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3 Inclusive Summer Activities for Toddlers

Easy activities for parents so you can make the most out of your kid’s summer

Co-authored by: Mari Peterson & April Brown

During the summer, many parents juggle work with trying to keep their kids busy in between summer camp, summer school, various types of at home care, or respite. And some parents don’t have any extra activities planned because they crave down time, or because of the high costs or transportation challenges. Regardless of your situation, we know that summer days are long, the weather is hot, and keeping little hands busy for hours each day is exhausting!

We are two teachers with extensive backgrounds working with neurodiverse and disabled children of all ages. So we put our heads together to create some simple ways for your family to enjoy fun in the sun & time indoors, while hopefully keeping your hands free (for a moment) to enjoy a cold beverage!

Check out these 3 inclusive activities to keep your children busy and engaged during the summer months:

Full Body Water Play

Screenshot 2019-06-17 at 4.15.47 PM
A modified idea for parents who don’t have space outdoors or would rather keep their littles inside

What you’ll need: vinyl shower curtain, hose or sprinkler, nontoxic paint (if your child has allergies, modify accordingly), pots, pans, wooden spoons, measuring cups, strainers, cookie cutters, paint brushes, buckets, nontoxic scents, sponges, sunscreen, swim diapers or swimsuits, no-tear baby wash

What to do:

  • Spread out a cheap vinyl shower curtain on the grass.
  • Put a hose or sprinkler on the shower curtain or spray with water.
  • Put out kitchen utensils and toys that your child can fill and dump.
  • Watch your child slip, slide, roll, and play in the water.
  • Optional: Add nontoxic paint, nontoxic scents (blend up carrots, beets, or strawberries for some delicious smells), or natural food coloring to the shower curtain for a full sensory experience.
  • To wash up, give children sponges with no-tear baby wash!

Supports:

  • Have your child sit or lay on the vinyl and put the hose on low pressure/turn the sprinkler on low.
  • Add no-tear baby wash to the water so your child can make bubbles with their hands. You can also turn on a small bubble machine so your child can watch them as they enjoy the full sensory experience.
  • If your child is sensitive to cold, put them in a thermal swimsuit. Another option would be to warm up the water prior to spraying the water on the shower curtain.
  • Place an old sheet underneath your child on the porch or a kitchen area (you can also place the shower curtain underneath the sheet) that’s easy to clean-up. Add kitchen bowls, plastic cookie cutters, and strainers for exploration.

Rainy Day Dancing & Art

IMG_20190312_172648671
Colorful scarves can be found at yard sales and thrift shops

What you’ll need: colorful scarves, music, empty plastic bottles, kidney beans, duct tape, colorful tissue paper or cardstock/construction paper, glue, large pieces of brown packing paper, nontoxic paint (if your child has allergies, modify accordingly), large paint brush, old pizza box

What to do:

  • Put on music (be mindful of children with sensory processing needs) and dance around the room with scarves. Scarves can be attached to arms, hands, and legs!
  • Wave hands, clap, and support all children in moving around the room to dance.
  • Create music shakers by pouring kidney beans into empty plastic bottles. Seal the tops with duct tape.
  • See if children can create soft sounds, medium sounds, and loud sounds with their music shakers.
  • Play different songs and observe which song your child seems to enjoy. How can you tell?
  • After you’ve finished dancing, decorate the music shakers with tissue paper and glue. Let them dry before using them again.

Supports:

  • Lay a large piece of brown packing paper on the floor (preferably on a hard surface).
  • Place your child on the paper in a seated position, or lay them down on their back or stomach.
  • Children who are laying down can use a large paint brush or hands/arms/legs/feet (if your child is unable to make a lot of voluntary movements, have your child visually pick the color and support them as they move comfortably) and nontoxic paint to paint the area around them.
  • Create an easel from an old pizza box and help your child glue tissue paper on a piece of paper. Check out this video for step by step directions!
  • For children who need extra support with voluntary movements, modify the activity by using the following ideas:
    • Support your child’s hand in squeezing out the glue all over the paper that is attached to the pizza box.
    • Make small rips in the tissue paper (or stronger cardstock/paper can be used for a better grasp)
    • Position your child’s hand over the paper on the pizza whether your child is sitting or in a wheelchair and place the slightly ripped paper in their hand.
    • Hold one end of the paper and let the child’s hand fall or intentionally pull the paper allowing it to be positioned where it falls.  
    • Guide your child’s hand to a different position over the paper and repeat.  
    • Guide your child to be active in deciding what color they want by allowing them to choose the color vocally, by pointing or by eye gaze.

Messy Mud Kitchen Play

img_20190618_093957596.jpg

What you’ll need: outdoor space with access to large area with dirt, pots, pans, muffin, water source like a hose or bucket of water, large pan, cookie cutters and molds, measuring cups, a range of other outdoor toys, natural objects found outside

What to do:

  • Bring your child outdoors to the space with access to a large area with dirt.
  • Model getting messy so your child feels more comfortable. For example, sit down in the dirt and get a cup of water from the bucket. Pour the water into the dirt. Show your child how to play with the mud in your hands. You can also show your child how to clean the mud off in the bucket of water if they are sensitive to certain textures on their hands.
  • Show your child how to play with the mud using the other items such as pots, pans, molds, cookie cutters, and buckets.
  • Allow your child to play with the mud in a way that is fun for them! Remember: play looks different for each child. If your child smears the mud on their face, tummy, or other body parts, that’s okay. You can rinse them off with a hose after they are done playing.
  • Add nontoxic colors and scents to the mud/sand and let your child mix it in.
  • Let your child find rocks, flowers, sticks and leaves to add to their creations.

Supports:

  • Make a mud puddle in a large pan and place your child in a seated position on the ground, towel or their shower chair. Provide your child with kitchen items to play with, and create a full sensory experiences by encouraging them to place their hands and feet in the mud.
  • Be sensitive to their reactions to play, if they react in a negative manner give it a minute and remove them if they continue to be upset.
  • You can also seat your child in your lap/lay them down on their stomachs to play with the items in the mud kitchen.  Encourage any movements they can make.
  • If you are nervous about your child eating mud, you can also do this activity with sand. You can create a mini-sensory exploration area by placing sand in a large pan and putting some fun toys in the sand for your child to explore.
  • Sensory sensitive kiddos can be encouraged to use large spoons and wooden kitchen utensils to explore the mud opposed to their hands/feet/bodies.
  • Children who are less mobile can be wheeled around the yard to choose their natural items (leaves, sticks, pinecones, flowers, etc.)
  • If a child has very little mobility in hands or feet,  encourage what movements they can make, or lay them down on the surface and let them move their body (encourage them to squirm or roll).
  • Add warm water to mud or sand to make it more comfortable.
  • Have a bucket of warm water ready to wash your child off or have them play in their shower chair and wheel your child  into the shower when your child is finished with the activity.

Mr. Rogers said that play is the work of childhood and we couldn’t agree more. We believe that it is a child’s right to play, and that involves creating inclusive activities that are accessible to kids of all abilities.

We hope you enjoy these ideas! Please share yours with us in the comments.

With heart,

Mari & April

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