For parents with children facing sensory challenges – whether speech, tactile, olfactory, taste or hearing related – navigating a holiday like Halloween can be difficult. Talk about an evening of sensory overload – potentially scratchy costumes, uncomfortable masks, big noises and so much more!
The good news is, there are many Halloween-related activities available that can help build a child’s sensory and socialization skills, when guided mindfully by a parent or supervising adult.
While my professional focus is on children with speech and feeding challenges, my colleagues concur these projects apply to other young people living with sensory issues. If in doubt, confer with your own healthcare professional to make sure these activities are appropriate for your family.
Here’s an amazing way to experience multi-sensory input. A pumpkin’s unique and engaging physical attributes allow us to target vocabulary – using words to describe color, size, shape (big, hard, orange, triangle, etc.)
Carving a pumpkin affords us the opportunity to target verbs including cutting, carving, sharpness and pressure. Assist your little one, using child-safe utensils, allowing them to test their coordination and strength.
The child will experience the wet, sticky, gushy reality of pumpkin “guts” in a fun non-threatening way. While the carving exercise can be challenge for children with tactile issues, there are several ways to make the task easier for them: let the child wear gloves or use latex gloves with different fingers cut-out at the tip to allow for a little – but not too much information – to be picked up by their fingers. Then, have a towel, wet napkin available for the quick cleaning of hands. Model that it’s okay to have fun, messy play to keep your children motivated. After this, maybe they will be well prepped to make a pumpkin pie.
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An autumn walk in the woods can be a great opportunity to discuss more advanced topics like foliage, colors, shapes, and decay. It’s a perfect way to engage the auditory senses through the crunching of dry versus damp leaves.
Have your child experiment with the different leaves, breaking them up to see how they crumble. Smelling them. Throwing them. Watching how they naturally float down from tree limbs to carpet the forest floor.
Allow the child to make large piles of leaves and run/jump through to address the childhood need to move/crash/jump.
Tracing leaves engages fine motor skills and lends itself nicely to discuss so many concepts including color, shape, size and texture vocabulary. Cutting and tracing build those fine motor skills and pre academic/academic concepts to improve their confidence with these tasks in fun ways. Gluing later with the use of non-toxic glue, with all its finger-peeling stickiness, will address the sensory system’s ability to process and tolerate messy play and projects, which are important skills for little sensory systems.
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Halloween Bake Off
Engage your child in kitchen activities. That can consist of something as easy as beading your own candy corn necklace or following a recipe to bake pumpkin cookies/muffins. With these activities we can target touching through messy play, and vocabulary with words like temperature, ingredients, recipe, and mixing. Cooking is a multi-sensory experience and best of all, the kids end up eating the product of their efforts… the best sensory experience of all!
Host a Scavenger Hunt
Whether you stage it in your home or out in the back yard, hide some Halloween items (in plain sight if need be) and then send your kiddo off to find them. This is a great way to explore how they handle locating everyday objects in “out of context” environments. You can creatively work in aspects of touch, site, and even smell and then work with your child to relate how they felt seeking and finding the objects.
Holidays are festive times that offer wonderful opportunities to work unusual, but fun, sensory experiences into your child’s routine. Take careful note of your child’s reaction to the experiences and share this information with your team of therapists. This information may also help inform new exercises that will be beneficial in your child’s treatment process.
Lori Caplan-Colon is a leading speech language pathologist specializing in pediatric feeding disorder and founder of Montclair Speech Therapy, a family friendly practice that provides services for infants, children, adults and seniors.