It’s here! Most families look forward to summer relaxation and lazy days. However, the lack of routine and structure can be the cause of great stress for families of children with special needs. School routines are predictable and provide consistency. The transition to summer and its freedom may be a difficult one. In addition, the skills your child has gained in school should be carried over into the summer to stop any regression. Feeling overwhelmed? Need ideas that are therapeutic and fun?
NEVER FEAR……THE POCKET OCCUPATIONAL THERAPIST is here!!
Try to keep a routine. Look at the calendar together and make a routine for your family. Include your child in choosing family activities. Let him choose the colors that you’ll write with on the calendar. Post a list of daily schedules and chores with check off boxes. Include chores such as vacuuming the floor and cleaning windows (both great for heavy work). Schedule new activities well ahead of time and be sure to prepare for them. Visit summer camp sites prior to camp, meet counselors before camp begins, and take pictures of camp locations. Make a memory booklet and encourage your child to write in a journal about his summer activities. If he’s not writing yet, ask him to draw pictures. This will be a great keepsake!
Schedule as many play dates as possible. Extended family and cousins may also be off of school and need to keep busy too. Play games together such as making up your own circus. Walk a taped line imitating a tightrope, learn to juggle, and pretend to walk like different animals in the circus. You can also pretend to make a zoo, jungle, or go on safari. Walking on all fours to imitate a bear, lion, tiger, dog, or any other animal is great for proprioceptive (heavy work) input.
Make a parade with homemade instruments. Visit our Pinterest board for ideas on how to make your own instruments out of paper plates, oat containers, and paper towel rolls. Marching to different rhythms is a fun way to work on proprioceptive input and body coordination.
Play charades and act out different sports or occupations. This is a great activity to do as a family or during a play date. For an added challenge, act out different emotions.
Draw letters and numbers using only your fingers on your child’s back. Ask him to guess what you are drawing. Let him practice on your back too.
Tape a line on the floor and ask your child to jump in different ways over it. For example, hop with your right foot on the left side of the line. Jump three times on the right of the line. Use the line as a pretend balance beam.
Describe each letter of the alphabet by the shapes that make it up. For example, letter H is two big lines and one dash. Letter A is like two sliding boards back to back with a dash in the middle. Take one letter per day and make it the letter of the day. Draw that letter throughout the day in sand, shaving crème, on sand paper, in salt, and on paper with pencil or paint. Find things that start with that letter and place them into a paper bag.
Cross crawling is a great activity to help in right/left coordination and visual motor skills. Crawl by moving one arm and the opposite leg (right arm/left leg) and then switch (left arm/right leg). Try giving your child directional commands such as: “Touch your left ear with your right hand.” Be creative and encourage your child to give you directions as well. Sometimes, playing the teacher is empowering!
Evening activities at dusk are fun too. Go on a flashlight scavenger hunt with your child. Use a flashlight to draw different letters and numbers on the ground. Use glow sticks to write letters in the air. Add glow stick liquid to bubbles and have a bubble blowing competition.
Use sidewalk chalk on the concrete or on your trampoline. Ask your child to jump to the letter you call out.
Walk like a wheelbarrow in the grass. Hold your child’s ankles, knees, or thighs and ask him to “walk” on his hands. Remember that holding your child’s ankles is the most difficult challenge for him. You can place different things such as bean bags or play tools onto his back to “transport” items like a real wheelbarrow does. This is an EXCELLENT activity to add into any sensory diet. It is filled with proprioceptive input/heavy work.
Hop scotch, jumping rope, and learning to ride a bicycle are always super summer activities.
Use a spray bottle to spray plants. Squirting each other on a hot day is a fun way to cool down while building hand strength!
Fine motor tasks such as bead stringing, macramé, puzzles, hunting for treasure in different sensory bins, card games, marbles, making letters in sand and shaving crème, jacks are all great ways to build fine motor skills.
Painting with different items such as leaves, sticks, or cotton balls is fun. Adding tweezers to any task builds fine motor coordination. Instead of picking up cotton balls with his fingers, use tweezers!
If your child has difficulty catching a hard ball such as a baseball, use a wiffleball which will move slower and is easier to catch. Playing mini-golf with plastic golf balls is a fun way to build skills without the danger of a real golf ball flying through the yard.
Make a book. Cut old magazines and paste pictures on to a book made of construction paper and bound with yarn. Write stories about the pictures or make your own. Even punching the holes (through which to bind the book) with the hole puncher is a great fine motor activity.
Make a game of feel and guess. Use an old shoebox and cut a hole for your child’s hand to fit into. Place an item such as a leaf into the box and ask your child to tell you what the item is just by the way it feels. This can be done every season and with many objects such as stones, ice cubes, and seeds.
Make puppets out of old socks and felt. Put on a puppet show for friends or family.
Give your child a treasure hunt list with items such as a butterfly, cloud shaped like a certain animal, or sound of a certain bird’s chirp. This should be a multi-sensory treasure hunt involving eyes, ears, touch, and smell.
Plan snacks that relate to different books. Examples include: Blue Berries for Sal, Stone Soup, and Bread and Jam for Frances.
Set up a store selling different summer items such as beach toys, summer fruits, and vegetables. Encourage your child to make signs for each item and practice making change when something is purchased.
Use old sheets and blankets to make tents. Go camping in your living room!
Finally, plant seeds and watch them grow. Move them from small pots or paper cups into a garden area. Chart their growth in a notebook. Encourage your child to help you with the responsibilities of watering her garden and re-potting when necessary. Caring for something such as a plant can empower a child.
Make sure to read a great book together (Don’t forget about reading and recommending The Pocket Occupational Therapist for families of children with special needs).
Most of all, HAVE FUN together! You never know when you are making a memory that your child will have for the rest of his life!
By Cara Koscinski MOT, OTR/L
Author of The Pocket Occupational Therapist—a handbook for caregivers of children with special needs. Questions and answers most frequently asked to OTs with easy to understand answers and fun activities you can do with your child. It’s like having your OT with you everywhere! Published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2012. For more information on Cara Koscinski, visit her website at www.pocketot.com.