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Summer Sensory Activities for Families

Welcome to summer! With warm weather and sunny days, there are many opportunities for engaging and fun activities. Whether it be with water, sand, toys, or whatever else your child might prefer, here are some outdoor activities that can help you spend more time together and take advantage of the nice weather.

At BY YOUR SIDE, we provide many services, including Occupational Therapy, which helps with strengthening the physical skills needed for your child to perform actions for daily living. Our Sr. Director of Speech and Occupational Therapy, Joey, recommended a couple of outdoor activities to try this summer for some messy play and to further build your child’s skill set. Because every child is unique, these activities may be easily adapted depending on your child’s preferences.

Sensory activities are great for children with autism because they get to explore new textures, smells, and skills. The first activity that we recommend you try is building an obstacle course that incorporates sensory activities along the way! This course could be made from any materials found in your home like boxes, chairs, and tables, or even with other outdoor play items like scooters, jump ropes, and chalk. When putting this obstacle course together, remember to include objects or activities that your child enjoys and is capable of, so they are best set up for success. A few examples of objects and activities to include are:

  • Tossing different textured balls or objects into a bucket
  • A game of hopscotch – ask your child to help outline with chalk or ice chalk
  • Crawling through a tunnel made of folding tables or similar types of furniture
  • Using a hose or water bottle to spray water at a target

Be as creative as you want and consider swapping out obstacles to keep things interesting. As your child attempts to make it through the course, observe which activities are completed successfully and which might be better if adapted differently. Start with an easier set of obstacles, then add objects as needed to advance the course as your child becomes more confident and successful.

Another activity to try is a surprise sandbox! This is a simple yet super sensory type of easily adaptable activity for your child and their preferences. Obtain any type of large container and fill it with sand. If your child has adverse reactions to sand due to texture, try using beans or rice. Once your container has been filled, start burying toys or preferred items for your child to dig and find with their hands or a tool. When planning for this activity, make it even more fun by thinking of a theme for the sandbox and place corresponding items for that theme within the container. For example, a pirate-themed sandbox could contain plastic gold coins, plastic jewels, or a smaller container buried at the bottom to act as a ‘treasure chest’. A dinosaur-themed sandbox could contain small dinosaur toys, colorful stones, and plastic bones to act as ancient fossils that your child will enjoy with a spoon or similar tool, then dusting off with a paintbrush or toothbrush as a paleontologist would.

In addition to trying obstacle courses and surprise sandboxes, try incorporating sensory aspects into these activities:

  • Playing with bubbles
  • Washing cars or bicycles
  • Sidewalk chalk games
    • Mazes to run
    • Follow the line
    • Tic-tac-toe
  • Paint rocks
  • Water balloon toss
  • ‘Spider web’ – use yarn to create a web to climb through
  • Nature walk scavenger hunt
  • Plant flowers or plants in the garden
  • Make a birdhouse
  • Build windchimes
  • Paint with sponges

Of course, these summer activities are always better with family and friends involved too! Creating opportunities for your child to spend time with their siblings and friends while engaging in fun activities, will strongly benefit their social skills and reinforce positive behaviors. Taking turns through the obstacle course, finding buried treasure together, and collaborating to adapt to each activity is also helpful in figuring out new activities your child enjoys. Above all, these ideas are meant to be fun and provide more opportunities for you, your child, siblings, and friends to all spend quality time together. We hope you have a great summer!

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