As sad as it is to see the relaxing, beachy summer fade, there is a certain delight as the season changes to autumn. In fact, there are some who rejoice to feel the scorching heat give way to more temperate coolness, clearer skies, and changing colors. Parents often feel more balance, despite always dreaming of carefree summer days.
For many children with disabilities and special needs, autumn can offer a variety of unique opportunities to gorge on sensory input of all sorts. Sounds, sights, and smells occur during this seasonal change that can’t help but evoke cherished memories in our adult years. In our family, we paid careful attention to sensory issues because one of our children was challenged with Sensory Processing Disorder. Rather than feeling defeated by her super-sensitive hearing, need for movement, and ultra-keen smell, we embraced the gifts fall months brought to us.
Our family always made the most of autumn when the kids were younger. This assisted them with issues like proprioception and the need for tons of gross motor exertion; it built confidence, desensitized them to certain aversions, and offered good, clean family fun. We had a particular park we would visit each year, where we knew the leaves were plentiful and the space virtually all our own. The children each picked out their own pumpkin, placing it on the newspaper-covered kitchen table as we prepared for transformation. Appealing to their senses drew us all closer in truly special ways.
Here are some ways that you might do the same this fall:
- Take advantage of the need to move while the weather is still temperate. Before you find yourself with the cabin fever of winter, let your child enjoy the wide-open freedom of the outdoors. Teach the chore of raking leaves then have fun jumping in the piles. The sound is one-of-a-kind! Have them lift heavy items like hay bales and giant squash. This will help their concentration later, while adding to the joy in the season.
- Embrace the gross. There is nothing like scraping out pumpkin “guts” to expand a child’s sensory horizons. The first year you do it may have your child recoiling or gagging. Even so, that expands those sensory boundaries. Make an adventure out of it by collecting the seeds and baking them for a healthy snack. Other options might include the infamous “gack,” “flubber,” or “slime” made from simple household ingredients. This can bring hours of fun. If these are still all too slimy for your child, a homemade pumpkin pie scented play dough is a great alternative. The odor also appeals to the smells of the season.
- Apples aren’t just for the teacher. There are so many varieties of apples available this time of year, why not have a family taste-testing? Carefully examine the smell, texture, color, and taste of different types as you experiment. Create your own applesauce simply by peeling and cooking the apples down. Cut the apples in half and use them for stamp art. There are so many possibilities for family fun around this fall fruit!
- Observe nature’s changes. Some of our favorite discovery and sensory input has come in the way of sensory bins. It is delightful for young and old alike to dig in to this play. Fall offers the opportunity to fill a clear plastic shoebox with things like a bag or two of raw popcorn kernels. Numerous varieties and colors are cultivated these days, so have fun with what you pour in. Add to the popcorn kernels things like acorns, pinecones, and small gourd for some enchanting exploration. Create observation bottles Plastic containers) with similar items like leaves, pinecones, acorns, and fall flowers suspended in water or glycerin. This can also offer a mesmerizing treat for the senses.
While we can feel some of the back-to-school pressures this time of year, it is worthwhile to make time for enjoying these treasures that are only available in autumn. Whether your child is facing sensory challenges or not, you will find exploring the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of autumn worth your while too.
The land yields its harvest; God, our God, blesses us.
Psalm 67:6, NIV
What appeals most to your child’s senses in fall?
Creative Connections for Kids: Pumpkin Guts
Childhood Beckons – Adventures in Play and Parenting: Pumpkin Pie Play Dough
Learn – Play – Imagine: Apple Unit for Kindergarten
Our Best Bites – Kids in the Kitchen: Homemade Slime!
Stay at Home Educator: 20 AUTUMN SENSORY BINS
Little Bins For Little Hands: FALL SENSORY BOTTLES FOR EXPLORING NATURE
Nurture Store – Creative Kids Learning: 45+ fall sensory play activities