bye
I take my little hand and wave bye, bye, bye
We’ll see you soon again.”

Goodbye Song 2:  Sung to each child in turn:

“Goodbye (name), goodbye (name), goodbye (name),
   We hope you have a happy day”

10.  Hand Stamps

Offer one or two of the emotion faced hand stamps from Melissa & Doug Expressions Stamper set to each child in turn.  Each child is asked to choose the stamp he wants to use.   Paper is available for the stamps if a child doesn’t want to have the stamp on his skin.  Stickers can be handed out instead.

Selected Resources

Some Books With Sensory Activities

Arming, Bonnie, Starting Sensory Integration Therapy: Fun Activities That Won’t Destroy Your Home or Classroom! (2005)
Brack, Jenny Clark, Learn to Move, Move to Learn!: Sensorimotor Early Childhood Activity Themes (2004)
Delaney, Tara, 101 Games and Activities for Children with Autism, Asperger’s and Sensory Processing Disorders (2009)
Kranowitz, Carol Stock, The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder Revised Edition (2006)
Notbohm, Ellen and Veronica Zysk, 1001 Great Ideas for Teaching & Raising Children with Autism or Asperger’s (2010)
Sher, Barbara, Early Intervention Games: Fun, Joyful Ways to Develop Social and Motor Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum or Sensory Processing Disorders (2009)

Websites For Sensory Activities

Keystone Kids:
Sensory Processing
Inexpensive Sensory Activities:

Sources of Equipment

Achievement Products for Special Needs:
Beyond Play:
Fun and Function:
Pacific Pediatric Supply:
Pocket Full of Therapy:
Therapy Shoppe:

To Learn How to Make Visual Supports

To Learn More About Carol Gray’s Social Story™

Other Useful Resources

Libraries and Autism: We’re Connected:
Do2Learn/Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Strategies:

Free Resources for Making Visual Schedules

March 2012