The Winter Wiggles, Part 1: Communication-Focused Activities for Your Child with Special Needs

Please note that while these ideas were created with kids in mind, people of all ages and abilities may find these activities beneficial!

Looking for ways to pass the long winter months? Check out these communication-focused ideas from Jen Berger, a speech language pathologist with Genesis Outpatient Pediatric Therapy Center in Bettendorf, Iowa, which can be adapted for many ability levels! She recommends taking advantage of the winter elements as much as possible. Take your time getting ready for the cold—allowing your child to help put on and take off all that winter gear is therapeutic in itself!

Make a Snow Angel

While making a snow angel, your child will be working on balance, bilateral coordination, strength, and endurance. Talk through what you’re doing using words and phrases to build language concepts (e.g., “hands/arms go above your head,” “open/close,” “together, apart,” etc.).

Have a Snowball Fight 

Who doesn’t like to throw snow at a parent, sibling, friend, or nearby squirrel? Forming the snowball requires bilateral coordination and fine motor control/strength. Make different sized snowballs and put them in piles of big/little, heavy/light. Or sort them in different colored buckets, so each team can take a bucket when it is time for the snowball fight to begin. Be sure to compare the buckets using quantitative concepts such as “same, more, less.” 

Tip: If the chaos of a snowball fight is too much, take turns throwing at each other and go at a comfortable pace for you. Practicing turn-taking is never a bad idea. 

Color the Snow

Why does snow have to be white? Add food coloring to spray bottles filled with cold water and let your creative side take over. Using a spray bottle works on finger/hand strength. You can add color to a snowman or your snow angel, or start a new picture altogether. Be sure to talk about your snow designs using concepts you want to enforce. For example, “I’m making the TOP of this mountain blue. Let’s make the BOTTOM green.” Or, guide the creativity by suggesting categories (e.g., “Let’s make an animal that lives in the zoo,” “something that can fly,” etc.).

Make Your Own Snow

Too cold or icy to be outdoors? No problem. Try this sensory-enriching recipe to make your own snow. You can mix 3 cups of baking soda and ½ cup of white hair conditioner with your fingers, if the feeling is not too aversive. Feel free to use a spoon or spatula if “icky” fingers are not your thing. Once it is mixed, the snow is less messy and even tactile-sensitive kids can be encouraged to touch it, smoosh it, or form it into piles or balls. 

Tip: Feel free to add toys to your play, such as vehicles, animals, or dollhouse people. This will increase opportunity for imaginative play and language learning.

Make Something Delicious 

Find a recipe that fits with your child’s ability level. You can simplify the directions by using color-coded measuring cups and spoons. Instead of looking for the ½ cup, your child could find the “green cup.” If he or she is following along with the written recipe, try highlighting the measurements to match your measuring cup colors. Helping in the kitchen builds life skills (using microwave, wiping counters, washing hands), cognitive skills (sequencing, planning, problem solving), language skills (following directions, building vocabulary, asking for help), and motor skills as you stir/mix, measure, or roll out dough. 

Tip: A simple recipe like hot chocolate might be a good place to start on a cold day!

Video Chat with Family 

Include your child in video chats by preparing him or her for a specific message or role before the conversation starts. A role might include the initial greeting, saying goodbye at the end of the video chat, asking a question, or telling a specific event/family news update. If your child uses alternative communication methods, like an AAC device, you can practice social exchanges such as “hello, Grandma” or “I love you,” so he can participate the same way. If your child is difficult to understand by video, you may wish to supplement speech with written cue cards that family members can read. Prompt your child, if needed, to say what he or she has practiced at the appropriate time. 

Tip: It may also be beneficial to let your family know the child would like to say something, so they will know to wait patiently.

Make a YouTube Video 

Even if it is never posted, many kids enjoy seeing themselves on camera. This is fun for them, but can also be a powerful therapy tool in the form of “video modeling.” Try to capture your child doing things you want to enforce (picking up toys, sharing with a sibling, building a tower, asking for help, etc.) Edit out any negative behaviors that might creep into the video. You can take several different instances of positive exchanges and compile them into one video based on theme or skill. For example, “I am good at sharing.” Your child can watch his video and see himself sharing over and over again. The positive behavior is thus reinforced as he sees himself successfully doing the desired behavior or skill.

Ready for some more fun? Be sure to check out the other two parts of our Winter Wiggles series, Sensory-Focused Activities and Gross Motor-Focused Activities, for more ways to keep your children active and working on their overall skill development!

Have you tried any of these activities yet? Let us know your favorites in the comments below, or any ways you’ve adapted these ideas to make them work for your family!

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