Winter time is a magical season that can be explored and enjoyed in many different ways. For families with children on the autism spectrum or with other neurodivergent needs, finding winter activities to enjoy together may present unique challenges.
At Spectra Centers, we embrace these challenges and encourage families to find the joy in looking at the world through the eyes of their child. This can be a wonderful experience that brings the whole family closer together.
In this article, let’s explore some of the wonderful ways we can all enjoy these winter time activities in a way that is inclusive to ensure that everyone is able to join in the fun!
Winter Nature Walks
Getting outside for some fresh air is especially important during the winter months when daylight is limited and the weather can be less than ideal. The health benefits of spending time outdoors is incredible, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally as well. Encouraging well planned outside time can give everyone a much needed break from being cooped up inside, so be sure to make it part of your routine as often as possible. With the right preparation, bundling up and heading out for an adventure will soon become a highly anticipated part of your day. Here are some fun ideas to take with you the next time you head outside to enjoy a beautiful winter day!
Play a game of “I Spy” as you walk which encourages visual interaction and communication
Go on a scavenger hunt to look for unique or unusual objects as you walk
Take snack time outside with a fun winter picnic with cozy blankets, hot chocolate or apple cider, and some fun winter time snacks
Create a winter time nature collage with items collected along the way
Let your imagination run wild and embrace the beauty of winter by playing in the snow. No need to spend hours out in the snow, but let your kids lead and see what artistic inspiration they find. There is something very tactile and sensory about the snow, so let your kids explore it with all their senses. Be sure to bundle up and have warming up options ready to go. Here are some fun ideas to get the creativity started!
Build snowmen or ice fortresses
Use your body to create patterns or stomp out designs in the fresh snow
Add a few drops of food coloring to water in spray bottles and use the colored water to make snow paintings
Have fresh dry socks, mittens, and hats ready for quick changes and hand warmers available to keep little fingers and toes comfortable
Sometimes the weather outside is just too cold for safe playing. Finding wintery indoor activities can be just as exciting. There is something very cozy about curling up in a warm corner with a good book. This can be a great way to create a calm and quiet environment for anyone who easily feels overstimulated. Here are some great ideas for creating cozy reading times for the whole family.
Build a blanket fort or create quiet reading spaces
Pile up blankets and pillows and let the kids jump in
Make reading a story together more interactive by acting out different parts of the story
Read aloud for the whole family to enjoy
Indoor Sensory Play
There are lots of different ways to have sensory playtime inside. Bringing out a new activity can be a fresh change of pace when everyone is feeling stuck indoors. Let each activity have its own time for exploration and then wait awhile before introducing something new. Neurodivergent children may not know exactly how they are going to interact with an object right away, but with some time, they may surprise you in how they take to it. By bringing out only one or two items at a time will allow for exploration and not overwhelm. Here are some simple objects or activities to have on hand the next time you are looking for an idea for sensory play.
Tactile objects like fake snow, playdough, slime or oobleck
Mixing sensory items like slime with glitter or foam microbeads and sealing it in a plastic baggie can allow for hours of enjoyable squishing without the mess
incorporating baking activities such as mixing batter, rolling out cookie dough, building a gingerbread house with cookies or graham crackers, or decorating fun holiday desserts
Have an indoor snowball fight with soft plush “snowballs” or rolled up socks
Even if it is too cold to go outside, there are some fun ways to incorporate bird watching into your daily routine all winter long. When the weather allows, take your bird watching skills on the go and have fun seeing what birds you can find. Finding books online or from the library can help identify some of the birds you might see along the way. Here are some other ways to make bird watching an exciting indoor or outdoor activity.
Set up a bird feeder or make one to hang outside that allows for viewing from a comfortable window
Set up a special space for recording information about the birds that visit, drawing pictures of the birds, or just taking notes about what you observe
Let your little bird watcher help take pictures of any birds they see
Start a journal or create a board for taking notes or adding pictures
When you can go outside, be sure to bring a notebook or camera to record what you see along the way
Stargazing and Nighttime Walks
Winter is beautiful both day and night, so be sure to enjoy it with your family. When the weather is mild, add some layers and head outside for a brisk walk or maybe a short drive to get a new perspective. Getting everyone out of the house together can inspire some great conversations and amazing memories. Plus everything always feels more exciting at night. Here are some ideas for nighttime activities.
Take advantage of clear winter nights to go stargazing even if it’s from your own back deck
Use binoculars or telescopes to search for different lights in the sky
Take a night walk through your neighborhood
Start a journal or take pictures to record the phases of the moon
Winter is a wonderful time to spend together. Whether inside or outside, embracing inclusive activities can create memorable experiences for everyone.
There are countless ways to ensure family members on the autism spectrum or with neurodivergent needs can participate in the magic of the season.
By fostering inclusivity, families can create stronger bonds and celebrate diversity all winter long.