Summer is almost here, which means great opportunities for family fun! But did you know that many (if not most) of our favorite (and some less-than-favorite) summer activities can also help your child to develop in a healthy, age-appropriate fashion?
Here is a list of activities that will help make this summer a winner – both in terms of great memories and child development.
We all know taking a family hike is great for the body and mind. But, developing your visual system? Game changer! In this day and age of 2-dimensional screens, going out in nature offers amazing benefits to one’s visual system, especially for babies and young children with developing nervous systems. Being in the woods supports your eyes being able to focus between distances (accommodation), seeing in 3-D (depth perception), following a moving target (tracking – hi birdie!) and allowing both eyes to focus together on an object at the same time (convergence).
If your tot is still working on potty training, summer is the perfect time to increase his / her awareness. Simply playing outside “in the buff” will allow your toddler to, let’s face it, pee in the yard and visually see how things work. By eliminating the mystery, they will feel empowered to be free with the pee! Then, give them a target (a frisbee?) and eventually put the potty chair out there!
Want the simplest, cheapest activity that will actually help develop your kids’ mouth muscles and calm their nervous systems? For the older ones, give them some gum and have a bubble blowing contest! For the little ones, use regular bubbles for the contest (they can still chew the gum!). Improving oral-motor coordination can positively impact speech development.
Swimming is your “one stop shop” for building up your kiddo. First, being in the water provides body pressure (proprioception), which calms the body and brain. Swimming also promotes body awareness and motor planning, which are needed to function in PE class as well as in the grocery store! Besides improving strength and coordination of the big muscles in the body, swimming also improves oral motor strength and coordination!
If you have a very sensitive tween or teen, attending a county fair, Fourth of July festival or even going bowling can be overstimulating. Lots of teens wear ear buds, hats, hoodies or sunglasses for a reason. They are trying to reduce visual and auditory stimuli that might stress them out. Choose your battles. Does it really matter if your teen is wearing ear buds in a crowd or if your 12-year-old wears her hoodie like a permanent extension of her body?
Need a summer craft project? Collect rocks and paint them. You can decorate your garden, give them to friends and neighbors or even take a walk in the woods and leave one to surprise a fellow hiker. While you’re there, have your kid build a fairy house using rocks, sticks, moss, leaves, pinecones, etc. It’s a “thing” these days. Really! Check it out online.
When was the last time you really stopped and looked up at the clouds? Well, this summer make it a whole event for your kids! Pack a picnic, bring a huge sheet or blanket and make the announcement that you are taking a trip (to the backyard! to the park! to the roof!) to search for pictures in the sky. What shapes do you see? Does anyone see an animal? I see an ice cream cone!
Stay hydrated! It’s tough to get kids to drink enough. Did you know fresh fruit is a natural way to hydrate the body? Especially watermelon, which is 92% water – wow! Other high hydration options are strawberries, peaches, cantaloupes and oranges. Sports bottles and crazy straws can also motivate kids to drink water.
We all seem to have an extreme reaction to fireworks. Most of us are thrilled by them, but a select few who have sensory defensiveness can become really distressed. Think “Fight or Flight” response. If your kiddo is in the this category, here are some things to help him cope. Create a “social story” with the goal of preparing your youngster for what she is about to experience. Maybe look at fireworks videos online and talk about them beforehand. Emphasize that they will start and then they will end. While you’re watching the actual fireworks, help your child focus on something other than the noise. Example: do you think the next one will be white or red? How many swirly ones can you count? Chewing gum or eating a chewy snack can muffle the sound, as can noise cancelling headphones or ear buds with music. Simply snuggling your child and holding him in a deep bear hug can help him feel calmer. Or, give him something heavy to hold, like a heavy backpack or a younger sibling!
Go to the playground! (Thank you, captain obvious!). But, seriously, it’s the best thing you can do on a consistent basis to support your child’s motor development, social skills, problem solving and the list goes on! Monkey bars strengthen the shoulder girdle and postural muscles as well as develop the arches in the hands for fine motor work. Swinging and sliding stimulate the vestibular system which is connected to speech development and organized motor movements. Digging in the sandbox stimulates the tactile system and promotes creative thinking. Playground yay!!!
Author’s profile: Lisa is a practicing occupational therapist with 25 years of pediatric experience. She currently is a partner at Growing Up Therapy. See https://growinguptherapy.com for more information.