An inside day of play for your child with special needs

Being outdoors is on everybody’s mind, but what if you cannot get outside? You may be inside for a rainy day, feeling a little under the weather, or it’s just too dang hot to be outside. On days like these we may have to get creative to make indoor play as exciting as the outdoors. Fortunately, the possibilities are endless when we use our imaginations.


Start your day of play by getting creative with your breakfast food.

Use cookie cutters to create different shapes and food coloring to change the color of typical breakfast sauces or syrups. Encourage your child to manipulate and configure food in different ways. Who wants boring old pancakes when you can create a picture bursting with shapes and colors? Ask your child what their food collage could represent—an animal, a plant or an abstract picture. This time it’s OK to play with your food!


Now get ready for some activities that get bodies and minds moving.

Playing “school” is a great way to do both while also keeping those creative juices following! Giving kids the opportunity to be “teacher” is a great way for them to learn how to control their environment or practice executive functioning skills. 

Help your child decide what the classroom will look like and who the students will be (you? siblings? stuffed animal friends?).

Help to set a schedule for the “day” and determine what supplies are needed. Will you be having circle time, studying math or reading a book? If your child doesn’t connect with the idea of a traditional classroom, provide an opportunity to be a teacher or a coach in other activities: baseball, dancing or even yoga. This opportunity for role reversal allows you to observe how your child interprets the world of adulthood, while also using their imagination.

Once “class” is over, snuggle together with a good book. Harold and the Purple Crayon and Where the Wild Things Are are both stories that dive into the use of imagination.

Follow up by reading a nature-based book about animals, outer space or underwater life. Have your child choose an animal, sea creature or even alien that they want to pretend to be. Then talk about what that animal might eat and pretend that’s what you’re eating for lunch or dinner.


Building forts is a classic indoor family activity. Use your imagination to expand your ideas of “forts” by using sheets, pillows and chairs to make nests, burrows or caves for different animal homes. Refer back to the story or conversations from the afternoon regarding the habitat of each person’s animal.

Don’t forget to get creative with your own choice of animal and follow through with all activities. Try to match your child’s enthusiasm.

Once you’ve built your animal homes and are resting comfortably inside, imagine what kind of music your animal would listen to. Using your phone, radio or CD player, explore the different sounds of music—pop, classical, hip-hop, rock and jazz—and describe how your child or their animal might feel while hearing the different types.

Music is a great way to explore emotions, and providing your child with the words to describe those feelings will help build vocabulary and expressive skills.

End your day of play by recapping the ways that you and your child used your imaginations throughout the day. Embrace your child’s active imagination and know that it is a strength that leads to creative problem-solving skills in adulthood.

And remember the words of Albert Einstein the next time you need a little inspiration for fun: “Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”

Learn more

For more information on play products for kids, visit AblePlay is sponsored by the National Lekotek Center.

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