Christmas can be an exciting time for any child. The thrill of writing that all-important letter to Santa, the visits to Santa’s Grotto and the local Christmas Panto are some of the highlights that children can’t wait to experience year after year. However, if you have a child with an ASD or sensory processing disorder, or they find the whole experience overwhelming, it can make Christmas more stressful. That doesn’t mean you can’t find sensory-friendly activities for all the family this Christmas. In this post, we hope to offer you some accessible and available activities for this festive season.
Firstly, no one knows your child as you do. Make a list of everything that makes your child happy during Christmas: toys, games, books, music, food, and other items. Then consider what they can’t tolerate, what they find overwhelming or struggle with. Alana had a great deal of anxiety around meeting Santa, was never a huge fan and only managed it when a little older; now she’s too old (of course), but Thomas doesn’t understand Santa. He was excited when someone handed him a present when he was younger, but most of Christmas is too much for him now. So we understand more than most that traditional family events or activities are often bypassed but let’s get on with sharing our tips for sensory-friendly activities.
Create a Snowman.
A snowman is one of the easiest crafts to do with kids. You can use any material to build the snowman’s body, and in the UK, which barely has any snow until February (that’s not always a given), so going outside and creating a snowman isn’t something you can plan for. You can mould it into different shapes using clay, playdoh or plasticine. Once you have made the shape, add eyes, nose, mouth, arms, legs, and a hat from various items around your home. The best thing about making a snowman is that there are endless possibilities, and if you have snow, what a bonus!
Make Gingerbread Houses.
Gingerbread houses are a classic Christmas craft. They are easy to make and can be decorated in various ways. To make a gingerbread house, make a base out of gingerbread dough. Then cut out windows, doors, and other features. Decorate the house with icing and sweets. If like me, you aren’t the crafty Mum, they sell gingerbread house kits in many shops and supermarkets.
Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to try to find activities that are accessible and sensory-friendly for children who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or those with learning difficulties. Gingerbread houses are a fun activity that can help families create Christmas memories.
Why not make some delicious Christmas cookies to decorate if you enjoy baking! Once cooled, use food colouring, sprinkles, sweets, and frosting. If you use food colouring, you must let the cookie sit overnight before eating, allowing the colour to set correctly.
The best thing about baking cookies is eating them immediately after they come out of the oven. However, try decorating cookies to add extra fun to your Christmas baking. For example, you could use food colouring to create festive designs. Or, you could sprinkle some sprinkles on top of the cookies.
Play Christmas Music
Who doesn’t love an epic Christmas playlist? It’s easy to find Christmas music online using apps like Spotify, Amazon Music, Youtube Music, Apple (iTunes) or even radio stations that now have digital music channels that play Christmas music 24/7.
If your child loves listening to music, perhaps you could have a mini Christmas party at home or take a trip in the car with some excellent Christmas tunes or if your child prefers the comfort of headphones, perhaps connect it to an iPad or mp3 player, and they can have some time to chill out.
Christmas Light Walks
Christmas light walks, or Christmas light trails as they are also known, have been springing up everywhere since 2020 when lockdowns and restrictions meant we could only do outdoor activities. It’s one of the best sensory-friendly activities you can do as a family.
We live in Hampshire, UK, and there are a few light walks, including Christmas at Cowdray, and Enlightened Winter Light Trail at Staunton Farm; while not exactly a light trail Queen Elizabeth Country Park is hosting A Winter Wander with The Snowman™ and The Snowdog. So there are many options available if you want a more sensory-friendly Christmas.
We hope this has given you some ideas for some sensory-friendly activities you can do with the whole family. There are also winter woodland trails, ice skating, Christmas markets and smaller school Christmas fairs to enjoy this year.
Let me know in the comments what some of your favourite Christmas activities are with your family. Sensory-friendly or otherwise?