Friends and readers, parents and therapists, we’re almost there.  You’ve almost made it through the chaos of end-of-year functions and concerts, shows of all of the extra-mural activities, exams for the older ones and big stage debuts for your babies.  Relaxation is knocking on the door.  Yet we are aware that for some parents with children with different sensory needs, a long holiday with lots of festivities can lie like a dormant volcanic mountain in front of you.  How can we increase the chance of family fun?  How can we make sure that’s something fun for all our kiddies – the seekers and the sensitive ones in the family?

Holidays, and especially summer Christmas holidays find us in a range of locations.. from the beach, to busy mall and even long days at home.  Below are some ideas of how you can use the wealth of sensory invitations available to you during this time.

  1. Beach

If you’re luck enough to find yourself at the beach:

  • For some heavy work, let the child dig the deepest hole he can.  Then bury him and let him try and get himself out.
  • Lie on your back in the sand and make sand angels by making sweeping movements with your arms and legs.
  • Pull the child across the sand while he sits or lies on a body board.  Let the children take turns pulling each other.
  • Hide treasures in the sand for her to find.
  • Do handstands, somersaults on the sand.
  • Play Frisbee or beach cricket.


2.  The Garden

  • Hang from the branches.  Try and swing from one branch to another.
  • Try and hang upside down.
  • Make a swing from an old tyre, rope or plank and hang it from a tree.  Try and make yourself go by bending and straightening your legs.
  • Hang under a branch, holding on with arms and legs like a monkey.
  • Make a trapeze out of an old broom handle.  Swing from the tree and jump onto the grass.
  • Practice wheelbarrow walking with brothers and sisters.  Have a race when you’re getting good!
  • Make a wobbly balance beam by placing a long plank over a log.  Try and walk from one end to the other.
  • Tie a rope with knots from the tree and let your child practice climbing up into the tree.
  • Make an obstacle course using any garden objects e.g. logs, tyres, play equipment.
  • Swim, swim, swim


3. Shopping malls

Shopping centres are loud and busy places, especially at Christmas time.  This can be a daunting time for the children and their parents.  If you are prepared and understand your child’s needs, meltdowns can be avoided.

  • Limit the length of shopping trips.  Big shopping centres are filled with various visual, auditory and movement experiences, and your child can very quickly become over-stimulated.  Rather take shorter trips to smaller, outdoor centres.
  • Plan regular breaks.  Bathroom breaks and something to eat.
  • Choose restaurants with play areas such as Spur / Papacinos.  Let your child climb on the equipment and jump on the trampoline.
  • When at a restaurant, choose something calming like a double thick milkshake for your child to suck through a straw.
  • Make games while shopping, such as spotting the first letter of your child’s name in the shop names.  Spot colours or shapes if your child is younger.
  • Give your child a piggy back ride when they are tired of walking or riding backwards in the trolley.  Let your child sit in the front of the trolley facing forwards.
  • Opt for smaller / outdoor centres rather than the big ones!
  • Involve your child in choosing the presents for others, paying etc


4.  A Rainy day at home

With the drought of the last few years we are so grateful for any rain, and sometimes it feels like just watching a storm is enough of a sensory experience that the kids aren’t used to.  Jumping in puddles can be so much fun, and they probably won’t even get cold.  Have a lovely warm bath ready for when they’ve had enough.  If your child doesn’t like the squishy mud, get a pair of rain boots so that they can still take part in the fun.

Crafts are also a lovely way to keep little hands busy.  There are so many ideas on mommy blogs and Pinterest so choose to your hearts content and according to the little ones’ skills.

  • Make Christmas decorations that allow simple cutting practice.  Use the green samples for paint colours from your local hardware store to cut out triangles for Christmas trees.
  • Thread red and white beads onto pipe cleaners, then bend into the shape of a candy cane.
  • Trace shapes for decorations against the wall.
  • Make a “pomander” by sticking cloves into an orange and looping a ribbon through to hang in your wardrobe.
  • Use finger paints and thumb prints to make a reindeer, Santa’s hat, snow flakes and a tree to use on cards for the family.
  • Make decorations for the tree with salt dough, baking it to dry once you have finished creating them,  Paint as desired.
  • Make an interesting Christmas card by poking holes along the line of a colouring picture and threading red and green cotton through the holes.
  • Place paper in a shallow cardboard box.  Dip marbles in paint and tip the box in different directions to make marble trails.  Use as wrapping paper.
  • Practice tying bows on presents.


Movement songs: Try these with the kids!

Reindeer Pokey

(Tune: Hokey Pokey)

You put your antlers in.
You put your antlers out.
You put your antlers in,
and you shake them all about.
You do the reindeer pokey
and you turn yourself around.
That’s what it’s all about!

Additional verses:
Fluffy Tail
Red Nose


We Wish You a Merry Christmas

We wish you a Merry Christmas (Sign Language for Merry Christmas – see below),
We wish you a Merry Christmas (Sign Language for Merry Christmas),
We wish you a Merry Christmas (Sign Language for Merry Christmas),
And a Happy New Year.

Now let’s all do a little clapping (clap),
Now let’s all do a little clapping(clap),
Now let’s all do a little clapping (clap),
And spread Christmas cheer (raise arms and make sprinkling action with fingers)

Now let’s all do a little jumping (jump),
Now let’s all do a little jumping(jump),
Now let’s all do a little jumping (jump)
And spread Christmas cheer (raise arms and make sprinkling action with fingers)

Now let’s all do a little waving (wave),
Now let’s all do a little waving(wave),
Now let’s all do a little waving(wave),
And spread Christmas cheer (raise arms and make sprinkling action with fingers)

Sign language for Merry Christmas can be found here.

  • Rough-housing, rough and tumble play.
  • Make an oversized noughts and crosses board on the floor.
  • Make a crash pad of cushions and pillows.
  • Create a hideaway tent out of towels and sheets as a secret and quiet place for an over-stimulated child.  Have a password for adults who want to enter.
  • Hide objects in a pillow case and have your child identify them.
  • Lay a rope on the floor.  Walk on the rope, cross feet over, jump over the rope etc
  • Play “flashlight tag” by lying in the dark and chasing each others’ “torch dots” on the ceiling.
  • Play broken telephone.  Sit in a circle and whisper a message in the first person’s ear.  Pass the message around the circle and see if the last person can repeat it correctly.
  • Start your own band.  Fill 7 glasses with different amounts of water and add a little food colouring.  Play your own music with a teaspoon.
  • Put on old lipstick and “kiss” the mirror.  Use a koki to make butterflies and other insects from the patterns.
  • Jump on old bubble wrap from presents and see who can make the loudest noise.  The bigger the bubbles the better. Else cut thin strips of bubble wrap and see who can pop all their bubbles first.
  • Go ice-skating.
  • Plant a seed and watch it grow.  Give the child the responsibility of watering the plant at a certain time every day.
  • Make pizzas with ready-made bread dough and let the children knead the dough.


 5.  Christmas food

Make Christmas cookies with a variety of cookie cutters. Try to remember the steps of the recipe. Let the child roll the dough with a rolling pin.

The following recipe may be helpful:

225 g flour

½ tsp baking powder

100 g margarine

40 g icing sugar

2 egg yolks

1 tsp vanilla essence


Mix dry ingredients.  Add margarine and rub it in with your fingertips.  Stir in icing sugar.  Stir in egg yolks and vanilla.  Roll out dough and cut out shapes.  Bake for 15 min at 180 ̊.  Decorate as desired.

Happy holidays everyone!  Please let us know which activities your little ones liked best!

[This article was written by Karen Powell.  Karen is a member of SAISI Board and has a private practice for assisting babies and toddlers in Pretoria East].