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12 Days of Christmas Therapeutic Activities




The holidays are full of fun traditions for families and kiddos. Here are some suggestions from Speech-Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, and Physical Therapists for using these traditional holiday activities and crafts to encourage new developmental skills.



ADVENT CALENDARS

Incorporating an advent calendar into your child's routine this holiday season can be super easy! Each day your child will locate and open the corresponding date on your calendar to reveal a present, goodie or craft inside! Advent calendars can be purchased at most stores or you can get crafty and make your own!


Benefits

  • Routine: Implementing a routine, like opening the advent calendar every day, can help your child build structure during the holidays! Opening the calendar at the same time every day will help your child know what to expect and look forward to that time of day!

  • Time Concepts: Advent Calendars can also help your child learn and understand time concepts such as "today," "tomorrow," "later," etc.

  • Counting: Counting skills can also be applied! Your calendar will most likely have the days leading up to Christmas numbered and clearly marked. Encourage your child to locate each number, to count up from 1 to the current date, and even to count how many days until the big day!


Try This

A great way to ensure your advent has purpose is to use it as an incentive for completing educational or beneficial activities! For example, if your child struggles with vocabulary, have them learn one new word before they open their goodie for the day. Another great way to "earn" their advent calendar for the day is to have them complete 30 minutes of any kind of physical activity! Getting up and moving is easy and great for your kid! If you are unsure of what kind of communication or activity is age-appropriate, check out our milestone booklet for a great reference!


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PAPER SNOWFLAKES


Benefits

Cutting paper snowflakes is a great activity for your child to learn shapes, address sequencing skills and practice fine motor coordination. For example, cutting snowflakes can involve dual tasking (performing two tasks simultaneously) with the combination of a motor task and a cognitive task. The motor task (cutting the paper snowflakes) and the cognitive task (recalling and naming specific items (holiday foods, snow activities, colors, shapes, etc). Dual tasking encourages brain development and processing by practicing split attention and activating procedural memory centers in the brain.


Templates




SNOW ACTIVITIES

As a kid it's always exciting to wake up to a few inches of fresh snow on the ground. Even if you have to travel to get your snow fix, get ready to bundle up and take advantage of the beautiful winter weather by trying some classic snow activities. Here are just a few great ways to get moving and stay active in snowy weather:

  • Hill Sledding

  • Building a Snow Person

  • Building an Igloo

  • Making Snow Angels

  • Making a Snow Castle

  • Drawing in the snow

  • Have a snowball fight

  • Blow frozen bubbles

  • Snow painting or snow art

  • Snowshoeing


Benefits

A huge benefit to outdoor snow activities is simply movement. Movement is so good for our bodies and it can be so easy in the winter to get stuck inside. Physical activity and movement can help improve the fitness of our heart and lungs, strengthen bones and muscles, reduce the risk of developing health conditions, and so much more!


Try This With Your Snowman

  • Identify and label clothing items & body parts while building a snow person to increase vocabulary. Lay out all the pieces and tell your child which piece to hand you. This encourages their receptive identification of the body parts and clothing items.

  • Describe where parts go by using prepositional phrases (i.e. “the mouth goes UNDER the nose,” or “the hat goes ON TOP of the head”) to practice this spatial concept.

  • Pretend like you don't know where to put the items and have your child tell you. If they need help, give them choices and demonstrate the placement of the two choices. For example hold the nose on the side of the head and ask “does it go on the side…” then move it to the front “…or on the front?”



DECORATING


Not only can decorating boost mood and create a pleasing atmosphere, but it’s also a great way to increase physical activity. While this won’t replace exercise, it is a great way to get moving inside. Exercise and physical activity are one of the most important elements of our health, especially in young children. With regular activity, you can improve brain health, heart and lung health, manage weight, strengthen bones and muscles, and even improve academic performance through memory and attention.


Try This

While decorating with your child, work on using different parts of speech. For example:

  • -ing verbs. Say, “We are decorating the house,”or point to Rudolph in flight and say “He is flying through the air!”

  • prepositions. Try statements like, “the ornament goes ON the tree,” “put the branch THROUGH the string,” and “presents go UNDER the tree.”


Use the beautiful, attention-getting decorations to encourage joint attention by holding them right next to your face. Hold a piece of decoration right by your face, wait for your child to look in its direction, then give them the object to put wherever they like. Repeat!


Bilateral integration or coordinating both sides of the body in an efficient manner is a skill that is necessary for almost everything we do. Work on bilateral integration by having your child cut with one hand and hold the thread with other or reach with both hands to decorate.




GINGERBREAD PEOPLE


Gingerbread People is a fun & easy baking activity to make with kids.


Consider splitting the dough making, cookie cutting, and decorating into 3 different activities to reduce stress, reduce time constraints, and improve engagement from child helpers. Try the recipe on the following page or use one you love.


For those with limited time or baking skill, Gingerbread people cookies & cookie kits can be bought in almost every grocery or home goods store (think Von's, Ralph's, Sprouts, Food 4 Less, Whole Foods, Walmart, Target, CVS, etc.)


Gather fun candy & other food items to decorate the people. Although the options are endless, consider using: royal icing, sprinkles, licorice, gumdrops, marshmallows, nerds, chocolate chips, M&Ms


Benefits


Describing: Hands on activities are a great opportunity to use as many descriptors as you can think of. Describe your gingerbread people by size, color, shape, texture, smell, and taste. Describe your child's decorations and then ask for their input on how to decorate yours. For example, "Should I give her a red hat or a green hat?"


Imaginative Play: After the gingerbread people are made, its a great time to play! Imaginative play allows children to practice conversation skills, problem solving skills, and being creative. Give your gingerbread person a silly voice and have them walk through the kitchen and see where your child takes you.





ELF ON THE SHELF


Elf on the Shelf and the Jewish counterpart, Mensch on a Bench, have become yearly traditions in most homes with children. All throughout December kids love waking up to find them and see what mischief they have gotten into doing during the night.


Visit https://elfontheshelf.com/ideas-scout-elves/ for ideas for your elf.


Benefits

  • Attention: Activities that are anticipated and exciting are more memorable for kids. All of their attention will be on finding the elf.

  • Language Practice: Adding an activity to your routine allows for many opportunities for: Practicing the same phrases ("I see the elf!", "I found her!", etc.) Describing what the elf is doing is an opportunity to model complete sentences or prompt your child to use complete sentences, including subject, verb, and object ("The elf is making hot cocoa!")

  • Questions: Answering the same questions ("WHERE is he?", "WHAT is she doing?", "WHY is he up there?")


Try This

Practice fine and gross motor skills by talking about what the elf is doing (walking, running, skipping, crawling, going up/down stairs, hopping, etc) and then acting it out with your child.


Help your child write notes to the elf or have them tell you what to write. Have them explain what they did for the day using complete sentences and a correct sequence. Read notes from the elf with your child. Use this opportunity to have them retell the story, answer comprehension and who, what, when, where, why questions, and practice story sequencing.



DIY POTPOURRI

Potpourri is a mixture of ingredients like spices and flowers held in a bowl or container that acts as an air freshener for your living room, bathroom, etc. It can be simmered in a pot or slowcoooker or kept as a dry mix. Either way, it smells delicious!


Making stovetop holiday potpourri is an easy activity for you and your child! All you need to do is add Christmas items that smell delicious into a pot of water to simmer.


Some common potpourri ingredients for the holidays are:

  • cinnamon sticks

  • fresh cranberries

  • cloves

  • orange slices (can be dried or fresh)

  • allspice

  • star anise

Many of these ingredients can be found in your own pantry or your local store. However, you can add any spice, berry, or fruit you want! The possibilities are endless!


Benefits

Although this activity only consists of throwing ingredients into a pot, this can be very interactive for your child! With all of the smells, colors, and textures, this can be a wonderful sensory experience! Allow your child to explore, feel, smell, and taste safe ingredients.


Help your child describe each ingredient and then compare and contrast different ingredients.


Following a recipe as simple as this one can also help a younger child observe and experience sequencing.


As you progress through the recipe, try to point out how one step can't be done without the step before it. For example, you can't put the ingredients in without grabbing a pot first!


Try This

  • Turn Taking: As you take turns placing ingredients in your pot, highlight when it is your turn and when it is your child's turn. This small act will transfer to taking turns within conversation/communication later on!

  • Counting: It's always great to practice numbers! As you put in your ingredients, count them. You can even start to count and trail off so that your child can complete the number sequence on their own!

  • Associations: This can be a fun brain teaser activity if your child is older! Grab some of your ingredients and ask your child to figure out where else it can be used. For example, let them smell the cinnamon and have them try to connect a place or event (or sweet treat) where they have smelled it before! This is a great exercise for problem solving, memory recall, critical thinking, and many other complex cognitive processes.



COOKING AND BAKING

Baking and cooking with your child helps develop important life skills, such as following instructions, using kitchen tools safely, and working as a team. It is a great way for children to explore their creativity by combining different ingredients and flavors. Baking and cooking are fun and enjoyable activities for kids to do with friends and family members, which promotes stronger social skills and language skills. The social aspect of baking and cooking, such as turn-taking and talking with others, allows children to practice valuable communication skills.


Try This

  • Motor Skills and Coordination: Allow your child to engage in stirring, rolling, kneading, squeezing, scooping, manipulating utensils, and measuring. This can help promote motor skills along with hand-eye coordination.

  • Empowerment: Put your child in charge of gathering all the ingredients or remembering an important step! This allows them to feel a sense of responsibility and independence.

  • Following directions, sequencing of events, and cause and effect - baking can be like reading a story! As you read your directions, allow your child to help pour, stir, measure (according to their abilities). Clearly identify the order of events and transitions by using the words “now,” “next,” “after,” “then,” etc. Once you are finished, point out how the ingredients mixed together turned into a delicious dish! This contributes to storytelling skills (by using transition words) and knowledge of cause and effect.



DOUGH ORNAMENTS


Homemade salt dough ornaments are a great way to add a special touch to your holiday home decor. Making these with your child is a great way explore their creative minds and create a fun bonding experience. Follow the steps on the next page to get started!


How To

Supplies Needed

  • 2 cups Flour

  • 1 cup Salt

  • 1 cup Warm Water

  • Rolling pin

  • Cookie cutters

  • Skewer or straw

  • Cookie sheet

  • Acrylic paint

  • String or ribbon


Step 1: Mix Dough

Combine flour, salt, water. Stir or knead the dough until it's smooth and not sticky; adding pinches of flour to get it to the right consistency. Let the dough sit for 20 minutes, then turn the dough out onto a floured surface and use a rolling pin to roll the dough out to about ¼-inch thickness.


Step 2: Cut Shapes

Dip a cookie cutter in flour and then cut out the dough. To turn each shape into an ornament, use a bamboo skewer or straw to poke a hole at the top of each cutout.


Step 3: Bake the Ornaments

Place the cut shapes about ½-inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. For ¼-inch cutouts plan to bake the ornaments at 250°F for 90 minutes. Flip them and then bake them for another 90 minutes. You want the finished shapes to be firm and dry.


Step 4: Decorate Ornaments

Once the shapes have completely cooled, decorate the salt dough ornaments with acrylic paint. You can also glue on other embellishments like sequins or glitter, if desired. Let your designs dry completely. If you added the hole to turn the shapes into ornaments, string a thin ribbon through the hole to create a hanging loop. Or, use one long strand of twine or ribbon to string the ornaments into a festive garland.


Try This

  • While rolling/cutting out, comment on the different shapes!

  • Utilize parallel talk (narrating what your child is doing) and identify your different shapes together.

  • If your child is a little older, encourage them to combine different shapes to make new objects!

  • We place an importance on recognizing shapes because this skill is used when a child begins to recognize and differentiate different letters and numbers later on in their development.

  • Try encouraging your child to lace or thread the ornaments to hang them and work fine motor skills and motor processing.

  • Finally, have your child work on hanging their ornaments and encourage them to reach overhead and maybe even getting up on their toes for an added balance challenge.



SCAVENGER HUNT


Creating an indoor scavenger hunt is an easy way to encourage your kids to get some physical activity and practice their problem solving skills.


Scavenger hunts are a great way for kids to practice problem-solving in a tangible and physical way. These are great because they take little prep, can be completed indoors, outdoors, or a combination of both, they are easy to customize, and most importantly scavenger hunts exercise the brain and body!


How To

Follow these few simple steps to keep your kids engaged and thinking this winter: Make a checklist of items for your kids to look for. See the next page for ideas! Create clues for items around your home to get a little extra mind exercise for your kids. Also, consider creating an incentive or benefit to completing the scavenger hunt to keep kids engaged in the activity!


Try This

Get your scavenger hunt list started by including some of these ideas:

  • Christmas lights

  • Candy cane

  • Elves

  • Fake or real snow

  • A specific ornament

  • Something red

  • Stuffed animal

  • Paper clip


Prepositions: If your kids need a hint, try incorporating the use of prepositions to guide them where to go. For example, using words like under, over, through, in, and on top.


Motor Skills: For a little extra physical challenge, try incorporating activities until certain items on the list are found. For example, "hop on one leg until you find a green pencil," or "walk like a robot until you find 3 items."


Language: Encourage the practice of the use of "I found..." phrases when your child finds an item. This can also help them practice identifying & naming objects.



CRAFTING


Benefits


Visual Perception :

Visual perception activities promote integration of the brain interpreting what the eyes see. These tasks also support kids' daily activities such as dressing, eating, writing, and playing. Form constancy is the ability to recognize and label objects even when they are viewed from a different angle or in a different environment. This skill helps children recognize an object in different contexts regardless of changes in size, shape, and orientation.


Cut out any shape from a sheet of paper to use as your template. Using another sheet of paper with the same color, cut out a few more shapes. Have your child identify which shape was cut from the template as you lay out all the shapes together.



Joint Attention:

Joint attention occurs when you and your child are sharing focus on the same object or action. This can take form in many ways. For example, as your child is coloring, they might look at you and then their coloring sheet to bring your attention to what they have created! Other forms include pointing/gesturing, laughing together over a funny joke or sharing an emotional state, or verbally calling attention to something. Joint attention should be initiated by both the child and the adult!


Craft Ideas


Homemade Christmas Card

This sweet craft is all about fine motor skills! Allow your child to use their imagination and create refrigerator art or a card to send to a loved one. Let them color, draw, cut, and glue according to their abilities, and focus on their grasp and control of whatever is in their hand to strengthen those motor skills.


Coloring Sheets Along with fine motor skills, coloring sheets are a great way to practice identifying and labeling different colors and shapes! Be sure to bring attention to these details as your child is coloring. Visual perception is another important aspect of coloring sheets.


Some resources for free Christmas coloring sheets:


Handprint Crafts!

A Little Pinch of Perfect has a wonderful article full of ideas for handprint crafts for your child! Be sure to check out 20 Of The Cutest Christmas Handprint Crafts For Kids on a littlepinchofperfect.com for some seasonal craft ideas! We especially love this santa handprint craft!


Popsicle Sleigh Ornament Craft

This craft from GluedToMyCraftsBlog.com only requires popsicle sticks, a 4x6 printed picture, and some string! Paint or decorate your popsicle sticks, glue them together, glue your picture after drying, and hang it on your tree! Head over to their blog for more detailed instructions!


Name Snowmen!

Grab some white construction paper, cut into circles, and have your child fill in the circles with letters in their name! This craft is super flexible as you can decorate your snowman with whatever craft supplies you desire! Give your snowman a hat, some eyes, a scarf, and so much more! This craft is great to help your child to learn how to spell their name!


Shoe Tying Egg Carton

Use an empty cardboard egg carton. Make the holes for the laces. Use two different color laces and tie the laces together at one end and thread them through the holes of the egg carton. Lace the holes the whole way up the egg carton. This craft is great for fine motor skills and bilateral hand coordination



SENSORY BINS


A sensory bin is a hands-on tactile experience for kids, in a contained area such as a storage container that is large enough to let your child explore without spilling the filler out of the container. A sensory bin can be easily switched for a unique experience every time. Sensory bins are a great hands-on tools for children to learn about their world and their senses! Sensory play may calm a child, focus a child, and engage a child which is great for independent or social play.


Fake Snow Recipes

  1. Baking soda & shaving cream snow You will need 4 pounds of baking soda with a half can of shaving cream. Freeze the baking soda for a few hours beforehand or overnight to make the fake snow that’s ice-cold which will add to the experience of this fake snow sensory bin.

  2. Conditioner & baking soda snow You will need 3 cups of baking soda and 0.5 cups of white conditioner to create a silky-soft snow that’ll smell good. Mixing the baking soda and conditioner starts an endothermic reaction, cooling it down. The texture has a similar sponginess to real snow


How To

Use a clear storage container or a tin tray as your bin Put in the snow Add tools (small shovel, spoon, tongs, measuring cups, cookie cutters, small rake, funnels, etc.) Add objects. Create a holiday theme with Christmas decorations and characters, magnetic alphabet letters, magnet numbers, colorful buttons, and toy cars. Look around the house for small objects to encourage naming and exploration of household items such as rubber bands, buttons, coins, etc.


Benefits

  • Tactile Stimulation: Sensory bins are a great activity for kids because they are able to receive tactile stimulation and it encourages imaginative play. They are also helpful for children that are tactile defensive.

  • Sensory Exploration: Sensory bins incorporate a variety of senses for sensory exploration: touch, sight, sounds, taste, and smell.

  • Play Skills: Sensory bins are a great opportunity for children to learn cooperative play skills.

  • Language Development: Sensory bins may be filled with a different items to increase language development. The bins can provide opportunities to discuss hidden objects.

  • Motor Skills: Children can improve fine motor skills through scooping, grasping, stirring, and pouring with tools such as shovels, spoons, tongs, measuring cups, etc.


Try This

  1. Having your child close their eyes and guess objects by feel could be a fun and enriching activity to incorporate into making sensory bins. Identifying objects this way removes the visual inputs and coerces your child to rely on their senses like touch and feel which can be beneficial in the development of processing centers in the brain.

  2. Touch the snow against the skin, identify different colored objects, hear the sound of an object pressed on the snow! What does it smell like?

  3. Practice phrases (“I found…”, “I see…”) and give directions to teach concepts such as left/right, top/bottom, and shallow/deep. (“Find the snowman that is hiding in the left side.”)

  4. Put in magnetic letters into the bin and have your kid hunt for them to spell their name or to spell different words. Help them sound out the letters.


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