Special Needs Kids Summer Fun Activity Tips for Parents

Whether a yard, beach, park, mall or tent of blankets, find 10 ways to create memories and meaning for kids with special needs.

Filling vacation with meaningful activities to keep the kids busy is a challenge for any parent. But it can be particularly difficult for southeast Michigan moms and dads of children with special needs who, during the school year, may benefit from therapeutic programs offered through their local district.

Fortunately, it’s possible to find safe, adaptive adventures that are affordable, close to home and don’t require weeks of planning, says the Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority. This public system oversees services and supports to about 22,000 county residents, including adults and kids with developmental disabilities.

To help make summer a memorable, fun experience for your special needs child – and the entire family – check out OCCMHA’s list of 10 activities that provide fun for all kids.

Backyard water park

Make your own water park in the yard one afternoon. Use a hose and your fingers to create a variety of sprays for your child to experience. For more active kids, try a variety of “water rides,” like a small splash pool or a garden sprinkler, to run through.

Messy sensory

Enjoy some sloppy outdoor activities that help your child to explore and integrate his or her senses. For example, cover an outdoor table with shaving cream and let your child smear it around.

Indoor play zones

Visit local indoor play center facilities. These fun spots are often filled with inflatable slides, bounce houses, games and more. Moreover, many offer special times for kids with special needs, too, to work on their social skills and/or sensory development.

Tent building

Pull out all the blankets and chairs and build a tent in your living room or backyard. Tent play is a great way to soothe a child, providing a hideout or quiet place.

Fossil find

Take a trip to a sandy beach – or visit your backyard sandbox (bury some “fossils,” such as painted rocks or shells, in advance). Give your child a small shovel and bucket to dig up and stash their treasures.

Mall meandering

On hot days, it is refreshing to walk around a shopping center and keep your child moving and active in a controlled environment. Stores like Brookstone and Apple have interactive displays to keep your child interested. (Many malls have play areas, too, that might be an option.)

Movie madness

Turn TV time at home into a movie theater experience. Make homemade movie tickets, dim the lights and serve fresh popcorn before sitting down with your child to watch his or her favorite show.

Firehouse visit

Call your local fire department and ask if you can stop by with your kids for a quick visit to see the fire trucks and meet the firefighters.

Soothing swing

If you don’t have a swing set your backyard, plan a trip to your local park. Swings are beneficial for physical, social and cognitive development. They also promote movement and perceptual skills, spatial awareness, general fitness, social interaction, mental representation and sensory integration.

Help your child reach his or her full developmental potential by providing fun and interactive activities all summer long.

This post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated for 2016.


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