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Summer vacation is right around the corner and soon enough your kids will be looking for something fun to do. Instead of sitting on the couch watching TV or playing video games, we've put together a bunch of sensory-rich, fun activities that will keep your children on the path to whole health.
Occupational therapist, Alysha Stoner MOT, OTR/L says, During the school year, children are encased in sensory-rich environments such as the classroom, playground, and extracurricular activities that make up their daily routines. In order for children to continue to grow and reach developmental milestones, its necessary to provide sensory-rich experiences for each child to participate in over the summer.
Occupational therapists are trained to assess and assist with sensory processing for children, so they can efficiently take the information they are gathering through their senses and figure out what to do with it. For children, just being a kid is their occupation, and certain types of play are better for developing their senses than others.
Kids are constantly re-molding and connecting their sensory systems in their brain through exposure to sensory-rich environments. Children are able to learn new tasks so quickly because of neuroplasticity, which refers to the ability of each child's brain to quickly and efficiently process information to make new neural connections, says Alysha.
Children have unique sensory systems that allow them to learn and understand the world around them, she explained. Their senses are constantly acquiring new information and adding it to their knowledge bank to learn more efficient ways to interact with objects to perform everyday activities.
Alysha has developed wonderful lists of sensory-rich, fun activities that will keep your child entertained and developing their senses even while they're not in school.
Fun Tactile/Touch Activities
These activities are great for all children, especially those who like to explore the world by touching everything and enjoy a variety of textures.
- On a rainy afternoon, consider making slime or dough with your children. To make slime, check Pinterest.com or watch a video on YouTube.com for directions. The most common ingredients you will need are glue, shaving cream, water, and cornstarch. When you mix these ingredients together allow your child to help as this will increase grip strength, coordination, and even your child's body awareness. They can make it any color they want and could even wear a messy shirt to help build self-care skills.
- Grow your own water beads. You can find water beads at most major retailers and they're cheap and reusable. Place the small pellets in a container full of water and have them rest overnight. Hide some of your child's favorite small toys or figurines inside. Open up the container the next day and encourage them to find their toys among the now huge beads.
- Make different colored ice cubes with food dye and place the colored cubes in a larger container of room temperature water such as a pool or bathtub. Your kids will love watching how all of the colors blend and swirl together.
- Paint a masterpiece using paintbrushes, squirt bottles, or even Q-tips. It's always important to remember to use tools that are close to the size of your child's hand as this will encourage the right type of grasping pattern when they write or do other fine motor tasks.
- Have your child help you make new food recipes for summer like smoothies, homemade Popsicles, or the classic ants on a log. Try out new ingredients that maybe your child hasn't tasted or felt before, like kiwis, blackberries, star fruit, African cucumber, Buddha's Hand, or lychee. Meal preparation is an essential life skill and children can learn, touch, and taste the different ingredients as they help.
Fun Movement Activities
These activities are great for all children, especially those who enjoy deep pressure by crashing onto a bed, requesting extra tight hugs, and those who are always on-the-go.
- Do yoga with therapy balls. This requires your child to build balance, strength, coordination, and gives them deep input to their muscles. After trying out a few poses, encourage your child to squish you with the ball and make a parent sandwich. The child will enjoy every bit of it while learning to control and regulate their bodies.
- On a rainy day, make an obstacle course with couch cushions. Crawling under blankets and pushing a laundry hamper full of toys across the living room are activities that use the whole body. Pushing, pulling, and crawling are considered heavy work. Heavy work activities activate the entire sensory system and can help a child on-the-go to refocus.
- On a nice afternoon, play balloon tennis with a few tennis rackets and an inflated balloon. Bounce the balloon back and forth using the tennis rackets and see how long you can keep it up in the air.
- Go to your local playground and encourage your child to use the monkey bars, propel themselves on a swing, and even go-up a slide. These activities provide whole-body sensory input and are perfect to regulate a sensory system.
- Turn the house into a safari where everyone has to walk around the house like different animals. Take turns picking what animal the other will walk like. Try walking like a bear, snake, monkey, turtle, inchworm, or try out wheelbarrow walks. Animal walking provides great sensory input, imagination, motor planning, and body awareness.
If you're considering occupational therapy for your child's sensory development or want to learn more about enriching your child's whole health, visit FloridaHospital.com or call 407-303-KIDS (5437).