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snowy-sensoryWinter is here and our outlet for naturally rich, sensory-based outdoor play time is beginning to dwindle. Or is it?

Over the past few weeks, as the weather in Chicago has begun to grow colder, I have been seeing an increase in disorganization amongst my sensory seeking clients. They come into my sessions full of energy, but struggle to focus on the tasks at hand or even to fully enjoy a chosen activity. If you are a parent of a child with sensory processing concerns, you may also be noticing some sensory seeking flare ups, such as an increase in oral seeking through sucking on shirts or mouthing objects, more bumping and crashing, even possibly the creating of excess noise.

These are all signs that our kids’ sensory systems are being deprived by the winter weather. Children are getting less outdoor play time and, maybe, spending more time inside in front of the TV.  As therapists, caregivers and parents, we must resist the temptation popping in holiday movies and start being creative about natural sensory play during the winter months. The following winter and holiday inspired sensory activities may get some creative wheels turning.

Sensory at Home

  • Yoga: Of course! When looking to add movement into the winter months, Yoga is a great tool for home. Simply use cards with Yoga poses to create many fun games for kids. Or, play a game where you call out winter topics and have your child create their own yoga pose. For example: Snow Fort = Downward Dog Pose – or – Icicle = Shoulder Stand. With Yoga, the possibilities are truly endless.
  • Straw Snowball Fight: Have your child blow cotton balls (snow balls) with a small straw across the table. Encourage full deep breaths.
  • Human Snow Man: Have your child wear oversized clothing and then stuff them with towels or others clothing items to create a puffy ‘snow man’ outfit. Let your child move about the room carefully while engaging in typical daily play.
  • Home-made Snow: Put a tablespoon of baking soda in a bowl.  Then, add a shot glass full of water. Watch as the substance changes and begins to make snow-like substance. Use your fingers to separate and fluff the snow for play.
  • Shaving Cream Play: Create a specific space for you child to use shaving cream as a canvas. This could be a table, kitchen floor or bathtub. Have your child draw winter themed drawings including Santa’s hat, a snowman or a stocking. Pretend the shaving cream is snow.
  • Cookie Baking: Have your child be a big helper in the cooking baking process. Let them mix ingredients, roll out the dough, and of course clean up.
  • Kid-circle: Just like a kid burrito, have your child lay flat on a blanket. Roll your child up as tightly as they like. Once rolled up, offer a deep pressure squeeze or quickly and deeply rub down your child’s sides to “warm up” the kid-circle.

Sensory Outdoor
Obviously, use weather caution, and if it is too cold or unsafe outside, go back to ideas from ‘sensory at home’.

  • Shoveling: Filled with heavy-work and helpful to the family, make a game out of this chore by having your child count coops made, measure the height of snow mounds created or make a fort out of the drifts created once all the snow is cleared.
  • Hot Cocoa: To increase the sensory input from this activity, use a small straw. Have your child suck on the straw to pick up and hold small marshmallows and then drop them into their cocoa.
  • Sled Riding: Be sure to have your child pull the sled back up the hill for heavy work.
  • Make a Snow Man or Snow Family: This will require both tactile input and heavy work.
  • Build a Snow Fort: Not only will children benefit from the heavy work involved with this, but they might also like the outdoor “cozy corner” created by doing so.
  • Make a Snow Angel: This classic activity encourages coordination.

Sensory in the Community

  • Local Ice Skating Park: A bevy of sensory input and activity can be found here!
  • Neighborhood Walk: Take the family to see the lights on neighborhood houses. To increase sensory input have your child pull a sled with a younger sibling or a stuffed animal to enjoy the ride.
  • Indoor Exercise: Swimming, gymnastics, martial arts, indoor kid’s gyms and children’s museums all provide excellent opportunities for heavy work. Adding any or all of these activities into your everyday play this winter will create a natural sensory diet that will keep your children’s bodies organized and their spirits bright.