Skill-Building Projects for Children on the Spectrum Families Can Work on at Home
We adore caring for your kiddos in our centers, whether it’s teaching them new skills or watching their eyes light up when they discover a new way to play. As much fun as we have in the centers, however, our goal at Hopebridge is to help your child generalize their play and new skills in and around the home with you, too!
While we always address ways to do this in our family training sessions, our team also curated a list of extra ideas and activities to keep your little ones’ minds and bodies moving at home. These projects and games are not designed to take the place of therapy, but rather incorporate applied behavior analysis (ABA) strategies and provide opportunities to keep children engaged. They also offer fun ways for children to build communication, social, functional living and motor skills. The key is to work with your children to create your own structure to let them know what to expect, all while making sure there is time for play.
Whether you need to find new ways to fill the days or want to keep kids busy for an hour while you cook dinner, here are 10 activities to try in or around your home.
10 Activities to Keep Kids Engaged
Create task boxes. We learned some of our Hopebridge families have had great success with task boxes. Each box should house a specific activity and the materials needed for it. The “tasks” should be short, structured and easy to understand with support from visuals. You can buy task boxes ready-made or create your own with help from Pinterest. Tasks can range anywhere from sorting colored pom poms to counting with popsicle sticks. The activities can lead to reinforcers or can serve as the reinforcers in and of themselves.
Play freeze dance. Freeze dance is fun to play just about any time of day. Turn on your kids’ favorite songs and advise them to move to the music until the tunes stop. This simple game teaches listening skills and works on following directions, all with a little bit of exercise. Parents are highly encouraged to participate with your own silly moves!
Create your own bowling lane. Did you know you can access to a wealth of creative resources online? The Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York City, for instance, offers a number of tactile art projects that can be created with items you already own, including step-by-step plans for a DIY bowling alley. Kids will love using stickers, markers and construction paper to transform a box into a bowling lane and upcycle empty plastic bottles into bowling pins. This project will get their artistic juices flowing while also working their fine and gross motor skills.
Go on a nature scavenger hunt. There are tons of free scavenger hunt printables online or you can make your own. Whether focusing solely on colors, animals, plants or all of the above, the key is to include pictures that kids can match up as they search. Review the sheet with them before taking a walk around the yard or neighborhood to seek out items nature has to offer. While on the treasure hunt, take the time to talk about what they see, hear, smell and feel.
Host an outdoor tea party. Taking the tea party to the patio or backyard allows you to get a little messy. Set a table with a plastic tea set, grab some “friends” (A.K.A. stuffed animals), and get ready to play. Have some of your kids’ favorite snacks on hand. Fill the tea pot with water, show them how to pour, and then let your children take turns practicing pouring and serving their friends. Expect spills and have fun with it. If your child might not enjoy getting wet, consider substituting the water for shredded paper or pom poms as your “tea and sugar.” Guide them through some conversation with their friends so it can be a communication-building activity, in addition to learning about liquids and volume.
Play animal charades. A twist on the original game, use pictures instead of words on small pieces of paper. Focusing on animals makes it fun and easier for young kids to act and guess the subject. The game helps children practice their non-verbal communication. In addition to making sounds and facial expressions, incorporate movements like crab crawls and poses like down dog to build hand and wrist strength. If your children need a little extra support, make it a two-player game.
Check out new books from the library. A visit to the library can be tons of fun, but many public libraries also offer pick-up services that allow library card holders to reserve books online and pick up at the entrance. Give your kiddos some options and allow them to choose a couple books that will get them excited. While reading with them, pause from time to time and connect the story to their own lives or other familiar stories. Ask them about the characters’ facial expressions and how they might be feeling. Making these connections can help them better understand emotion and socialization, while also building on reading comprehension.
Open an imaginary “car wash.” Combining imaginative play and sensory play into one, the Busy Toddler website shares a new way to play with toy trucks and cars: Messy Trucks! The idea is simple: have your kids drive their trucks around in some mud for a while and then give them a car wash in soapy water. As a bonus, give them the sprayer to hose them down at the end. You may want to set aside any really special vehicles from this one since there’s a chance they’ll continue to drip water for a couple days.
Go on a virtual excursion. Even if travel is not on your agenda this time of year, the good news is, you can get an insider’s peek at some pretty cool spots around the world … all from the comfort of your home. Feed off of your child’s interests and take them on an educational outing through the tablet or computer. Take a trip under the sea with Georgia Aquarium’s webcams featuring beluga whales, sea otters, penguins, jell fish and piranhas. Visit the lions, elephants and giraffes on screen from the Reid Park Zoo in Arizona, or take a tour around Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park with help from Google Earth. Your kids can even travel to space, thanks to NASA’s video library. The learning shouldn’t stop at watching the videos and live feeds. After “sightseeing,” talk about your adventures, eat food inspired by the location, or play a game that involves some of the environments you covered to tie it all together.
Plan out your future activities. Work together to make a poster of all the things your kiddo wants to do over the next couple days or weeks. Maybe your kiddos want to go down the slide at the playground, visit the community children’s gym, hang out at the splash pad, or see their friends and grandparents. Write their wishes on the poster and encourage your kids to use crayons and markers, stickers, pictures from magazines and family photos to decorate it. You can also role play to act out some of the things you might do or say once you might get there.
We know art projects, sensory bins and story time are not always enough. If you need more support for your child due to developmental delays or behaviors, consider reaching out to us for autism testing or ABA therapy or other services. Fill out our online form so we can get you the help you need as soon as possible.
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