SNOW WAY! Sensory Activities for Winter Days

Winter can be cold and snowy, but it’s always a wonderful time to engage in different sensory activities! Use the snow, cold weather, and holiday season to expose your child to countless sensory-based play activities, both indoors and outdoors. Playing with objects of various scents, textures, colors, and sounds, or engaging in activities that require your child to move their body in different directions and transition between various positions are great for providing sensory input. This will help them learn more about the world and how to process the sensory information they are constantly receiving.

Build a Snowman

Do you want to build a snowman? Yes! Getting outside to roll snowballs and build a large snowman provides great proprioceptive input. Proprioception is also known as the “joint sense” and lets us know where different body parts are in space, how they move, and how much pressure our body wants or needs to stay regulated. Encourage your child to pack the snow in their hands, roll it on the ground to gather more, and build massive snow balls to stack on top of each other!

Watch those Snowflakes

While you’re still outside, why not lie in the snow, make some snow angels, and stare at the snowflakes falling down? This provides great visual input! You and your child can pretend you’re inside a snow globe, looking at all of the snowflakes falling around you. You can also gather snow in your hands and encourage your child to blow it into the air! This provides great oral and visual input, all while your child is simply enjoying the snow day.

Sip Something Tasty

Go on inside and warm up with some hot chocolate! Sipping and sniffing a warm cup of hot-cocoa will give your child some great tastes and smells for their sensory system to process. Put a spin on the classic hot chocolate by stirring it with a candy cane or adding whipped cream or marshmallows. The added flavors and textures will provide increased oral input for your child.

Create a Snow Sensory Bin

Sensory bins are a great way to explore different textures, colors, and smells in one place! Help your child create a snow sensory bin by gathering some snow and adding other items. Feel free to include items from outside, such as rocks, leaves, or sticks. Add some from inside the home too, such as spoons and cups to scoop and pack the snow. Hide waterproof toys inside the bin and encourage your child to search for them. Sprinkle some glitter, paint, or food coloring into the bin for a visually-exciting spin on the usual white snow. The options are endless!

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s responses to different kinds of sensory input, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

 

Morgan Haak

Occupational Therapy Student Intern

 

References

Proske, U., & Gandevia, S. C. (2012). The proprioceptive senses: their roles in signaling body shape, body position and movement, and muscle force. Physiological reviews92(4), 1651-1697.

 

Photo Credits: Nelly Aran via Pexels; Victoria Borodinova via Pexels; Nelly Aran via Pexels; Jill Wellington via Pexels; Matej via Pexels

Falling in Love with Fall Sensory Activities!

Photo Credit: Mel Bailey via KneesBees

Fall is a season full of creative activities to do both indoors and outdoors. Use this season to expose your child to creative and different sensory play activities to get their imagination flowing. Sensory exploration can occur through different textures, smells, visual input, and even using something ordinary in a new way.

Paint a pumpkin 

Finger painting a pumpkin exposes your child to a whole new world of painting. From the slippery textures of the paint to the rough texture and ridges of the pumpkin your child will be able to allow their imagination to run wild on this novel canvas!

Photo Credit: Shaunna Evans via Fantastic Fun and Learning

Pumpkin carving

Gooey gooey goodness! Pumpkin carving is a great way to encourage your child to get hands-on with a mixed texture…the gooeyness of the inside of the pumpkin mixed with the firmness of the pumpkin seeds. This activity is a great way to promote your child to engage in more messy play!

Photo Credit: Cat Bowen via Romper

Crunching and jumping in leaves

Crunching in your hand or even stomping with your feet, fall leaves are a great way to engage your child in sensory play using a familiar object. Have your child help in creating a leaf pile to jump into to get their senses ready for the big jump. The crunchier the leaf the better!

Photo Credit: Sarah Clouser via Herviewfromhome

Fall sensory bin

Creating a fall sensory bin is a fun and exciting way to explore the different textures and smells of this season! Have your child help in creating the bin to increase their excitement. This bin can be created using all sorts of textures and everyday items from dried corn, popcorn kernels to pine cones and even cinnamon sticks to get their senses ready for the season.

PlayWorks Therapy

Questions or concerns ?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s responses to different sensory inputs, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Urooba Khaleelullah, MOT, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist

 

Teaching Play Skills to Children with ASD

Pretend play can often be very difficult for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) because it directly impacts their ability to develop and understand social skills along with communication skills. Play skills are necessary for children to establish and create meaningful relationships with peers and understand the world around them. This blog will help provide some information to help engage your child with ASD while learning new foundational and essential play skills.

Where do I start?

Just like every child is different, every child with autism is different. It is important to understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Before introducing new unfamiliar activities with your child, make sure your child is at a ready-to-learn and regulated state. This means your child is demonstrating a calm body and is ready to play. It is important to reinforce eye contact and joint attention while playing with your child to help increase their engagement skills. Your child’s skill level, attention span, and interests will determine and help guide you in the right direction to begin introducing new unfamiliar play. Begin where your child is at and remember to slowly build on their current level of understanding and skill. If your child resists the new play, begin new play schemes with some of your child’s favorite games or toys. Remember, all children learn by repetition and benefit from having a model or demonstration with how to the use objects appropriately.

Sensory Play

Sensory activities include activities that stimulate our senses, whether in a positive way or a negative way using all our senses: taste, sound, visual, tactile, and smell. These different textures, colors, smells, taste, and experiences impact the way you experience the world around you. Sensory-based activities help children become engaged and focus on the activity presented. These activities can improve attention span, increase flexibility and exposure to new items, and help self-regulation. Please use caution when implementing new sensory items with your child and notice for any aversive or negative reactions.

  • Music is a great way to engage any child! Fingerplays (e.g. “Wheels on the bus”) and dancing improve your child’s attention span, imitation skills, and gross-motor coordination.
  • Water, whether it’s outside when weather appropriate or in the bathtub all year round.
  • Play-Doh (roll, squish, animal shapes)
  • Waterbeads (fill and dump, have animals swim)
  • Sand

Functional Play

Functional play is the child’s ability to use objects as they are intended and expected (e.g. block to build). Use cups to fill up and dump the water/waterbeads in the bathtub or a car to drive across the sand. Use the blocks to build a tower and crash them. Provide hands-on assistance and a demonstration if your child does not use the object functionally.

Pretend Play

Pretend play or symbolic play is when a child uses a realistic item or non-realistic item as something else (i.e. using play food or a spoon as a toothbrush). Use animals in the bathtub to walk across the tub and use the sounds associated with each animal. Once your child has mastered the play imitation skills, expand upon this play and encourage your child to have the animals go down the slide in the bathtub. Use their favorite stuffed animal during meal times and encourage your child to “feed” their animal. Continue the child’s bedtime routine with their favorite animal, while you demonstrate and explain what you are doing with your child and their animal.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s play skills, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Kelly Scafidi, MSW, LCSW, DT
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Developmental Therapist

Reference: The Australian Parenting Website (2017). Play and children with autism spectrum disorder.

Retrieved from: raisingchildren.net.au/autism/school-play-work/play-learning/play-asd.

Photo Credit: rawpixel via Unsplash.com

DO NOT TOUCH: Tactile Sensory Exploration

Messy play is an essential part of child development. Our sense of touch, or tactile processing, sends information to our brain about the properties of objects in our environment. Our tactile sense provides vital information skills such as body awareness, academic learning, motor planning, visual discrimination, and social skills. Children can discover and learn more about their world using their hands and feet, which can sometimes lead to getting dirty!

Your child may experience sensory over-responsivity, or observable behavior involving a quick or intense response to a sensory experience that others usually perceive as nonthreatening. This could include becoming upset during activities such as nail clipping, haircuts, bathing, and/or eating. When your child experiences sensory over-responsivity on their feet, you might have noticed them avoiding going barefoot in sand or grass. Helping integrate additional sensory-rich experiences into your child’s life can lead to more engagement and enjoyment with feeding, bathing, and most importantly, play!

Activities to encourage tactile sensory play with hands and feet:

Bubbles: simply having your child popping bubbles is a sensory experience for their hands (and feet!). To incorporate messy play with their feet, you can have your child “wait” until the bubbles hit the ground, and have them pop them by stepping or stomping onto them! This is a great warm-up activity to lead into more sensory-rich play experiences.

Sensory Bins: filling an empty storage bin with objects such as sand or dry beans and placing small toys inside to dig for and interact with provides a fun tactile sensory experience. For an additional sensory experience with the olfactory system, or smell, fill a sensory bin with coffee beans!

Finger Painting: Take away the paintbrushes and bring on the mess! Incorporate various textures into the paint, such as mixing sand into it. Allow your child to create pictures from both their hand and foot prints for an even sensory-filled experience!

Mess-Free Painting: for a tactile experience without the mess, all you will need is a large plastic bag, paint, and masking tape. Place a few drops of paint (multiple colors for a rainbow effect!) inside of the plastic bag and ensure it is sealed. Tape the plastic bag with paint onto a window and allow your child to use their finger to form shapes and pictures on the bag.

If your child dislikes washing their hands and/or dislikes bathing, you can try the following activities:

Wash Station: create a “wash station” in a Tupperware container, small storage bin, or even your sink for a car wash or pet wash with soapy water. This is a great tactile sensory activity for children who don’t enjoy the suds during bath time. Introducing the soapy on a smaller scale (and embedded in play!) will allow them to become more comfortable with the sensory experience.

Shaving Cream: This can be used on a table top or even in the bathtub to contain the mess and with both hands and feet! You can belt out Frozen and build a “snow man” with your child using the shaving cream. Additional Bonus: If you are also working on handwriting or letter formation, you can take off the pressure with pen and paper and practice in the shaving cream!

Water Painting: You can simply give your child a bowl of water and a paintbrush to paint the sidewalk, the fence, and better yet, their body. This activity incorporates the tactile sensory play with water and the feeling of the paintbrush on their skin.

If your child dislikes going to the beach and/or playing in the sandbox you can try the following activities:

Kinetic Sand: Kinetic Sand is available in many themes and variations that may interest your child such as, Frozen, glitter sand, construction zone with trucks, dinosaur fossils, and more! Kinetic Sand has a texture that nearly feels “wet” to the touch; however, it is not and is easily moldable. This is a great activity to incorporate the feet as well, such as making footprints in the sand!

Sugar Castles: using brown sugar is a sweet way to introduce the rough texture of sand! Incorporate measuring cups and popsicle sticks to build sugar castles. This is also a good opportunity to introduce feet into play if your child does not like to walk in the sand at the beach or in a sandbox.

Tips:
1. Start Small: introducing these experiences might be overwhelming, so starting in small amounts can make your child more comfortable to interact with them.
2. Get Out: taking these activities outdoors can alleviate any worries about making a mess inside the home in addition to experience the sensory-rich outdoors!
3. Bring Friends: If your child has a preferred stuffed animal or toy that also has hands and feet, have them tag along! Allowing your child to immerse their preferred toy into sensory play they might initially be hesitant about can be encouraging for them.
4. Join in On the Fun: There is nothing more encouraging or entertaining than your child seeing their caregiver act like a child themselves! Modeling the very play you wish for your child to engage in can be enticing enough for them to participate!

Reagan Lockwood, MOT, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist

Reference: Kranowitz, Carol Stock. (2005). The out-of-sync child: recognizing and coping with sensory processing disorder. New York: A Skylight Press Book/A Perigee Book.

Photo Credit: Sharon McCutcheon via Pexels