“Brrrr” is what we all think of when we think of the winter. Many of us love staying indoors perhaps near a warm fireplace cuddled under a blanket. But just step outside and the winter can be a sensory wonderland offering many opportunities for sensory motor integration. From wind, to a cold breeze to freezing rain and snow, the winter may not be as soothing, but there are sensory benefits to the colder weather. It can be alerting, invigorating, and a great opportunity to develop motor skills. So why not grab the opportunity and reap the benefits of the colder weather while you can. Whether you have a sensory avoider, sensory seeker or a child with a sensory motor-based challenge, the winter can offer a plethora of opportunity for outdoor activities.
Let’s Go Hike
The winter is a great time for a walk. Grab your hoodie or winter coat, mittens, hat and some good outdoor hiking boots or snow boots and hit the trails. A trail hike can do wonders for sensory seekers and under responsive individuals as the outdoor sensations wake up the nervous system. And for your motor challenged individuals it can offer obstacles, rocks and limbs to step on, climb over and jump from. Start with a gentle grade for your first timers, but before you know it, you might be hitting the Appalachian or the Pacific Crest Trail! Always carry a cell phone, water and snack and know where you’re hiking and your limitations.
Build a Snowman
If you live in a snowy area, you won’t have to go far. Just step outside. The heavy work involved in building a snowman is great for motor planning, creativity and just plain fun! It can also involve teamwork and family bonding as well. You can talk about facial features on your snowman and perhaps how he’s feeling that day: happy, sad, or does he have that calm sense of wonder? And when you’re all done, wet, cold and happy, be sure to get a photo to share, remember and use for future discussions and fond memories.
If you live where it’s not so snowy, the winter can be a great time to learn how to ride a bike and if you already know how, to get a good legwork out on a bike trail. Pedaling is a favorite activity among therapists as it works on balance reactions, directional skills, motor planning and strengthens muscles that help with walking. If your child is learning to ride, try a walking bike or a walking platform to start. These bikes are ideal for learning balance skills before integrating pedaling skills. Before you know it, you’ll all be signed up for the Tour De France.
Sledding, Skiing, Skating and Tubing
There are so many choices in the winter that it might be hard to choose. All these snow activities are great for boosting confidence. Even a reticent under responsive child can learn to snow ski or sled, for example building multiple neuron pathways that cannot be done indoors. Sledding, skiing and tubing activities can be terrific for the vestibular system as well and provide a sensory real thrill ride. If you have a sensory avoider, be sure to take it slow and easy, maybe giving them a tour down the hill before you send them off independently. Ski or skating lessons can be a great way to start. All these snow activities offer tactile, visual, auditory and kinesthetic sensory integration opportunities and skills that can carry over to other areas of development
For your indoor enthusiasts or when it’s just not possible to venture outside, you can take the opportunity to visit a sensory room, sit by a cozy warm fire with a weighted blanket or play an indoor family game. You can also create an obstacle course indoors or hang up and indoor swing. Here are some great tools for indoor sensory fun: Learn-to-Dress Dolls, Arctic Fidget Ball, Indoor Swing, Weighted Blanket, and Sensory Spaces.