By: Martianne Stanger
The first flakes of the season have fallen in our area and no doubt feet of the white stuff are just around the corner. Thus, I thought I would re-share a piece I wrote in 2011 for a now defunct Sensory Processing Disorder Blogger Network site.
The activities included in the piece are written with “sensory kids” in mind, but, truly, can be enjoyed by any child.
- If you aren’t sure what Sensory Processing Disorder (or SPD) is- MamaOT has an easy to understand commonly asked questions page that does a great job explaining it.
- If you’re wondering why SPD is a topic I am passionate about? Read a bit about my family’s introduction to SPD in an earlier Signature Mom’s post.
- Wishing you could “fix” your child’s sensory issues? See my thoughts on that in an earlier Signature Mom post.
And now onto the activities…
Even though we rarely don our literal shades during the cold northeastern United States winters we face, we still find ourselves looking through our SPD lenses all the time. This helps us ensure some frugal fun while feeding our son’s sensory diet. Indeed, whether we are rolling about in the snow in our own front yard, trekking through the nearby woods or freeing ice-bound creatures inside, we always do so with an eye for winter exploration and a good portion of sensory input!
Perhaps your children will enjoy some of our favorite Winter Sensory Fun Ideas:
In the Yard: Painted Snow Angels
(For Motor Planning and Coordination, Proprioceptive Input, Tactile Input and Visual Fun)
First, rinse out a spray bottle and add five to six generous drops of a favorite food coloring. Then, fill the rest of the way with water and bundle up in your snowsuits (or whatever layers of warmth and water-proof coverings your SPD child will agree to.)
After you’re all suited up, head out to the nearest patch of freshly fallen snow. Lie down on the ground and move your arms in and out from your body jumping-jack style to make a traditional snow angel. Then, step back and start spraying! Feel free to add a face, color the wings and spray on pants, shoes, a top and jewelry. Change the colors of these by spraying a second color over the first one. Then, if your kids are anything like mine, go ahead and decorate the entire yard! Shrubs laden with snow become all that more beautiful when a bit of color is added, don’t you think? And, the more of your yard you paint, the better work out those trigger-fingers get!
Looking through your SPD Lenses:
This activity feeds the tactile sense for three reasons:
- The change in temperature when you go from inside to outside.
- The feel of the cold and snow as you make snow angels.
- The pressure on your finger as you pull the trigger of the spray bottle.
Visual input comes from concentrating on the different patterns and colors the sprayed water makes in the snow and trying to paint specific parts of your angels helps with eye-hand coordination.
Of course, it takes motor planning and coordination, as well as gives some proprioceptive input, to actually get down in the snow to make the snow angels, too!
- Before heading outside, talk about primary colors and secondary colors. Make up one spray bottle in each of the primary colors and see what happens when you mix their spray while painting your angels.
- For children who do not like to lie in the snow, build snowmen or forts and spray them instead. You’ll still be encouraging lots of motor planning, coordination and proprioception even if no one lies in the snow!
- If children have a difficult time with the spray bottle – or just to add variation to the painting method – try using a cup and an eye dropper to paint finer details or a bucket and a turkey baster. The eye dropper works the pincer grasp, which helps with writing. The turkey baster can be manipulated with a whole-hand grasp for mitten wearers.
- Challenge kids who have mastered snow angels to try to use their bodies to make other shapes in the snow: an airplane, the St. Louis Arch, an elephant, a cell phone tower, a giraffe. This can be a great tie-in to geography for older children or zoology for younger ones.
In the Woods: Playing Wolf
(For Proprioceptive Input, Vestibular Input and Visual Fun)
Did you know wolves will often walk single file through the snow, stepping in one another’s footprints? It’s true. They do it to conserve energy since walking through deep snow can be quite tough.
You and your children can follow suit for a fun game of follow-the-leader in woods or natural spaces near your home. Simply pick one adventurous child to be the lead wolf and have the rest follow, trying to step exactly in the leader’s tracks. Encourage the leader to take as straight a route as feasible, simply trotting over, squeezing between or otherwise maneuvering to get from start to finish in the most unswerving way possible. Why? Because, unlike dogs that often meander back and forth on a trail, wolves tend to travel in direct routes. And, by trying to go in a straight line, you are sure to get in more ups, downs, overs, unders and throughs, keeping the proprioceptive and vestibular input high.
Looking Through Your SPD Lenses:
Trying to match your strides to someone else’s is no easy task. Walking in another’s footsteps requires body awareness – following visual cues and sensing your own body in space.
Navigating over snow-covered rocks, between icy patches and under snow-laden branches puts you at constant variations of levels as you stoop and turn to maneuver through the trail. This, of course, adds proprioceptive and vestibular input.
- Want to add some extra auditory and visual input in? When you go by snow (not ice!) laden branches, whack them with a high five or a stick. Snow will fall down, sometimes sounding like an avalanche and at other times looking and sounding like a gentle cascade.
- To add some dramatic play and oral-motor input in (and to amuse fairytale loving children like mine!) have a few “pigs” run ahead to build some shelters out of twigs, rocks, pine needles or whatever else they can find in the woods. Then, have the wolves track them, huffing and puffing when they get to the shelters to blow them down. (Or, if your children are too young to be out of visual contact, as mine are, simply spot structures in the snow and imagine they are the pigs houses to huff and puff and try to blow down instead of having someone build actual shelters.)
- If you feel your wolf walk did not provide enough bending and stretching to different levels in the woods, consider making some additional creative tracks upon your return. Offer a variety of natural and man-made objects and have children make prints in the snow with them. Pine branches make attractive sweeping designs. Ice cube trays make sets of small squares. Potato mashers can create wavy curves or grids. A handful of tossed birdseed makes a fun scattered pattern. Let imaginations (and prints) run wild!
- Day two or three of the snow or no group of children to do wolf walks with? Before heading out, read the brief, but fun picture book Tracks in the Snow by Wong Herbert Yee. Then, just like the little girl did, follow your tracks from prior days. Use your imagination as you go to make up what might be around you – such as when the girl in the book spots boulders and wonders if they are hippopotamuses.
In the Kitchen: Ice Archeologists
(For Motor Coordination, Proprioceptive Input and Tactile Fun)
Gather a variety of small objects from your home or outside: marbles, plastic figurines, sea shells, rocks, bits of twigs, etc. Place these in a large roasting pan and fill it with water. Leave it outside to freeze (or put it in your freezer if temps are not cool enough). Then, once it is frozen, cover your kitchen table with towels, lay the pan atop it and set out some safety glasses (sunglasses or swim goggles), a rubber mallet, a small wooden chisel or flathead screwdriver and other “excavation tools”. Let your child go to work trying to uncover the frozen treasures. If the ice is too cold or slippery for your child to handle, rubber gloves or winter ones can help!
Looking Through Your SPD Lenses:
If your children are wanna-be paleontologists like mine, you’ll be amazed at how many positions your children will get into as they try to uncover the objects, Each of these works their trunk, arm and even leg muscles, providing great proprioceptive input.
Not only will your children get tactile input from the ice and the variations of the texture of the things you freeze inside of it, but they will also use motor coordination to manipulate the excavation tools.
- With multiple children, freeze small objects inside ice cubes instead. Let them race to be the first to unearth their object. Encourage them to get creative with how they try to melt the ice around their objects – using warm hands, blowing on it, etc. This will provide further tactile and oral-motor input.
- Offer salt in a small bowl along with the mallet and chisel. Encourage children to sprinkle the salt onto the ice to see what happens to the ice. The pincer grasp they use to do so will provide fine motor input and the discovery of what happens when the salt is added to the ice can lead to further chemistry explorations.
- To add a bit of art/color exploration, sprinkle the ice with rock salt and then, add a few drops of food coloring. The color will seep down into the cracks the salt makes, creating an interesting colored sculpture as well as a visual map of where it might be best to get the chisel into the ice in order to crack a good piece of ice away. This, of course, adds a bit more visual stimulation to the activity.
- Make it a lotto game. Take photos of the objects you freeze in the ice (or sketch them or write the names of them). Place these in a lotto-bingo style grid and have children try to match the physical objects they uncover with the lotto board. If you use objects that are similar in shape or color, this can really help with visual discrimination practice.
Whatever you do as winter progresses – outside or in – simply wear your SPD lenses and enjoy the season. Sensory fun and learning are all about.
I would love to hear about some of yours!