“Brrrr” is what we all think of when we think of winter. Many of us love staying indoors, perhaps near a warm fireplace cuddled under a blanket. But step outside, and winter can be a sensory wonderland offering many opportunities for sensory-motor integration. From wind to a cold breeze to freezing rain and snow, winter may not be soothing, but there are sensory benefits to the colder weather. It can be alerting, invigorating, and a great opportunity to develop motor skills. So 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 opportunities for winter outdoor activities.
Let’s Go Hiking
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 for some fun winter outdoor activities. 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 the facial features of your snowman and perhaps how it’s feeling that day. Is it happy or sad, or does it have that calm sense of wonder? And when you’re finished, be sure to get a photo to share and use for future discussions and fond memories.
If you live in a place with little or no snow, the winter can be a great time to learn how to ride a bike. If they already know how, get out on a bike trail. Pedaling is a favorite activity among therapists as it works on balance reactions, directional skills, and 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.
Winter 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 an under-responsive child can learn to snow ski or sled, 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 real sensory 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.
Winter Indoor Activities
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 indoor obstacle course or hang up an indoor swing. You’ll find all sorts of sensory tools and resources at School Specialty online!
Need more ideas to wile away the winter months? Check out the Schoolyard Winter tag page!