Sensory Activities for Summer Break

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You know it’s coming… “I’m bored mom!” Be prepared with these fun sensory activities from our expert Occupational Therapist to boost brain development during the summer months.

 

By Karen Beardsley, OTR

 

School is almost out for summer. Even with all the travel plans and summer camps you hear those dreaded words come out of your children’s mouths: “I’m bored!” Now what to do? Granted, you are not the entertainment committee, but your children’s need for stimulation and learning does not go away just because school is out. Many children need extra sensory input during their days to help their nervous systems develop, and they may not get the amount they are used to during holiday breaks. Here are some simple, fun sensory activities for your child.

Activities for Younger Children

  1. Play on the playground. Encourage your children to play in the yard or take them to the park often. The physical activity of shutterstock_2892969climbing on jungle gyms helps to develop your children’s physical strength and body awareness. Sliding down slides and swinging engages your children’s vestibular system, helping their awareness of and tolerance of movement.
  2. Play in the sandbox or beach. Better yet, play in a dirt pile. The tactile input provided by the texture of sand and dirt helps your children build tolerance to different textures, allowing them to participate in more activities comfortably once they return to school. Playing in sand or dirt also helps improve hand strength and fine motor skills. Children are washable, so don’t worry about them getting dirty.
  3. Walk around barefoot outside. Sometimes children’s feet can be just as or more sensitive to touch than children’s hands. pic kids talk 1Walking barefoot helps desensitize your children’s feet and develops their balance as they walk or run. As long as the ground is safe, allow your children to take off their shoes and feel the grass and dirt between their toes.
  4. Draw on the sidewalk, driveway or cement street outside. Children love to draw pictures, and drawing on the cement or asphalt rather than on paper is a fun way for them to express their creativity. Sidewalk chalk comes in lots of colors and washes away easily. Drawing on the sidewalk with chalk helps strengthen your children’s hand muscles and improves their eye/hand coordination.

Activities for Older Children

  1. Take a bike ride. Riding a bike develops your children’s vestibular and proprioceptive systems by giving them physical input to their joints and movement at the same time. This activity also gives your children a sense of independence. If you have a child who cannot ride a regular two-wheeled bike, consider trying a push scooter.
  2. Go swimming. Children can defy gravity in the water, allowing their bodies to do things that they might not be able to do on land. Swimming also helps strengthen muscles and build overall endurance. If your child does not know how to swim, consider having himpic kids talk 3 or her take lessons. Your local community may provide swimming lessons, so check with your local pools, schools or recreation departments.
  3. Help with yard work. If your children are old enough to help with gardening, pruning, or mowing, allow them to pitch in, with your supervision of course. Participating in these activities helps build children’s body awareness and cognitive skills as they plan and organize the tasks you have given them to do. These tasks also build self-confidence and self-esteem as you give your children more responsibility around the house. Make sure not to overload them with chores, or helping will become stressful.
  4. Make something messy. With warm weather, if you want to do something messy, you can do it outside. Help your children participate in a messy project, such as making slime or painting with their feet. The sensory input they receive from these tasks helps desensitize and normalize their tactile receptors, and it can all be washed off with the garden hose when they are done.

Special Activities for Vacation Time

  1. Go to the beach. The activities of playing in the sand, walking barefoot, and swimming can all be combined in a trip to the beach. shutterstock_9708208Your children will get sensory input from the sand, water, sun and wind, giving them multiple opportunities for developing their sensory systems. Be prepared to adapt activities if your child has sensory sensitivities.
  2. Go to an amusement park or local fair with rides. This is an activity that promises to bombard your children with sensory stimulation, so be prepared to adapt based on what your children can tolerate. If your children constantly seek sensory input, they will love the various rides, but make sure they pace themselves and take breaks in- between rides where they spin around silly. If your children are sensitive to sensory input or are overwhelmed by crowds, go at a time when the park is not likely to be busy and don’t stay too long. Encourage your child to ride a “tame” ride and be prepared to ride with them if needed.
  3. Get into nature! Take self-paced nature or garden walks. While cities or museums and historical sites might be interesting, some children and particularly those with special needs often do not understand the significance of these places and might not have the patience for them, ruining the trip for you. An outdoor garden or nature walk will allow them to explore the environment at their own pace. You can tailor this activity to be as short or long as you need it to be and your children will experience all the sights, sounds, and smells of the outdoors.

 

These are just a few suggestions for activities to give your children sensory input while they are not in school. Any activities that offer physical movement, motion, and tactile input will help your children’s neurological systems to continue to develop. Think beyond the convenience of iPads and computer screens. Be creative and see what activities you can come up with to keep boredom at bay this summer!

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