Sensory Cave Must Haves and Where You Can Get Them for Cheap!
Because the nights are long and we could all use a bit more color while huddled inside during this stark winter; today I wanted to discuss Sensory Spaces and how you can go about creating a fun sensory-safe play space for your kiddo.
With as small as our clinic is now, we still wanted to make sure we had a few of the essentials so Marin (our OT) can treat a wide array of kids with different needs. I dream of someday having a huge indoor sensory space to satisfy my inner child (and offer more awesome treatment options for the kiddos we work with) but for now, we maximize our smaller space!
We knew with a little creativity, we could make it an effective space for therapy and for kids to simply have fun.
4 Pillars: Communication: Below you will find affiliate links, by clicking on one of these and making a purchase, Spark Therapies receives a small percentage as a commission at no additional cost to you. The commissions earned from these posts are used to fund more projects to improve the clinic, community programs like art and improvisation and/or help cover therapy services for kids who need them if their family cannot afford the cost.
If a DARK Sensory Space is one of your Must Haves…
How We Planned Ours.
First off, before we get started, you may need an idea of how our space is set up so you can plan yours. We did not want too large of a space for the sensory “cave” as we wanted it to be snug and cozy. Too much space can be overwhelming for some kids. On the other hand, we did not want it to be too small.
We finally decided to section off part of our Sensory Gym space beside the right climbing tower with floor to ceiling blackout curtains. This allows us to close the space in or open it up depending on the unique needs of the child or teen we are working with.
You know your child best so this may be avoidable if you know they need a larger or smaller space.
We also did not want the ceiling to go all the way up so we built a long shelf above the cave to store therapy equipment such as swings, balls, mats, etc when not in use.
Things to Remember When Planning Your Space.
When you are planning your dark sensory space, keep in mind what aspects from the list below you absolutely must have for it.
TIP: Make sure you have access to enough outlets to use multiple things at once. I have included some battery operated options to hopefully free up those wall plugs for you but, depending on what you choose to use, some things will need to be plugged in directly.
If you are looking around your home for a place to put this, I recommend either sectioning off a corner or area of a room with blackout curtains (make sure you use the right type of rod for it!) or finding a decent-sized closet to make over into your child’s new dark sensory space!
If you don’t have a set space available in your home, don’t worry! Many of these will still achieve the same effects with the lights off and the curtains closed so you can have a dark sensory cave experience when you want or need it.
Sensory Must Haves: Lights & “Furniture”.
For a dark space, we sure do love our color changing lights and glowy features!
Bubble Tube & Mirrors.
The children and teens we see LOVE looking at the Bubble Tube in our sensory “cave.” We found this one that was affordable and a great height for most spaces but it is no longer available, sadly. Click the image above to see my full review and learn more about bubble tubes as a therapy tool for children and teens with sensory or behavioral needs.
Clients love to request colors or use the remote on their own to set the tube to any color they want or watch it fade from one to another. It is seriously relaxing for our kiddos (and for us after a long day).
If you are looking for a smaller and more affordable option to the $150+ options around, this one for $99 might be a good option to check out.
Common Cost: $100-$200
Interactive Lighting Features.
We picked up a pack of these tap lights from Amazon and they have been a surprisingly big hit. Kids can work on motor planning and gross motor movements to pick which light to touch, what color to make it, and more. They are battery powered, simple to stick on, and inexpensive to use!
There are also remote controlled tap options with more colors. We have both and adore them. Our new set works on the same remote for our bubble tube, allowing kids to pick the colors for both or each independently.
See my full review and look at another fun option on my post: Interactive sensory lights or click the image above!
Common Cost: $22 or less
Fiber Optic Lights.
Fiber Optic Lights are fun and satisfying for dark sensory spaces. They can come in a variety of styles and the prices range dramatically.
One style, seen at the left, is a small battery operated version that kids can move around with them, touch and manipulate as desired.
Sensory fiber optics are the safest way to get light close to a client. There is no electricity or heat being transmitted through the fiber which makes fiber optics lights safe to touch and handle.
These provide dazzling effects with some of the same relaxing and calming benefits as bubble tubes. They are widely used in hospitals, schools, and therapy centers especially for treating children and teens with learning difficulties, autism, and sensory processing disorders
We have a long set of fiber optic strands that hang from the opposite corner of the bubble tube. This allows kids to sit on a bean bag chair beneath it and get a “waterfall” effect from the light as it surrounds them. The strands feel smooth and satisfying to run your hands through.
Common Cost: $10-$60
Other light options.
Blacklights (or “purple lights” if you ask some of our younger clients) offer the ability to change the way a space looks by making certain objects in it glow. When we were in the planning stages of our little sensory cave, we knew a blacklight would be a key component of the space. These are the plugin blacklights we currently use and they give off more than enough light to still see in the cave without ruining the effect!
Want to turn a lamp you already have into a blacklight? Try some blacklight bulbs like these. We have a couple that we occasionally use and they work pretty well!
Common Cost: $15-$30
Another inexpensive and fun sensory cave light option is an Aurora Master. We have one and while it is not used as often as the other lights in the cave, it is pretty and soothing. It has multiple light settings and looks as though waves of light are flowing over the ceiling. It can also plug into an auxiliary cable so music can be played through it. The motions and colors do not seem to change based on the music but the effect is still nice.
Common Cost: $20
Sensory Must Haves: Toys and Manipulatives.
For these, it is essentially whatever you like the look and/or texture of in this space. Bonus points if it glows in the dark, is soft, black light reactive, or requires some kind of interaction with your child or teen.
Putty, slime, balloons, sensory bins and more are all great options depending on your child’s interests and current developmental skill set.
I HIGHLY recommend checking out your local dollar store or party supply store for glowing toys, fidgets, bracelets, accessories and more!
Common Cost: Varies ($10+)
Sensory Must Haves: Furniture and Accessories.
I am using the term furniture loosely here but you may want some pillows (UV reactive ones would be very cool!) or at least something soft to touch and/or sit on while playing. We picked beanbag chairs like these because of the bright colors and the white spots which glow.
We also tied multi-colored blacklight reactive scarves and cloth in different textures nearby to offer another item to touch and play with. The goal is to offer a variety of textures and soft items to play with and sink into. You could also put a small DIY crash pit in your space for more sensory exposure.
On either side of our bubble tube, we have mirrors installed into the wall to amplify the effects of the tube itself and to help bolster therapy goals like eye tracking, promote eye gaze, recognize reflections, and more. With the size tube I linked above, I recommend ones like these from Target (not affiliated). They are (incredibly) inexpensive, easy to hang and fit nicely with a tube this size.
Hopefully, this gave you some ideas for things you can try at home if a sensory cave is one of your must haves!
If you were to buy a mid-range bubble tube and a few of the things listed above you could have a great little sensory cave of your own for less than $225! This is the kind of thing that gets me excited.
Of course, if you simplify on the bubble tube and/or go the route of a black light bulb and some simple toys, then the cost of setting up some low-light sensory exploration and play would drop significantly! Really, however much you want to put into you can but know that it just takes a little creativity to have some fun.
The prices listed above are accurate as of writing this but things do change. I have tried my best to round up items with a good mix of quality and affordability and I have personally used most of the things I have linked to with great results.
If your child sees a therapist for their sensory needs, definitely ask what equipment they use and what your child or teen gravitates to. This way you can hopefully bring something similar home or at least get ideas.
Not all kids love dark rooms. There may be other sensory activities or tools that you can use with them. Definitely ask! Your child’s therapist wants you and your child to succeed!
Learn more about Sensory Integration Therapy here at Spark or give us a call to set up an informal conversation with one of our therapists about it.