Try These Fun Ways to Keep Strengthening Essential Skills When School’s Out
Summer’s almost here… so students will soon be home complaining of boredom and looking for things to do.
Now’s the time to plan accordingly!
All children need to stay physically active in summertime. If they receive school-based occupational therapy (OT) during the academic year, summer activity becomes extra important. You don’t want the motor skills, sensory processing, and body awareness kids have worked so hard to sharpen from September through May growing dull during June, July, and August.
Some of these suggestions are tried and true classics. Others put new spins on familiar ways to spend summer’s long, sun-filled days. Some are “kids only,” while others are fun for grown-ups, too. But they can all reinforce the progress children made in occupational therapy this year, prep them for further growth next year—and create enjoyable memories to last a lifetime!
Productive Ways to Play in Water
When the temperature climbs, water play is a natural and fantastic way to build children’s fine motor skills and engage their senses.
It’s a favorite kind of OT activity in summer (or any time of the year, really) because you don’t need any special equipment. Just fill up your sink or bathtub—and, if you can go outside, large bowls, plastic bins, and wading pools—and set kids to splashing around with measuring cups, drinking cups, spoons, and toys like squeezable rubber ducks from the nearest dollar store.
If you do want to get a little fancy, here are three perfect options:
- Water-coloring tablets
Tablets like Crayola Color Bath Dropz® are super fun in the tub! Drop them in the bath water one by one, or see what happens when you add a few together to mix colors.
- Water beads
For hours of fun, add these smooth, squishy beads to water and watch them grow. You can play with them indoors, but they tend to get messy, so we suggest saving them for outside.
Whether stationary, rotating, or oscillating, sprinklers prove irresistible to most kids. Let them run through and around the spray (steering well clear of any moving parts) to cool off while stimulating the sensory system.
Keep Kids Swimming… and Hiking… and Biking… and More!
While kids do need some low-key time to unwind after a hectic school year, it’s critical their summer schedule includes ample chances to get and stay in motion!
The season naturally lends itself to all kinds of ready-made OT activities for kids:
- Take kids to a swimming pool for physically rewarding fun that stimulates and integrates all the senses, and encourages body awareness, bilateral coordination, motor planning, and more.
- Encourage bike riding and hiking as super summer activities that target balance, coordination, and both core and overall strength.
- Get children playing outdoor sports like baseball, softball, Frisbee, and soccer to give them practice with motor planning and body awareness.
- Go to a local playground for unstructured play time spent climbing, running, sliding, and swinging—all of it can help them process multiple sensory inputs while working on body awareness and motor control (not to mention socialization skills).
- Organize an outdoor scavenger hunt so kids have chances to give all these skills a workout: gross motor (moving through the designated search area), visual motor(spotting the required objects), and fine motor (picking the objects up).
- Set up an outdoor obstacle course and cheer children on as they crawl and roll under and over whatever’s blocking their way—traffic cones, sawhorses, patio furniture… use your imagination (just keep things safe!).
- Invite kids to jump on a trampoline and you may never be able to get them to stop! (Never leave children on a trampoline unsupervised, of course.)
Stay In Motion Even When Stuck Indoors
Even the sunniest summers are bound to include a few cloudy, rainy days.
But when you and kids are staying inside, you don’t have to stay still! Here are some wonderful ways to keep moving while you wait for the showers to stop:
Introduce kids to mindful motion in fun and age-appropriate ways, such as the imaginative, yoga-driven adventures around themes kids love (like Minecraft and Star Wars) from Cosmic Kids Yoga.
We’re not talking fine ballet or Arthur Murray ballroom technique. Just get kids off the sofa and moving around to their favorite music! The fast-paced, colorful dance-along videos from GoNoodle are one resource you can use.
- Relay Races
Challenge kids to move across a large indoor space or even down a hallway crawling and jumping like different kinds of animals. The crab crawl, the frog jump, the snake slither—be sure to ask children for their suggestions, too!
Cleaning House Can Be Occupational Therapy for Children, Too
OK, keeping the house clean might not be as much fun as leaping around the living room. But if you’re looking for more ways to keep kids occupied, don’t overlook how you can involve them in the household’s day-to-day activities:
- Can they help you cook?
- Can they water the plants?
- Can they earn some allowance by cleaning particular rooms (especially their own)?
- Can they sort the laundry?
Here are some activities that promote fine motor skills, increase strength, and provide needed sensory input, all while helping you keep up with daily tasks:
- Pulling the trigger of a spray bottle to water plants strengthens finger and hand muscles.
- Squeezing out a sponge after scrubbing dirty surfaces works the fingers and hand well, too.
- Stirring batter, kneading dough, and scooping ingredients all help strengthen fingers, and cooking and baking promote motor planning and completing multi-step tasks.
If kids need deep pressure or calming sensory input, consider some heavier work such as:
- Mopping the floor, or carrying the bucket full of water to be used in mopping.
- Vacuuming the carpets.
- Carrying loaded laundry baskets up or down the stairs, or pushing them from one room to the next.
- Loading the dishwasher.
- Washing and/or drying dishes by hand.
Fine-Tuning Fine Motor Skills in Fun Ways
You can find so many fun ways to help kids build their fine motor and visual motor skills over the summer, they won’t know they’re “working!”
Here are some ideas for continuing to build fine motor and visual motor strength over the summer months:
- Build structures with building toys like LEGO® bricks, Squigz® suction cup toys, and K’NEX® construction sets.
- Hide small objects in playdough (for younger kids) or therapy putty (for older ones), challenging children to find them, pull them out, and then hide them for you!
- Thread plastic beads or dry pasta on string, yarn, or plastic cord to make necklaces, wristlets, and anklets.
- Trace pictures, shapes, letters, and numbers on store-bought lacing cards, or make your own.
- Pick up small, fuzzy pom-poms or beads with tweezers or clothespins, and drop them in a cup, bin, or empty egg carton.
And don’t ever underestimate kids’ creative ability when turned loose with just the basics: crayons, markers, construction paper, scissors, tape, glue—and their imaginations!
Making Slime in the Good Ol’ Summertime
We’ve saved one of our favorite D.I.Y. occupational therapy activities for last. You can make slime any time, but summer vacation seems extra ideal for this great, gooey creation! Making slime engages the sensory system, builds fine motor strength, and promotes participation and completion of multi-step activities.
You’ll find plenty of websites with recipes and instructions. That’s because slime is one of if not the most requested OT activities among kids of all ages, from elementary to high school. Don’t you dare have a slime-free summer—the children may never forgive you!
Kids Don’t Need to Take a Break from Skill and Strength Growth!
As you can see, there’s no reason taking a summer vacation from school-based occupational therapy activities must mean taking a vacation from making progress on the skills OT targets.
Not only do kids not have to lose ground—they can break new ground in motor skills, coordination, body awareness, sensory processing, and more when you help them take advantage of the growth opportunities summer naturally provides.
Suggesting summertime OT activities for kids is only one way we at PTS do more good for students with disabilities and disorders. To discover more about us and how we’re transforming special education and related services in school districts across the greater Philadelphia region, give us a call at 610-941-7020 or explore our website.