As Christmas approaches you probably encounter little sensory memories associated with childhood. For me the first bite of winter air makes me think of Christmas. The feeling of felt between my fingers reminds me of the pockets on the advent calendar my Grandma sewed for me when I was a child. An advent calendar that I will soon hang up for my little son. There is the smell of pigs in blankets and the warm fuggy aroma of Christmas dinner, the twinkling of candles and fairy lights and many, many more fabulous little sensory moments that weave together to create the enchantment of Christmas.

Some of these sensory memories are likely to be shared by many, others are personal to us. For me a laddered pair of 15 denier tights will, at any time of the year, bring back memories of Christmas stockings as a child as my mother would always sacrifice a pair of her tights to the cause and the presents stuffed inside would ladder them terribly.

Sensory experiences are fantastic prompts for wonderful memories and woven together they form part of the magic of anticipating Christmas, but they are not always accessible to everyone. People with complex disabilities might not, for example, be able to see the tinsel twinkling on the tree, they might not understand the small cardboard windows of the advent calendar. These changes that happen around Christmas time can be disorientating, even frightening, which is certainly not what we want.

Here are a few ideas for homemade sensory Christmas items that you can do with your children to bring some of that magic to life.

A glorious globe

You will need:

  • a balloon
  • some Christmas decorations
  • a freezer

Push some Christmas decorations into a balloon, being careful not to tear the rubber as you do so. Fill the balloon with water (depending on your balloon you may need to blow it up first to get the water in). Tie it off and place inside a rounded bowl in the freezer (the roundness of the bowl will stop you from ending up with a flat bottomed orb, although you may prefer to have a little flatness on the bottom of your globe to give it a base).

Once it is frozen remove the balloon and you’ll be left with a glorious globe full of Christmas wonder. It is cold to the touch and glossy. The water will magnify the objects inside making them all the more alluring to the eye. Spotlight it to make it twinkly and explore.

Seasonal scent sensation

You will need:

  • an empty roller ball deodorant
  • a seasonal essential oil or herb (e.g. some cinnamon sticks or an essential oil with a festive scent)
  • either some bees wax and almond oil/olive oil (or a different sort of oil if you have a nut allergy).

Carefully place the empty deodorant canister into a bowl of boiling water and wait for the roller ball to pop out (putting it in a hot wash in a dishwasher will achieve the same just make sure you put it inside the cutlery box so the ball doesn’t get lost down your drain). Some roller ball deodorants will simply unscrew so you needn’t worry about all of this. Wash out the inside of the canister.

Beeswax and almond oil option:

Pop four grams of beeswax and six grams of almond oil in a pan and gently simmer until the wax melts. Add in your essential oil drops or mix in your herbs. Tip into the deodorant canister and replace the ball. This will make a balm of a similar consistency to Vaseline that will then be dispensed as the roller ball rolls.

Olive oil option:

Pop a little olive oil into the deodorant canister and mix in your essential oil or herbs. Be careful to store the deodorant with the ball facing up as the olive oil can slither out around the edges of the ball.

You now have a wonderful massage toy that dispenses a festive scent. You can use it anywhere, even just rolling the ball around someone’s palm can be a lovely way to share touch and the scents of the season together.

Shirt sleeve stocking

You need:

  • An old shirt
  • some interesting Christmas bits and bobs to touch
  • very basic sewing skills.

Cut the sleeves off an old shirt at about elbow length. Stitch them together so that you end up with one sleeve with a cuff on each end.

Pop an interesting Christmas item inside the sleeve. Share this with your child by supporting them to put their hands inside the sleeve from either end. Button the cuffs around their wrists to keep it all secure.

This can be a great way to share a touch, especially with someone who does not have great grip as if it gets dropped it has never gone far and can be found and re-explored.

You can change this experience by wearing one end of the sleeve each and having your hands meet in the middle.

Feeling inside something for a special item inside is exactly what we do when we reach inside our Christmas stockings to find what’s inside. Think of the sensory experiences in your stocking, mine always had a satsuma at the bottom – this would be perfect for dropping inside a shirt sleeve stocking.


Read more from Joanna in her book Sensory-being for sensory beingsor find out about one of her courses on Develop Your Sensory Lexiconary.