Fall Fun with Special Kids: Five Ways to Make Memories this Fall
There is something intoxicating about fall weather. Everyone seems to want to get outside to experience cooler temperatures and explore the changing colors of autumn leaves. For this reason, community calendars are often loaded with family-focused events.
If your child’s diagnosis makes day-trips difficult, consider involving an in-home nurse in your family’s adventures. An extra set of capable hands will help keep your child healthy and safe, giving you peace of mind. In fact, many families choose to include their MGA Home Healthcare in-home nurses in family outings.
Check with nearby farms for fall festivals, with attractions such as petting zoos, hay rides, corn mazes, and farmers’ markets. What crops are in season in your home state? Are there any orchards open for apple picking? Load up a bucket of apples as a family and bake a simple apple cobbler together at home. Cooking as a family creates fun memories of togetherness and teaches children important life skills in the kitchen.
Walking the outdoor trails of a nearby nature reserve or arboretum is an excellent way to enjoy Mother Nature this time of year. If mobility over uneven terrain is a problem, pushing your child’s wheelchair through your neighborhood to collect fallen leaves is simple, and just as effective at teaching your child about the natural world. Take the most colorful leaves home to preserve in a leaf press.
Is there anything more magical to children than holiday lights? Starting Thanksgiving weekend, look for outdoor light displays at your local zoo, botanical gardens, and outdoor shopping districts. These events usually have family-friendly entertainment, such as live musical performances. You might also find some elaborate neighborhood displays that are free and open to the public.
If you live in a cold climate, attending outdoor events might prove challenging in stormy weather. You may need to look to indoor venues for family fun this time of year.
Children’s museums are packed with indoor learning opportunities, usually with some sort of art focus. Your kids will enjoy hands-on crafts, spaces to build child-sized creations, and safe structures to climb on and explore. Expect a wide enough range of options to fit most any ability level.
While natural history museums (think: dinosaur bones) are typically designed for patrons of all ages, you will likely find a variety of child-friendly exhibits and hands-on activities to enjoy there, too.
If it’s too chilly to visit the zoo, an aquarium is an ideal place to learn about nature in a cozy, climate-controlled environment. From sharks to penguins, jellyfish to stingrays, there is so much to see at an aquarium. Many have a wildlife conservation focus, which will help educate your kids about protecting the environment. Check the aquarium’s event calendar to plan your visit around up-close animal encounters, feeding schedules, or educational programming.
Indoor Herb Garden
While the mercury may be falling, chilly temperatures don’t have to prevent you from gardening. Try planting an indoor herb garden with your child. All you need are some small pots of soil, and a few seed packets of mint, oregano, basil, cilantro (coriander), parsley, or chives.
If you have trouble finding a surface in your home with plenty of natural light, pick up an indoor LED gardening lightbulb. These specialized bulbs are energy-efficient, and imitate the rays of natural sunlight to stimulate plant growth. They also fit standard screw-in lamp sockets, and remain cool to the touch to avoid heat damage to your delicate sprouts.
Your child will love tending to their plants and watching them grow, while you can enjoy cooking with fresh herbs all winter. What’s more, the herbs will be ready to transplant to your outdoor garden come spring.
Crafts are a fantastic way to entertain, support fine-motor development, and provide valuable sensory input, all at the same time. This would be an excellent opportunity to involve your child’s in-home occupational therapist, either through supervision of the crafting process, or by using the finished product in OT sessions. Here are some fun and easy favorites:
If you’re looking for the world’s easiest craft that you can use again and again, invest in some water beads. These slippery little things can entertain most children for long stretches of time. Just soak them in water for a few hours until they plump up, and place them in a large bowl or plastic tub for your children to squish to their hearts’ delight. Add some measuring scoops and spoons to allow them to practice fine motor coordination. When you’re done using the beads, simply spread them out in a shallow, uncovered container to allow them to dry for storage. Then soak them in water again when you’re ready to reuse them. Watch closely that they don’t get swallowed, as they present a choking hazard to kids and pets.
Homemade Play Dough
Homemade play dough is a classic craft to do with kids who are able stand at a stove with adult supervision. It does get hot, and require a little muscle to mix as it starts to thicken into a dough. This recipe can be enhanced by adding peppermint essential oils or a pumpkin spice blend for some seasonal fragrance. Food coloring can also be substituted with a packet of unsweetened Kool-Aid, which adds vibrant color and fruity fragrance.
While very messy, finger painting is a favorite occupational therapy tool to encourage sensory experimentation and artistic expression. Provide your child with a sheet of paper at a table, or spread some butcher paper out on hard flooring for footprint designs. Ensure that your finger paint is water-based, washable and non-toxic. Tempera paint is a popular medium for finger painting. However, if your child tends to put their hands in their mouth at the worst possible moments, try using pudding instead. It has just the right consistency, and is yummy to eat.
Paint Garden Rocks
If your child has good fine motor control, consider painting some smooth river rocks to decorate the garden. Depending on your child’s abilities, stick with solid colors, or work up to patterns and hand-drawn designs. Stencils work well on flat surfaces, as well. To make them resistant to weather and sprinklers, be sure to use acrylic paint and seal them with a waterproof finish. Your child will be proud of the end products and will enjoy seeing them in the yard for years to come. They also make original, inexpensive holiday gifts for grandparents.
Tickets to the Theater
Fall is a wonderful time to expose children to the beauty of live theater. From child-friendly musical productions like “Annie” and “A Christmas Carol,” to “The Nutcracker” ballet, you’re bound to find a seasonal performance playing near your home town.
Before booking your reservation, contact the performing arts venue to inquire about special seating arrangements, whether you need something wheelchair accessible, or extra room for a service animal.
Seats close to the stage, as well as assisted listening devices, are often available for patrons with hearing loss.
The performance company itself might have separate productions with a customized approach to engage with special needs patrons. Look for special showings with an ASL interpreter to accommodate the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. For these shows, seats are reserved for those who require ASL sight lines. There may also be an audio-described performance, to make the show more accessible to the visually impaired.
If your child lacks the attention span or ability to stay quiet long enough to sit through a live performance, try a sensory-friendly showing at your local movie theater instead. Sensory-friendly films are presented in a dim – not dark – theater with quieter sound to accommodate patrons with autism or sensory processing challenges. In these showings, you have the freedom to stand up, walk around, talk, and even sing along, without fear of disturbing other viewers.
This holiday season, AMC Theatres is offering sensory-friendly showings of “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” and “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch.” Check for sensory-friendly showtimes of new releases all year long.
Even if you’re just spending a quiet weekend as a family at home, there’s plenty of fun to be had this time of year. Just make some hot cocoa and snuggle up, because togetherness is the most essential component of happy family memories.