This post was originally published here, by Paige Hays, OTR/L, but was worth sharing again.

Home modifications are just as much for children as for adults.  Children with special needs often need unique play spaces to meet their developmental needs.  These play spaces need to be customized to a child’s motor and sensory needs, adapting as the child learns and grows.

Children love to move.  Children learn through movement.  Children need to move.

As an occupational therapist, I frequently tell parents that it is key to create a safe place for your child to move and play.  If your child seeks movement-based play, rather than constantly fighting with them to stop moving/ crashing/ climbing/ running/ etc., it is better to create a safe place where they can meet their movement needs.  (I have yet to hear from a parent that telling a child to stop moving and be calmer has ever worked.)  This is true for most typically developing toddlers and preschoolers, but especially true for children with sensory processing disorders, behaviors disorders, and attention difficulties.


Benefits for all children:

  • Gross motor development- increased strength, coordination, and motor skills such as jumping and balancing.
  • Increases safety- as children gain control of their motor movements, they become safer.
  • Increased body awareness and control, resulting in increased attention and self-regulation skills.
  • Improved behavior- allowing children a safe place to move can decreases the constant parenting battles of trying to get your child to calm down and be safe.

Benefits for children with special needs:

  • Motor delays:
    • Allows additional practice with motor skills, such as children with gross or fine motor delays or children with low tone.
    • Equipment can be customized to each child’s needs.
  • Sensory processing disorders:
    • Increase sensory input for children who are sensory seekers.
    • Can create calming sensory spaces for children with sensory processing disorders.
    • Allow a safe and low stress environment for sensory avoiding children to practice sensory experiences.
  • Attention and behavior issues:
    • Gross motor movement can help decrease over-active behavior and increase attention and impulse control skills.
    • Environment to practice body control and attention to promote self-regulation skills.

If you want to see a step by step process, visit the original post here for all the details!

If you happen to live in a place with year round mild climate, you can get a great swing set and call it done.  We are not so lucky, and half the year we need an indoor play space.  This winter I took on the task of planning and building a home sensory and motor play room for my very active toddler and preschooler.  While this took time to plan and execute, it was relatively inexpensive, as I focused on using what I already had at home and making the other equipment as I was able.

Step 1: Know your goal

Step 2: Find the space

Step 3: Walls and flooring

Step 4:  Think safety

Step 5:  Find the right equipment

Step 6: Try it all out (and double check for safety)