10 Fun Activities for Kids With Special Needs During COVID-19

A mother and son with special needs.
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As the parent of a child with special needs, you may be wearing more hats than ever during the coronavirus pandemic, including full-time caregiver, teacher, therapist, cook and work-from-home employee.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), it’s important to remind your child of your unconditional love and the perks of staying home, namely the joy of getting to spend extra time together. To show your love and strengthen your relationship, you can build some entertaining activities into your child’s daily routine.

Not sure where to start? These entertaining activities can make staying home to slow the spread of coronavirus a little easier and more fun. Feel free to mix and match these games to your child’s age, interest and abilities.

Activities to Try With Special Needs Kids During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Here are ten activities to try with your kids for creative fun and learning through play:

  • Balloon Volleyball
  • Dig In
  • Find the Puzzle Piece
  • Fun in the Tub
  • Gelatin Fishbowl
  • Get Creative With Shaving Cream
  • Living Room Campout
  • Read Together
  • Try Tinfoil Shapes
  • Set Off on a Scavenger Hunt

1. Balloon Volleyball
Balloon volleyball is a fun way for kids who struggle with hyperactivity or impulsivity to entertain themselves and blow off steam inside the house.

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Balloons
  • Masking tape

Game Plan
Push your coffee table aside and use a long piece of masking tape to mark off a line on the living room floor, which serves as the net. Blow up a balloon and have your kids swat the balloon across the line. Have them see how long they can keep the balloon in play (in the air) without touching the floor. If there’s only one child, you could have them play both sides of the pretend net. To make the game more challenging for older kids and teens, you could use more than one balloon at a time.

2. Dig In
Whether using dirt, sand or a sensory bin, letting kids dig and explore creates lots of open-ended possibilities for fun and learning while engaging their senses and getting their hands dirty.

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Dirt, dried beans or sand
  • Paint (optional)
  • Rocks, pebbles, shells or other small items to bury
  • Spoon or shovel and bucket

Game Plan
Before playing, paint some rocks or other small items and bury them outside (or in a sandpit or sensory bin). If appropriate, your child could help paint the items, too. Then, take your child on a trip to your yard so they can dig up these exciting discoveries. You can work on sorting and counting rocks together, too. Take turns hiding and digging up the hidden gems.

3. Find the Puzzle Piece
When played with multiple children, this search-and-find activity can help kids master parallel play, in which kids do the same task independently without interacting, with other kids doing the same thing in the same location.
Supplies you’ll need:

  • A simple 10-piece puzzle

Game Plan
While your kids close their eyes, hide puzzle pieces around the living room, such as on the bookshelf, under the couch and in a drawer, and let them search for the pieces. When they find a piece, ask them to put it on a table and keep looking until all pieces are uncovered. Once all the pieces have been found, have kids work cooperatively to put the puzzle together.

4. Fun in the Tub
This activity can turn the bathtub into a fun zone.

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Kitchen items, such as plastic cups, a sponge and strainer

Game Plan
Fill the tub and have your child get in, while bringing with them items from your kitchen, such as plastic cups, a sponge, a turkey baster and a strainer. Squeezing a sponge or turkey baster and transferring water from one cup to another enhances fine motor development. Stay in the bathroom with your child but sit back as the splashing unfurls. Add in bath bubbles for an extra layer of fun.

5. Gelatin Fishbowl
This delightful snack or dessert is a sensory experience with color and texture.

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Chewy candy, such as red fish or gummy worms
  • Small, clear glass bowl
  • Small package of blue gelatin

Game Plan
Prepare the gelatin according to package directions, using one cup of hot water and one cup of cold water and place it in the refrigerator. Set a timer for 90 minutes. After the 90 minutes, have your child add the chewy candy to the gelatin bowl, counting out each candy as it’s submerged for math practice. Let the gelatin set in the refrigerator until solid. Serve the fishbowl for a snack or dessert.

6. Get Creative With Shaving Cream
Shaving cream offers endless opportunities for kids of all ages to learn and explore through their sense of touch, texture, sight and smell.

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Cookie sheets
  • Food coloring
  • Paintbrushes
  • Shaving cream

Game Plan
Spray shaving cream onto cookie sheets and add a drop of food coloring so each sheet is a separate color. Give your child a paintbrush or let them explore and mix colors with their hands. Encourage your child to mix colors and use the paintbrush to draw on the cookie sheets. You can also add plastic spoons and washable toys to the mix for more creative play.

7. Living Room Campout
Whether you call it a tent or an old-fashioned fort, your child might see this campout as a soothing play space.

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Blankets or sheets
  • Chairs
  • Flashlights

Game Plan
Turn your living room into a campground by encouraging your child to build a tent with blankets, sheets and chairs. A tented play space can be a hideout or a quiet reading nook. Put a bin inside the fort filled with toys, books and a flashlight for even more fun and exploration.

8. Read Together
Children with disabilities often experience feelings of social isolation from their peers, and social distancing with coronavirus may amplify these feelings. The APA advises parents to encourage their children with special needs to talk about their feelings. This book may help get the conversation started.

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Free book: “My Hero is You: How kids can fight COVID-19”

The World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund and 48 other organizations working in the humanitarian sector have collaborated to produce “My Hero is You, How kids can fight COVID-19.” With help from Aria, a fantasy creature, the book explains how children can protect themselves, their families and friends from coronavirus and how to manage difficult emotions when confronted with a new and rapidly changing reality.

The book is primarily for children ages 6 to 11 years old. It has been released as both an audio and print book and translated into six languages. Download the free book here.

9. Try Tinfoil Shapes
This activity helps your child learn letters, numbers and shapes while exploring their sense of touch with something you may already have on hand at home.

Supplies you’ll need:

  • A roll of tinfoil

Game Plan
Ask your child to squeeze a sheet of tinfoil into a tube shape, and then see what they can do with it. Can they make a circle? A triangle? A letter or number? Can you make their name out of each letter? You can show them what the shapes and letters look like that you’re trying to mimic, using books and other household items.

10. Set Off on a Scavenger Hunt
A scavenger hunt is fun for kids of all ages and can help relieve stress and foster play.

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Pen and paper

Game Plan
Take a look around your house and come up with a list of hidden or hard-to-find objects. Give the list to your child and help them go on a scavenger hunt. For preschoolers, use pictures of items to help guide them. For older kids, you can offer clues, like its color or shape.

Here for You and Your Family
In every stage of the coronavirus pandemic, we’re here to help you and your family stay safe and well at home. Visit our Coronavirus Resource Hub for the latest news and information for your family.

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