Winter Feature

Alec Elley eating snow the benefits of sensory activities for children with autism
GET THEM OUT IN THE SNOW – IT’S SENSATIONAL!

With thanks to occupational therapist Deanna Macioce.

Winter is a difficult time of year to keep any child entertained, but it provides a different challenge for those of us who have or work with children with sensory processing or therapeutic concerns.

Playing in the snow can provide tactile input as well as increasing body awareness and balance, coordination and strength. From forming snow balls, to building a snowman, to even writing letters in the snow, winter provides many great experiences for our sensory kiddos.

Sledge riding is a tried and true winter activity that provides proprioceptive and vestibular input. (Proprioception is the sense of knowing where parts of our own body are without vision. The vestibular system helps us to maintain blanace and move through space). Not only does the rush of heading down a large hill provide the movement that many of our children seek out, but the climbing back up the hill is great for proprioception.

If your child chooses to keep things a bit more level, attach a rope to the front of the sled and pull them around the yard at different speeds to provide the movement component. Increase the activity by switching roles and having the child pull or push you or a peer. Spice up the creativity to your sledding activities by setting up a theme. For example, have children pretend they are a train or train conductor pushing the sled to make various stops for people or cargo, and what better cargo than snowballs!

Snowball forming is a great bilateral hand activity that can also address hand strengthening and provide proprioceptive input when packing the snow. Once the snowballs are formed use them for target practise to improve hand-eye coordination. This is a great way to break up the monotony of your typical therapeutic ball activities.

And increase your snowball forming by building a snowman. Remember, Frosty can come in any size. Building a snowman is great for increasing strength and endurance, as well as providing proprioceptive input. It also encourages bilateral coordination, and even some core stability when attempting to build a life size one.

Bilateral coordination (both sides of the body being able to co-ordinate), body awareness, and tactile skills can all be addressed while decorating the lawn with snow angels. This a great activity to use with those children who are trying to learn how to perform jumping jacks.

Bring out the artistic side of a child whilst working on hand-strengthening and motor planning skills by using spray bottles filled with coloured water to decorate the snow. Since we are always looking for fun new ways to address handwriting, the snow provides a great medium for letter and design formation.

Although it takes a lot of extra effort to make many of these activities happen, it is important that we allow our children to experience the joys of winter while being therapeutic. It is a great time of year to give into our inner child and re-live our own childhood. So, button up your overcoat and have some winter fun! Don't forget to enjoy a nice warm cup of hot cocoa when you are all done!
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