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Summer as a child should be a time of fun and freedom. But for those who experience sensory processing issues, the increased social activities and outdoor time can be challenging. That’s because certain environmental factors can be uncomfortable, irritating or confusing. These include loud sounds, social situations, and strong scents.

If your child deals with these sensory processing challenges, you may want to seek out sensory-friendly activities that are just as fun, but in an environment that is typically more appealing in terms of sight, smell and sound. Here are some summer activities you can do that can be sensory-friendly—and will still be super fun!

It’s important to note these are sensory-friendly suggestions; depending on a child’s comfort in their environment, further considerations may need to be made.

Play in a sandbox

Bring the beach to your backyard! With some sand and a kiddie pool, you can create your own sandbox. Read more about sand play.

Sensory-friendly suggestions:

  • Sound: Best to do this in a quiet spot in your backyard. Some children may need noise-canceling headphones, or to listen to preferred music. If possible, it’s best to choose an outdoor area that is away from train tracks, airports, highways, hospitals, and fire and police stations.
  • Sight: If possible, do this under the shade of a tree to avoid harsh sunlight.
  • Touch: Choose a soft sand so your child can enjoy the texture.

Go swimming

Water movement can be a great way to cool off and burn off energy. Make sure to accompany your child in the pool. Read more about the benefits of water play.

Sensory-friendly suggestions:

  • Sound: If you’re using a shared pool, be aware of the busy times and take extra precautions if there are other children around. You can try going during off-hours, like the morning, or calling your pool to see if they have sensory-friendly hours.
  • Sight: Be sure to bring shades and/or a large hat to avoid harsh sun. When outside the pool, find a spot under an umbrella.
  • Scent: Use scentless sunscreen.
  • Touch: Choose a swimsuit that has soft fabrics and your child feels comfortable moving in. Some children may be sensitive to the feeling of traditional sunscreen; experiment with sprays, lotions and sticks before your trip to the pool to see which type works best.
  • Sense of Balance (Vestibular): Allow your child to move as they’d like, with less focus on correct swimming strokes.

Have a picnic

mom_and_son_on_grass_playing_with_hatPicnics can be anywhere—the local park, your backyard, even your living room!

Sensory-friendly suggestions:

  • Sound: Best to do this in a quiet spot in your backyard or a park. Some children may benefit from the use of noise-canceling headphones, or headphones to listen to preferred music. If possible, it’s best to choose an outdoor area that is away from train tracks, airports, highways, hospitals, and fire and police stations.
  • Sight: If possible, do this under the shade of a tree to avoid harsh sunlight.
  • Scent and taste: Pack their favorite foods, or something they have tasted before and responded well.
  • Touch: Be sure to pack a comfortable blanket to sit on, as the grass can be irritating.

Have a sensory-friendly movie night

Many streaming films for kids premiere in the summer, so make it a movie night (or day)!

Sensory-friendly suggestions:

  • Sound: You may need to use low sound for your child.
  • Sight: Instead of turning all the lights off, leave lights on or watch during the day.
  • Scent: What’s a movie without snacks?! Have something with mild flavors and scents.
  • Touch: Use blankets to make your viewing space as comfortable as possible.
  • Sense of Balance (Vestibular): Allow your child to get up, walk around, dance, sing—whatever the movie inspires them to do!

Have a dance party

Baby_dancerIt doesn’t need to be summer to have a dance party, but this one can be especially fun outside!

Sensory-friendly suggestions:

  • Sound: Keep the music at a low level.
  • Sight: If outside, look for a shady area not in direct sunlight. If indoors, avoid using potentially harmful lighting effects like strobe lights.
  • Touch: Your child may want to kick off their shoes, so ensure there is soft ground for them to dance on.
  • Sense of Balance (Vestibular): Allow them to move freely as they’d like!

Make homemade ice cream

Everybody loves ice cream on a hot summer day, and what’s more fun than bringing the ice cream shop to your own home!

Sensory-friendly suggestions:

  • Sound: Whether using a machine or making in a bag, there is ice crushing involved, so this process can get a little noisy! You can use a noise-cancelling device at this time if your child needs it.
  • Scent and Taste: Use mild flavors, like vanilla, or flavors you’ve tested before and know they like.

Grow a garden

It can be flowers, herbs, vegetables; whatever your child enjoys! Take them through the growth process to help them learn about gardening while you plant together.

Sensory-friendly suggestions:

  • Sound: Find a secluded spot to do your planting. You could also try container gardening on a porch, balcony or inside by a sunny window!
  • Sight: Be sure to bring shades and/or a large hat to avoid harsh sun.
  • Scent and Taste: If planting vegetables, consider growing milder items like cucumbers and tomatoes. That way your child can also enjoy the result!
  • Touch: Use a gardening pad so they have a soft surface to work on.

Enjoy your fun in the sun!