As winter fades into spring, families start looking ahead to the summer months with great anticipation!  Children are longing to get out in the beautiful Michigan weather, and parents start thinking about family-friendly activities to keep their kids entertained throughout the summer.  Many families include children with special needs and choosing activities that all can enjoy together might be a challenge.  If your family includes a child with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), planning for the summer can include some surprisingly simple activities your whole family can enjoy together.

1. Excavate Frozen Family-Friendly Treasure

Everyone can enjoy excavating toy dinosaurs and other plastic toys from a block of ice!  Fill a bowl with water and place small, plastic animals and other toys in the bowl.  Place the bowl in the freezer overnight.  By morning, you will have an exciting frozen display of tiny treasure waiting to be excavated and identified.  Using spray water bottles, paintbrushes, salt, and spoons, kids can work their way through the landscape of little animals and other toys.  As the ice melts in the Michigan sun, kids keep cool and comfortable for hours of entertainment.

 

2. Create a Family-Friendly Garden

Summer is a great time to start a garden!  Whether as a group activity or one-on-one, kids getting their hands in the dirt is a healthy idea.  If you are looking to keep things simple, start your family-friendly garden in a large pot.  After filling the pot with dirt, kids can plant seeds or small plants.  Gardening offers a tactile experience – planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting.  Vegetable plants can produce a tangible (and edible!) result which can be very satisfying for individuals with ASD.  To add a field trip to the gardening experience, consider Tollgate Farm and Education Center.  Located in Novi, Michigan, Tollgate Farm offers a hands-on experience that will delight kids of any age!

 

3. Design Sensory Bins and Bottles

All children love bins of toys, but those with ASD can find these collections particularly soothing.  Fill a bin with colored aquarium gravel, shredded paper, Easter grass, or buttons and beads, and let your kids dig in!  You can place plastic animals or other little “treasures” in the bin to be discovered during play for an added bit of fun.

Sensory bottles are particularly popular right now because they are customizable and portable.  They’re simple to create! Just fill a bottle with water, glitter, and a little hair gel.  Add small objects such as plastic letters or numbers to create an educational bottle or add paper clips and safety pins to allow your child to move the items in the bottle around with a magnet.  Sensory bottles with just water, gel, and glitter are eye-catching, but the addition of small objects gives them greater visual appeal and provides a soothing distraction.

 

4. It is Okay to Act Like an Animal!

Is a trip to the zoo out of the question?  Create your own family-friendly zoo!  First, on little scraps of paper, write down the names of as many zoo animals as your family can name.  Put all the slips of paper in a jar and, pulling out one at a time, call out the animal’s name written on the paper.  Everyone can act out the animal at the same time, or you can all take turns.  Be a silly monkey or a serious turtle!

If acting out an animal presents a challenge, try Follow the Leader or Simon Says and act out:

–  Jump like a frog

–  Walk like an elephant

–  Bark like a dog

–  Waddle like a duck

–  Wiggle your tail like a white-tailed deer (Michigan state animal)

 

Taking cues from other family members may help a child with ASD feel more secure and encourage participation.

 

5. Create Art with Torn Paper

Tearing paper can be very appealing for someone with sensory sensitivities.  Feeling the tearing paper, hearing the paper tear, and seeing the result can be a soothing and satisfactory experience.  Art can come from this torn paper in the form of paper flower bouquets.  Using the torn paper in strips or pieces, kids glue the pieces to a sheet of paper, paper plate, or another surface to create a torn paper bouquet.  For an added challenge, ask the kids to create something specific like the Michigan State Flower, the apple blossom.  There is no limit to creativity and keeping activities short helps keep frustration levels low.

 

6. Use Sidewalk Chalk to Draw Family-Friendly Games

While enjoying a lovely Michigan evening outdoors, Hopscotch and Tic-Tac-Toe are games that are easily drawn onto the sidewalk or driveway with chalk.  For those children that prefer a solitary or one-on-one experience, these games are incredibly simple to set up and require minimal verbal interaction.  Hopscotch provides some side benefits, including physical coordination, balance, and cognitive development.  While traditionally drawn with numbers, the hopscotch board can be created using different colors in each square to focus on learning colors.

Also, you can break down the skills of hopscotch to focus on one at a time:

–  Hand/Eye Coordination (Aim):  focus on just throwing the marker to specific squares

 Balance; hopping on just one foot from number to number

–  Physical coordination; leaning over to pick up the marker

–  Body control; not stepping on lines

 

Tic-Tac-Toe helps reinforce logical thinking and taking turns.  It requires minimal verbal interaction and can be quickly re-drawn for numerous games in a row.  Depending on the learning stage, a child may focus just on getting three in a row, not recognizing that there is a diagonal option or that they “must” be the first to get three in a row.  As logical thinking develops, a child can learn to see the diagonal, execute moves that block, and start to strategize.

 

7. Paint with Ice Cubes

Painting with ice cubes is another family-friendly way to cool off during a warm Michigan summer day.  Mix non-toxic watercolor paint with water and freeze in ice cube trays overnight.  Your kids can use the colored ice cubes to paint on paper or fabric and create beautiful pieces of art while remaining cool and comfortable.  Out in the yard or on picnic tables in the park, this super cool, family-friendly activity is sure to be a winner with all the kids in your household.

Creating a summer activity plan for your children does not have to be a struggle.  The professionals at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center in Novi, Michigan, can work with you to create a successful strategy to meet your family’s needs.

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