By Sarah Emory, MSP, CCC-SLP
Christmas is all about spending time with family and creating memories together. In Spartanburg, it’s incredibly easy to have fun with the kids. It’s easy to do too much, especially if your children are younger or they are easily overstimulated.
As a speech language pathologist, I often talk with parents who are looking to create holiday fun for their children with special needs … especially for young ones with sensory or language development delays or who may be on the autism spectrum. But children at all developmental stages can find Christmas a little overwhelming.
Here are a few tips to keep your family feeling festive this season.
Tips for all families
When planning activities, the more I communicate the expectation of the experience beforehand with my family, the better the outing goes. Make sure you’re talking with your children and telling them a little bit about what they’re going to see and hear.
Visit the website of the outing and let your child see the different activities. Talk about the things your child may see there.
You know your child the best. Talk through how your child may handle anything that maybe harder for them and think of a solution together. In the speech therapy world, we call this a “social story.”
If a large Christmas tree is out of the question for your family (it is for mine, with three children 3 and under), then purchase tiny trees and decorate them with felt and yarn so you are not stressing about breaking ornaments, or worrying about the effects of twinkle lights with seizures.
Another fun Christmas tree activity is to a use empty plastic water bottle and fill it with water, green food coloring, glitter and pom pom balls (or any of your child’s favorite christmas things). Glue on the bottle top for extra peace of mind that you won’t have a big mess to clean up. Place a star sticker on top and it is a Christmas Tree Sensory Discovery bottle.
With all the running around in the car around the holidays, incorporate a language activity in the car to keep language skills going while the children are out of school. Print several holiday bingo cards from Pinterest and, while you are out and about, have your children find the items on the cards. Have small, fun “prizes” as a motivator.
Get out of the house
At the movies
Sensory friendly movies are excellent ways to create Christmas memories. These are ordinary movies, but played in a theater with more lights and lower volume. Also, children are expected to move around freely, so your little wiggle worm can walk around and more. Catch a sensory friendly movie at NCG – Polar Express, 9:30 a.m., Dec. 14-16 and 21-24.
Children’s Museum of the Upstate-Spartanburg
There’s always tons for children under 5 to do at the museum. Pro tip: Getting there around opening time usually means there is a parking spot on Magnolia Street. Also, instead of going to the story time at 11 a.m., try the open art studios in the afternoon when you can have a little more freedom using the art space. tcmupstate.org
Spartanburg Science Center
So much to learn and so many great activities for little fingers! There’s a Lego table and more. Also, your children can hold snakes, turtles and more all with help from the staff. spartanburgsciencecenter.org
This is a great time of the year to explore the trail! No worrying about bugs and snakes! Make a scavenger hunt list before by researching things you make see on the trail before you go (different shapes/colors of rocks, types of plants, etc). spartanburgconservation.org
Downtown Spartanburg play date
The Morgan Square area has so many fun statues and areas to play and see every day, but during Christmas there’s also the ice-skating rink. With lots of parking in the Magnolia Street garage, downtown play dates are ideal for families with strollers, too. Hub City Scoops also has non-dairy options for ice cream!
Looking to get some energy out, but not quite ready for the park? Hatcher Garden is a great, safe place to run and walk, and it’s so pretty and quiet this time of year. hatchergarden.org
Stay home, have fun!
We ordered indoor snowballs from Amazon. They are made of yarn and even “crunch” like real snowballs! You can put them in them in the freezer so they will be cold. An indoor snowball “fight” is great exercise for the whole family!
Publix sells already assembled gingerbread houses. They’re a fun activity for the whole family, and small enough that each family member could do their own. You can also substitute foods that your child can eat instead of the candy included.
Make your own snow
Did you know if you put ivory soap in the microwave for 60 seconds, it makes snow? As a bonus, it also makes your house smell amazing. There are plenty of ideas for Ivory soap snow on Pinterest. For extra fun, make “glowing clean mud” for an even better sensory experience.
A family tradition of ours is to go on a scavenger hunt on Christmas morning to find our presents. The clues help children learn inferencing skills, following directions and learning to work together for a common goal.
What are you going to do with all those Christmas cards? Use them after Christmas to update family photos. Purchase a small photo book from the dollar store and place Christmas cards of family and friends in the book. Don’t just stick it on a shelf, however … reference the book all year long to help your child build family vocabulary. You could also create a picture family tree using Christmas cards. This activity helps your child learn how to organize information in a systematic way.
Speech language pathologist Sarah Emory, MSP, CCC-SLP, is owner of McCulloh Therapeutic Solutions. The company offers complimentary screenings for children: www.mtskids.com.