A sensory crash mat is a crash mat that can be used like a bean bag to increase sensory input and help kids (and adults) increase proprioceptive awareness and decrease over-reaction to sensations over time. Often used in Occupational Therapy and play therapy clinics, a sensory crash mat is a nice thing to have at home if you are dealing with sensory issues.

Make a Crash Mat for Sensory Awareness great for sensory awareness (text) large checkered crash mat show with zipped opening revealing a cube of foam - Kids Activities Blog
DIY Sensory Crash Mat Instructions

Make a Crash Mat for Sensory Awareness

After my son started attending Occupational Therapy for Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), I realized that a large crash mat might be a really nice thing to have at home for play and relaxation. Initially, I did some research online to find the cheapest way to make a sensory crash mat.  Those resources are long gone, but here is what I did that has stood the test of time with not just one boy, but three!

A crash mat needs to be big enough to lay on or fall into and deep enough that no part of the body ever hits the floor. Just a word of warning especially with active kids – they are going to be jumping in/out and falling into the crash mat so you do NOT want it too small or easy for them to miss and fall or land on the floor. The solution is to use a futon cover which comes in twin, full and queen sizes.

Supplies Needed for DIY Crash Mat

Foam-filled crash mat - Kids Activities Blog

Making Your Own Foam Cubes

When I did this project, there were no commercially available foam pit cubes on Amazon so I searched for a local foam company which was surprisingly just a few miles away (who knew?).

Figuring Out How Many Foam Cubes Needed for Crash Mat

The difficult part was to figure out how many foam blocks the futon cover would need.  I did some calculations that I basically needed three levels of blocks – give or take a few – to assure that no part of the body was touching the floor.

  • I chose a medium density foam that was 6 inches thick and had them cut 80 cubes (6 inches x 6 inches x 6 inches).  
  • Through this process, I identified several places I could do this online, but none of them could come close to meeting the price of my local company plus then I could pick them up and not have them shipped.  
  • Foam is not inexpensive.  I think my cubes ended up to be in the $150 range.

Related: If you don’t have the ability to make your crash mat, consider getting a giant bean bag chair/sofa.

How to Make a Crash Mat

Sensory Crash Mat - Kids Activities Blog

We put our foam cubes into the futon cover and zipped it closed…a crash mat is born!

Why a Sensory Crash Mat?

I made this crash mat nearly 15 years ago while my son was in Occupational Therapy for Sensory Integration Dysfunction (also known as Sensory Processing Disorder).  At that time, his body was interpreting sensory input in a way that made his reaction to it very unpredictable.  I like the term “out-of-sync” because that was really what it looked like from the outside.  If you have not read the Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Kranowitz, I highly recommend it.

A simple hug or hand grab by me would be interpreted by his body (subconsciously!) as an attack which resulted in wild over-reactionary responses.  In the early years, this looked to a parent as temper tantrums, but the more I researched it, the more I realized that his body felt under assault and he was in self-preservation mode.

What a hard thing to add to childhood!

when touch feels like an attack - sensory processing

Everywhere we went was a battlefield – people bumping into him, kids touching him, play equipment moving back and forth, loud noises, wind…I could go on and on.  These things most kids don’t even notice, but for him they were obstacles that had to be overcome before any rational thought could exist.

He was constantly on fight or flight mode.

Proprioception & a Crash Mat

There are many aspects to our sensory systems, but the one that was most under invasion  here was proprioception.  I think of proprioception as our body’s knowledge of where we are in space.  When all systems are go, we know innately that when we are sitting down:

  1. We feel input from our feet on the floor.
  2. That  tells our brain that our knees are bent to around 90  degrees.
  3. This is confirmed by the pressure being felt through the buttocks and thighs from the chair.
  4. Our spine sends in constant positioning cues from the resistance of the back of the chair – we can automatically notice if we are slouching or sitting up straight.
  5. Our neck knows exactly which way to move and bend from all this input to keep our eyes level and head upright.

But what about when any one of those cues goes awry?  What if the brain skipped the foot information?  Or the back?  All of a sudden, the whole body is out of whack…and might even think it is falling.

When I started realizing that my child had the sensation that he was falling all the time, his behavior suddenly started making more sense.  He was insecure with his place in the world in a literal way.

feels like falling - how to make a crash mat

To give his body additional clues, he would intentionally bump into things and wear his clothing extremely tight.  These things helped him get more information about where he fit into the world.

One of the things that we could do for him at home is provide easy ways for him to get more sensory input.  I made a crash mat.

Why a Crash Mat Works for Sensory Issues

Because additional information in any situation can be helpful when not overwhelming, a crash mat can help a kid make more sense of where his body lay.  The soft, but firm foam cubes give more stimulation than a solid surface while varying degrees of pressure are felt throughout.  At first, it was something my son could only tolerate for a short period.  But it was our go-to bean bag in the TV room and a fun place to relax and read a book.  After some time and conditioning to the extra stimulation, his body started reacting positively to it.

It was also a safe place to “crash”.  If he wanted to throw himself onto something or jump off a surface, having this below was better than the alternative.

We still use this crash mat as a bean bag alternative.  It has held up well and was definitely worth the time and effort.  My son has tackled many of his sensory issues in a way that most people would never suspect what he once dealt with.

I love that he now can identify times that he needs a little crash time.

Sensory Issues in Kids - Kids Activities Blog

Sensory Issues in Kids

As if parenting wasn’t complicated enough, sensory issues can often manifest as crazy behavior.  Once I realized that some of my child’s acting out was because he couldn’t help it, it helped me react in a supportive vs. demanding way.  I am not alone in this.  In fact, there is a series of posts investigating different kid behaviors in the light of sensory issues hosted at Lemon Lime Adventures.

The wonderful thing about sensory issues is that they don’t require medication or often even extensive medical care – there are things that you can do everyday at home as part of family play to decrease sensitivities and increase body awareness.

More Sensory Fun from Kids Activities Blog

Did you make a sensory crash mat? Do you have suggestions to make it easier?

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