Summer Sensations

Blog Kathie Sarles

Summer is here! Older children are out of school and younger children are excited and/ or anxious to have their sibling home. The entire family may also be looking forward to a vacation away from the daily norm. Whatever it is, very young children can feel the change in the air and may act in ways we do not expect. Being a prepared parent can help us get through a long, hot summer!

In previous articles I have written about creating routines and limits that help children stay regulated so that they can fully participate in the day. In this article I want to offer some ideas that can be used to help fill a day when the regular routines have been broken. Summer is a great time to offer new and exciting sensory based activities while at home. Traveling is another potentially tough activity, so being prepared by having a Magic Bag of tricks helps maintain stability at an otherwise chaotic time. Below I will offer some suggestions for sensory fun at home and ideas for magic bags to take with you. Thinking ahead and planning most of the details will aide in your child’s overall behavior.

Sensory Play: (Please note some children have a hard time with getting dirty, with loud noises or with too much stimulation in general. You know your child; some of these activities may take time for your child to accept. Offering it without expectation or with some adaptation might be warranted.)

  • Frozen Fun: Freeze small toys into a large block of ice (use a tray or container with an edge so when the melting happens it is contained). Good toys to freeze might be small cars, bugs , stars shells…Offer “tools” to help with getting out the objects, or offer toys to play with on top. Children will enjoy the cold, and enjoy the slippery texture then enjoy the melting and the surprises coming out! This is fun for a sustained amount of time. Source:
  • Painting with Water: Children love to use big paintbrushes and parents like to only deal with little messes. Use a bucket to put water into and large clean paintbrushes for your child to paint with. Find a fence, rock, sidewalk or some large structure for your child to paint. Your child can paint over the same area many times as they learn about the sun and evaporation. “You can also let your preschooler place their hands and feet in a bucket of water to make footprints and handprints on the driveway. It’s a great summertime activity that they can cool down with and once the water dries they have a clean canvas to start all over again. “
  • Bags full of paint & ( Q-tips): Place a small amount of tempera paint into a large Ziplock Baggie, place that baggie into another one to help with small rips that will occur over time. Give child baggie to explore…. Offer a Q-Tip to “draw with” or just use fingers. It is less mess than finger painting but still has a sensory component.
  • Home -made play dough: Making play dough is a fun rainy day activity. Let your child help make the clay and then give them the play clay and some kitchen tools to use. The recipe below is easy and your child can watch as a liquid becomes a solid when heat is applied. Science at a very young age!!
  • In the Dark / Flashlight Tag A flashlight is a mysterious and wonderful thing! Have on hand several flashlights and let your child just explore dark and light at first. Next, hide items and have a scavenger hunt using flashlight to find item, or play flashlight tag!
  • Playing in the Kitchen: Inside or outside this can be fun, but often loud, so be ready! Use pots, pans, covers, muffin tins, graters and large spoons wooden and metal, measuring cups and spoons…. Have a marching band or sit on the floor or grass and explore the sounds. You can play STOP and GO with the music or sing a song and make a beat.
  • Mud Pies : No explanation needed here. Sand/ dirt water and pans, spoons or shovels …. Having two different materials like sand and dirt offer a variety and make the fun last longer…. Clean up with the hose is refreshing!
  • Obstacle course : Outside or Inside / Use cushions or pillows blankets and low tables and or chairs, hoola hoops, and large balls work well too. If you model how to get through the obstacle course your child will join in. Incorporate walking, crawling, jumping and climbing to make this activity great for motor development and fun for all. Video tape or take pictures for long lasting fun!

Magic Bags with Sensory Items: When a child must go in the car for a long ride, attend a sibling’s recital or go to the doctor’s office, there is often a tantrum that goes with the child to those activities. If you create a Magic Bag for those times when you need something positive for your child to do, you will have less tantrums and a happier child. These bags should be ready for you to use when you know your child will be upset, anxious, or fidgety. You control the contents of the bag: one toy at a time will keep the magic going. Good items to have on hand:

Vibrating toys: bumble ball, or buzzing bee or giggle stick

Special stickers and new book

Little animals or special small cars

Magnetic toys with a metal can or container, and Travel sized aqua doodle / magic doodle

Whistles/ Blow toys ( if you can stand the noise)

Small Flash light and or toys that move or wind up ( if they can do it themselves)

“Summertime can be both wonderful and stressful for kids with sensory issues and their families. Why do some kids seem to regress over the summer while others zoom ahead? Changes in routine, unfamiliar activities, food, faces, places, and sounds can make it very hard for sensitive kids to relax and enjoy themselves.” ( )

So, when routines need to change, make sure you tell your child and include him/her in the planning, and then offer an activity that allows him to participate a way that encourages exploration. Have fun!

Play Clay Recipe

1 cup flour 

½ cup salt

1 tsp cream of tartar

1 cup water ( add food coloring) 

2 TBSP of oil

Mix all dry ingredients first in pan add water and oil and stir on medium heat. The mixture will be hard to stir and form a ball. Take out of pan and knead for 3- 5 minutes. Keep in ziplock bag.