5 Skill-Building Valentine’s Day Activities for Kids with Autism
February 10, 2021
Simple Sensory and Fine Motor Projects that Have Heart
Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be all about romance. One of the best things about this holiday is the reminder to showcase our love and care for our family and friends. The day can be especially fun for kids! Even more, for autism parents whose children might be overwhelmed with the hubbub around holidays like Halloween and Christmas, Valentine’s Day is often a break from the pressure and sensory overload, but not the celebration.
If your family chooses to recognize this holiday, we encourage you to use it as an opportunity for communication, sensory exploration and reinforcement. It’s a chance to allow your children to learn, play and get a little messy, all while creating something from the heart.
Learning through play is a major part of what our Hopebridge centers offer through applied behavior analysis (ABA), occupational therapy and speech therapy. Parents can – and should – extend the education and entertainment by engaging with their kiddos often, so we connected with our behavior analysts to share a handful of at-home ideas. Here are five autism-friendly ways to interact with your child and share the love in February. And for your own pleasure … glitter not included!
5 Autism-Friendly Valentine’s Day Crafts and Activities
Collage Valentines This project combines a little guided destruction with art. Start by offering your child a few sheets of red, pink and white construction paper or tissue paper to rip into smaller pieces. Some children may adore this contained moment of “wreckage,” especially if it is one of their preferred methods of stimming. Others may have a more challenging time with paper-tearing, either due to the necessary fine motor skills or the sensory discomfort the sound and feel can cause, so use your best judgement on how much they can tolerate. Once they created a small pile of ripped paper, help them trace a large heart on another piece of blank paper. Then, cut the shape out of the paper, or if your child is able to use scissors, allow them the chance to practice. Finally, give them a glue stick or liquid glue to paste the smaller torn pieces of paper onto the larger heart in any design of their choice. Voila! They’ve now made their own Valentine for a loved one.
Skills and benefits: This craft helps children express their creativity while practicing important fine motor skills like ripping paper. It can also be a comforting, contained opportunity to engage in self-stimulatory behavior for some, whereas it can help build sensory-related tolerances for others.
Heart-Drop Though they usually don’t last long enough outside our mouths to recognize their full potential, the classic Sweetheart candies surprisingly provide a lot of opportunities for learning and fun. One of our favorite opportunities for kids on the spectrum is the heart-drop. Depending on your child’s developmental age and skill level, set out a clean water bottle or narrow cup. Next, pour the conversation hearts onto a table and give the child a set of toy tweezers or tongs. Next, encourage them to pick up the hearts with the tweezers, one by one, to place them into the container. If this proves to be too difficult, they can start with little fingers rather than the pinchers. In the midst of this task, talk about the colors, scent and texture of the hearts and read off the candies’ messages. Once they are satisfied with the number of hearts inside, encourage them to give the bottle a shake to hear the noises it makes. Need more to keep them busy? Pour out the hearts to see how many hearts your kiddo can stack on top of each other, then start all over again.
Skills and benefits: Even though it may be the simplest to set up, this is an all-in-one activity! It introduces colors, encourages communication, builds the pincer grasp and other fine motor skills, and offers sensory exploration.
Wrapped in Nature Valentines If you can get outside for this craft, start there! If the weather is right where you live, take a short walk outside to gather pretty pieces of pine, flowers or other small nature finds. If snow and ice have left the land bare for the winter, opt for a grocery store bouquet of tiny flowers or herbs that will look nice once dry, such as lavender or baby’s breath. Once you have your floral embellishments, have your child help you trace hearts on some pieces of cardboard (finally, a use for those Amazon boxes!). Cutting cardboard with scissors may be too tough a feat for your child, so we recommend parents use an X-acto knife to make the canvas. Include a few very small, symmetrical cuts on the sides where your kid can place the rubber bands. Once the hearts are ready, it’s time to decorate them! Give your child rubber bands to practice wrapping around the hearts so they fit into the new slits you created. For children looking for a little more challenge, substitute the rubber bands for twine and encourage them to wrap it around the cardboard heart before you tie it into a knot on the back. Once wrapped, have them weave the flowers in and out of the rubber band or twine for a naturally pretty Valentine that lets their recipient know they want them to, “Be Mine.”
Skills and benefits: Even if you’re not able to get outside, this activity provides opportunities for practicing skills related to communication and following directions. Fine motor skills are also involved no matter which design and materials you choose to incorporate.
Sweetheart Ice If your child enjoyed the frozen fun we suggested in our winter sensory activities post, they’re going to love the sweetheart ice. Grab a large heart mold or cake pan (we prefer silicone for its ease of use) and fill it with water. Add a drop of red food coloring and some heart candies or pink sprinkles. Small plastic hearts red and pink pom-poms, rhinestones and even a drop of vanilla or kid-friendly essential oil can also be fun additions, if you have them on hand. Once content with your creation, place it in the freezer overnight. When you’re ready to play, pop it out of the mold into a larger plastic bin or baking dish. Let your child explore the ice with their senses. Tools like eye droppers, medicine syringes, toy hammers, spoons and a cup of warm water can aid them in freeing their fantastic finds in this Valentine’s Day treasure hunt.
Skills and benefits: This craft can help kids cope with sensory intolerances by introducing sensory experiences in a small setting at their own pace. They also have the chance to work on fine motor skills and critical thinking.
Love Bugs Fingerprint Cards Time to get messy! Lay out some plain paper, either already folded or you can direct your child to practice folding it. Next, set out some ink pads or palettes with drops of washable, non-toxic paint. Guide your child to press their finger into one of the colors before making a fingerprint onto the paper. Finally, if their developmental abilities allow it, give them a pen or marker to draw faces, legs and antennae onto their little love bugs before enamoring friends with their new artwork.
Skills and benefits: Fingerprinting helps children work on finger isolation and pencil grasp. It also builds visual motor skills, in addition to inspiring creativity.
All in all, the main goal of these activities should be enjoyment. If your child doesn’t enjoy it, don’t push it. Tailor the crafts to your child’s needs and interests, as well as what materials you have on hand at home.
Want even more easy sensory activities? Engage your BCBA for more ABA-related, skill-building activities suited to your child and follow along with our Hopebridge Facebook page for seasonal playtime ideas.
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