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Open Doors: Play Time That’s Sensory-Friendly

A child with sensory processing challenges needs time and space to play and enjoy themselves. Here’s where they can get it.

We all know how lucky we are to live in a place with so many things to do. But when your child has sensory processing challenges, not all activities can be experienced in the same way — and it can be heartbreaking for your child, and for you. For individuals with sensory processing challenges, some senses may be easily overstimulated while others may barely respond at all, requiring outside sensory input.


Thanks to increasing awareness of these issues, and some prodding from crusading parents, more and more local institutions are creating sensory-friendly activities that everyone can enjoy. Some of the adjustments are small, others big, but the impact can be huge. Try one of these options next time you need a fun outing.

Sensory-Friendly Sundays at The Franklin Institute

222 N. 20th St., Philadelphia


The Franklin Institute is vast and exciting, but can be very overwhelming. Sensory-Friendly Sundays, which occur about five times a year, make the museum a little more comfortable for the morning. Modified exhibits and lower sound levels create the best possible experience for children and adults with sensory challenges and special needs. There is a quiet space available, and trained staff are on hand to help. The dates for 2017 are March 26, May 21, August 27, October 29, and December 3.

Play without Boundaries at the Please Touch Museum

4231 Avenue of The Republic, Philadelphia


During this program, which happens once a season, the museum takes special care to accommodate children with special needs and sensory challenges. The event is free and only available to families with children with special accommodation needs, meaning the crowd is more manageable. The museum will be free of excessive light or noise from music that may be over-stimulating. Children can enjoy all the museum has to offer in a comfortable environment, and there is a quiet space available if needed. The next opportunity is April 2. 

Sound All Around at the Philadelphia Orchestra

The Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St., Philadelphia


The orchestra recently made some of its popular Saturday family concerts sensory-friendly. They’re held at the Academy of Music, focus on one instrument or instrument group, and include a storyteller. In this relaxed environment where movement and play is encouraged, children can truly enjoy the music. There’s a quiet area available with fidget toys and noise-cancelling headphones. Social stories for this visit are also available online to help children prepare. This spring’s dates are March 11 and April 1.

Sensory Bounce at SkyZone

122 Mill Road, Oaks


Every Sunday, this session begins before SkyZone officially opens, so the crowd is relatively small. Lights are dimmer and the music lower, so kids can enjoy jumping without feeling overstimulated. All SkyZone activities are available to jumpers, including like dodgeball and the foam pits.

KidZooU at the Philadelphia Zoo

3400 W. Girard Ave., Philadelphia


This children’s zoo allows kids to delve deeper into the lives of animals around the world. At the fully wheelchair-accessible venue, children can learn through verbal speech, braille, American Sign Language, or with a picture exchange system. Multi-sensory learning is embedded in the KidZoo curriculum, which includes opportunities to move around and swing like monkey. There is a designated quiet space as well, where children can take a break. Plus, there are awesome pre-made social stories online to prep children for the outing.        

AMC Theatres Marple 10

400 S. State Road, Springfield   


This theater shows sensory-friendly films on Saturdays and Tuesdays throughout each month. There are no previews, you can bring your own food, and everyone is encouraged to move around and enjoy the movie in the way that feels most natural. A quiet theater with no movie showing is also available, in case children need a break. These show times typically start before the theater opens, so there’s no overcrowding. Check the theater’s website for dates and show times.

Bonus: Extra Curriculars!

Mt. Laurel United Soccer Association with TOPSoccer

TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer) is a program specifically designed to encourage children and teens with disabilities, including sensory challenges, to stay active and get involved with the wonderful sport of soccer. Mt.Laurel is the first in New Jersey to sponsor a TOPSoccer program. The community comes together to coach and assist in this program. Soccer “buddies” help participants learn about the game of soccer, build their skills, and most importantly, have fun! Children from any area township are welcome!

Theatre Horizon Autism Drama Program

Theatre Horizon is now offering an Autism Drama Program for children and adults on the autism spectrum. In this program, participants will work on social skills, communication, and personal relationships. The comfortable environment allows individuals can find a love for theater! With three sessions a year, and discounted rates as needed, this is definitely something you’ll want to check out!


Photograph courtesy of the Franklin Institute. 



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