Every child loves to play. Here's an idea for a fun-filled day of play that encourages the special child in your life to explore all of their senses:
Start with introducing your child to their senses by exploring their breakfast. Ask them to describe the foods they eat. Is the toast soft or hard? Is the cereal hot or cold? Is the milk thicker than juice? Does the orange smell?
Morning play session
Begin with sculpting, which engages the child in tactile experiences. One of my favorite sculpting mediums is Model Magic because of its unique texture and pliability. It also saves you time because it air dries. You can use any Play-Doh-type product or, if you're really ambitious, make your own. Adding a fragrance by mixing essential oils or kitchen flavorings like vanilla or clove oil can add the dimension of smell. Another tactile favorite of mine is Wikki Stix, which are similar to, but way cooler than, pipe cleaners. They have a fun, sticky texture that is easy to mold. Either can introduce color and endless molding/making possibilities.
Have children create a lake by designating a rug or large tablecloth or blanket on the floor. This will help them to focus on the activity. Serve fish-shaped crackers on a plate. Use a bendable straw to make a fishing pole and add peanut butter or cream cheese as bait on the end of the bent part of the straw. Have the children dip in and capture their morning snack.
Imagine winter is coming and encourage kids to build a cabin to protect themselves from the elements. Talk about being wet and cold, even put on coats and turn a fan on for wind effect. Whether you use chairs, pillows and blankets for your structure or decide to invest in a fabulous building unit like Zinkotek Play House, once inside the kids can unwrap and unwind.
As the children get hungry for lunch, clean up by introducing them to the sensory experience of wet/dry. Whether you fill a bucket to have them wash up, imagining it to be a cold stream (ice cubes added), or you use one of the new water sets like the Fun Flow Play Sink, talk about the feeling of the water, the temperature and wet versus dry.
At lunch, have the children close their eyes or blindfold them as they guess foods. Ask questions about textures, temperature, smells and whether it's sweet or sour, salty or spicy.
Now that the kids have their camp and their stream, they need to cross it. Still using the rug, blanket or tablecloth as a river, have them place "stones" to cross the raging river. This can work on the vestibular sense, which is a sense of balance. For stones use carpet pieces of different textures, folded towels or Rainbow River Stones Balance Toys by Wee Blossom. Start off with an easy reach and crossing, then place the stones in harder positions to cross at different points. Make the children take their shoes off in case they "fall" into the water and have them describe the different textures on their feet as they practice their balance.
As a final evening experience tuck your children in with their softest stuffed toys/animals and encourage bedtime cuddles for all. Some parents may be concerned about asthma and allergy risks with stuffed toys. If you are, check out the asthma- and allergy-friendly series of plush toys from Kids Preferred.
With so many toys to choose from, picking the right one for a child with disabilities can be difficult. That's where AblePlay, created by the National Lekotek Center, comes in. Its independent toy reviews and ratings help parents find the best toys to match their child's abilities and interests. Search for AblePlay-rated toys at www.ableplay.org.
Deidre Pate Omahen is a mom, a Chicago Special Parent
advisory board member and director of programs at the National
Lekotek Center in Chicago.