by Danielle Carter, MS OTR/L

The weather is getting colder in Minnesota once again, and our social distancing restrictions continue. Many Kidspeak parents have expressed wanting suggestions to encourage their children away from screens. We have had many months of balancing working from home, distance learning, and being away from our social connections. We are tired, our kids are tired, and we absolutely feel it is important to continue to give ourselves and our children grace…there is certainly no judgement for families who are feeling OK with the increased screen use that 2020 has brought most of us! But we have also heard many of you ask for ways to encourage your children to expand beyond their devices as we head into winter and are still restricted in the places we can go and playdates we can plan.

Whole family play is a great way to change things up and engage the kids in something unexpected. Being silly together can sometimes be enough to break the monotony of this pandemic winter. A great way to think outside the screen/board game/puzzle box is to incorporate messy or movement sensory based fun. These ideas are meant for adults to join in the play…. the sillier the better! Imagine your child’s delight when their adults suggest stomping with bare feet in shaving cream and mom and dad join in the fun!

Make them laugh with messiness!

· Fill up a plastic bin, shoebox, diaper box, or even a plastic pool with fun textures like: Easter grass, packing peanuts, snow from outside, dry pasta, cooked pasta, dry rice, cooked rice, playground sand, kinetic sand, cornstarch and water. Add a scent using extracts or essential oils. Use your hands, feet, or put your whole body in the bin!

· Try coloring with chalk on construction paper. This provides different sensory input than crayons or markers. For added fun try painting over your chalk lines with water and then again tracing with chalk (watch the colors change). This is also a good way to practice imitating shapes or letters.

· Get messy with shaving cream or foamy soap. Try putting it on different textures such as: tin foil, a dish towel, paper, or bubble wrap.

· Get even messier with shaving cream or foamy soap by putting it on the floor and walking in it with bare feet. Again try different textures on the floor. Note: your child might need a hand held as shaving cream gets slippery.

· Play in Pudding, yogurt, ice cream, whipped cream with your hands.

· Finger painting with hands or feet (again try painting on different textures).

· Have a beach party with swim suits in the bathtub. Yes, parents…you get in there too!

· Baking and cooking can be fun, messy, and teaches functional life skills.

Get silly with movement!

o Put on fun music and have a dance party.

o Take your dance party one step further by adding flashlights and turning off the lights.

o Head outside and roll down a hill (Tip: If you get dizzy push on your head. Deep pressure helps calm our vestibular system!)

o Rough and tumble play.

o Play Charades

o Family yoga

o Take turns setting up obstacle courses and have the whole family go through them. Encourage different types of movement (changes in head position, crawling through tight spaces, spinning, rolling, etc.).

o Introduce friendly family competition: See who can stand on one for the longest, how many times you can hit a balloon back and forth without it touching the ground, or do the most jumping jacks in a minute.

o Play hide and seek or Simon Says.

o Take turns giving each other rides in a laundry basket.

o Once we get some snow, make sure to get outside for snowman building, sledding, and snow angels.

o Stack towers with cans from the pantry, play tug of war, or play animal walk games.

If COVID has taught us anything it is the importance of family time, living in the moment, and looking for the fun in every day. Play! It just might have the benefit of getting the whole family away from zoom calls and google meets.