Planning A Sensory Christmas
“Sensory Christmas Traditions”
By: Joy Falahee
As the weather turns cold, and daylight becomes shorter, we begin to feel the Christmas Season approaching, and our hearts begin to glow with feelings of warmth, and goodwill towards each other.
Christmas is a time of beauty from the inside out. For a brief period, we seem to give ourselves permission to let go of all the little stressors that constraint us, and we open our hearts to love, to giving and receiving. It is a time when hearts are filled with joy, and minds are filled with caring thoughts much more than at any other time.
I began planning all holidays very differently when my youngest daughter was diagnosed with Autism. I love Christmas, and there is no other time of the year that excites me the way Christmas does. I made the commitment in planning our Christmas with her in mind, while keeping all of our traditions alive for the rest of our family. I break my holiday planning down by creating 10 separate days of sensory centered activities that keep the holidays calm. I try very hard to keep the fun in the holidays! If you focus in on avoiding holiday traditions because of sensory concerns, the holiday season will be extremely stressful for you and your family.
I have found that the number 1 thing in having a special needs child is to be steps ahead at all times, and being prepared allows me to enjoy the holidays the way they are meant to be enjoyed! I plan according to the needs of my sensory sensitive daughter and always keep in the forefront of my planning the needs of my oldest daughter that celebrated our family holiday traditions long before her sibling came in to our lives with special needs. Sit down with your calendar and make time to prepare in advance your sensory child and family properly for the most magical time of the year. When planning ahead you will create moments that are sensory based and traditions that fit your entire family!
Our Sensory Christmas Traditions
- 1. Decorating
The most important part for planning was making sure that our special needs daughter was given a slow introduction to the approaching holidays. We became the family that pulls out our holiday décor early in November and gets the house decorated in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday. We realized by hanging holiday decorations early and enjoying each ornament, texture, and shimmering light together, we were able to ease in to the decorating process, and introduce to our very sensory sensitive daughter visual cues in advance of seeing them in stores, and around the community.
Decorating Tradition Tip:
On the day that we pull out our holiday decorations, I have prepared 2 things in advance to announce the plans for the day. I will give both of my girls a wrapped ornament that I have gotten in advance (usually at the day after Christmas sale the previous year) and I also give them each a small photo book that contains pictures of Christmas morning from the previous year. This tradition becomes an expected and visual reminder year after year that we are beginning another special occasion together.
- 2. Smell, Hear, and Taste the Season
This is an activity I do once we have let the decorations set in for a moment. Gather things that remind you of the holiday season and make a fun table activity out of it! Cinnamon Sticks, Peppermints, Gingerbread, Pine, Jingle Bells, and pick some favorite holiday tunes.
Smell, Hear, and Taste the Season Tradition Tip:
After having fun smelling, and creating music together… We make holiday cookies together using cookie cutters for taste tradition!
- 3. Getting Out and About
Going to department stores and checking out the holiday displays is a great way to carry over the spirit from the house. Strolling down the aisles of Christmas decorations is super fun and brings a complete circle around the activities and introductions you have already done together.
Getting Out and About Tradition Tip:
We utilize this activity as a great time to get our letters/pictures out to Santa. Dropping by the BIG RED mailbox at Macy’s is a great tradition for all and is usually directly by an entrance and not very crowded.
- 4. Compliment Card Crafts
Being thankful for all of the special people in our lives is a big aspect to our holiday season. Creating small index cards together by drawing very special people in our lives and discussing how they make us feel is a very touching and heartwarming activity.
Compliment Card Crafts Tradition Tip:
We create these cards of special people in our lives and hang them on our refrigerator. We pick daily leading up to Christmas Day a card and choose to call that person, or we hand deliver the card to that special person of the day. This brings a great sense of pride to your children, and guides them to remember the sentiment of the season. (We always make sure to make one for Santa also!)
- 5. A Message From Santa
A message from Santa is a response from him and his helpers in the North Pole that the letter/picture the children sent arrived to Santa and he wants the children to know how excited he is to visit them soon. This response comes when we are preparing for our visit with Santa.
A Message from Santa Tradition Tip:
The message from Santa in our house is placed at our front door with 2 separately wrapped boxes, usually a week before Christmas. The boxes contain a Thank You card from Santa thanking each girl for being good and letting them know he would like them to come visit him before Christmas. The boxes contain a few candy canes and the ingredients for Reindeer Food (Oatmeal, Glitter) and a note asking them to please prepare the Reindeer food and sprinkle it out on the lawn on Christmas Eve!
- 6. Sensory Santa Visit
Consider visiting a Sensory Santa event in your area. If your area is not hosting a Sensory Santa event call your local Mall and request them to consider holding a Sensory Santa morning. These are great ways to see Santa in a calm setting. Encourage your community to be involved in the future planning of sensory events! They will Listen!
Sensory Santa Tradition Tip:
This year I am actually hosting a Sensory Breakfast with Santa event in Tampa for the special needs community. Santa will be in a separate room and is a seasoned Santa. I sought out a Santa that has worked with children with hearing and vision needs, as this type of Santa understands the full dynamics of a sensory child. Remember to not force any child to visit with Santa. We take a compliment card to Santa (listed #4) and if my little one chooses to deliver it or drop it off from looking at Santa from a distance this is completely fine with me!
- 7. Ice Cold Fun
We live in Florida and the full feel of playing in snow is not a feeling my children ever really get with the holiday season. We like to take a night and drive around and view the beautiful light displays in our community. While we wait for the sun to go down to go see these displays we bring a winter wonderland feel to our house. We fill a few Styrofoam coolers with water a few days prior and freeze the coolers so that they are a complete block of ice. The ice will slide out in a full block of ice from the cooler once you let it sit out for a little while before your activity. Put on your gloves, prepare hot chocolate, place your blocks of ice outside. This is a discovery activity! Feel the cold ice, slide the ice block around, and stack them to make a small ice sculpture together.
Ice Cold Fun Tradition Tip:
We like to use food coloring and drop different colors on the ice and blend colors. This changes the ice and creates a great discussion/lesson on colors.
- 8. Wrapping it up
Wrapping presents is a great activity and is a great way to introduce several different textures and sounds with paper, ribbons, and tape. This activity can be set up in to stations Cutting, Taping, ribbon finger holder helper.
Wrapping it Up Tradition Tip:
I use this activity as a time for each child to wrap a small gift for each family member. These are usually a craft or even a favorite old toy they are willing to give to another. We exchange our small trinket wrapped gifts on Christmas Eve. I can tell you this is the most special part of Christmas to me!
- 9. The Big Day
Plan your family visits in advance of the Christmas Holiday. While it is difficult to arrange all schedules it is great if you can spread out the family gatherings over a few days. No matter how much planning goes into the holiday season, the actual excitement and let down period of Christmas morning will take an affect at some point. The sounds of unwrapping and new toys can derail any child’s mood so plan your schedules and know in advance the types of gifts your child may receive.
The Big Day Tradition Tip
Santa arranges presents under the tree with each child having their own section and space. We try not to overwhelm the Christmas tree present space and have noticed Santa has begun to place a few presents under the tree, and also places presents around our house to keep the children on their toes and the moments more interactive. This allows our sensory seeking daughter the opportunity for heavy work by carrying back all of the hidden presents around the house. We try very hard to place a few presents outside and in hidden spots, this always makes the day super fun as just when the children think they have found them all there is another! We have realized that the finding and unwrapping is way more fun for our children than the actual present.
- 10. Breaking It Down
Taking holiday decorations can be depressing for the best of us and a complete let down for our children. Gradually taking down decorations and packing them away can be much easier for your children to handle. Take your time and don’t pull it all down at once, no matter how much you are ready to get it stored away!
Breaking it Down Tradition Tip
I incorporate our children in the tree take down process by having them decorate their own personal ornament boxes. Use all of those holiday cards, grab some scissors, and glue sticks! After the boxes are created they can begin the process of going around the tree and getting those ornaments off. This creates a sense of pride, organization, heavy work, and closure for our girls! One lesson I have learned never ever think it is better to take down decorations while the children are away at school. If they participate in the process it is much easier on everyone!
Our other great sources Blog: www.joyearlyautisminterventions.wordpress.com
Early Autism Interventions
“Celebrating ALL special needs Children and Their Very Special Siblings”
Check for this article in Florida Crossroads Online Edition coming your Way soon!