Christmas and New Year’s Eve are right around the corner! As a sensory parent, it can be challenging to plan holiday activities when you have a child struggling with sensory input. Do you want to add some holiday spirit to your kiddo’s activities - but aren’t sure exactly how to do it?
Here is a quick guide to 3 simple activities that can provide sensory regulation, lots of fun, and holiday magic! We’ll tell you what supplies you need, how to set up the activities, and how your sensory kiddo will benefit.
Let’s get started!
Sensory-Friendly Christmas and New Year’s Eve Activities
1. Christmas Sensory Bin
Up first is a fun and festive Christmas themed sensory bin! You may have created sensory bins during other times of the year with plain rice, beans, or pasta. Maybe you threw in some dinosaur figures and small cars or trucks. For a Christmas themed sensory bin, we’ll follow a similar set up with a fun holiday twist!
- A dry base filler like rice, beans, or pasta - (we like using white rice for this one!)
- Green food coloring
- Small Christmas tree figures
- Small bells, ornaments (non-breakable of course!), and any other small Christmas figures like presents or Santa!
Optional: If you have some in your pantry, you can sprinkle cinnamon or clove into the rice mixture to create an olfactory element to the bin!
Use the food coloring to dye half of the rice, so that it looks like the ground of a forest! Keep the other half white to look like snow! If you choose to add smell, sprinkle some cinnamon or clove into the bin as well!
Let your child explore with their hands - and if they are interested, use spoons or other utensils too!
This bin helps regulate the senses by giving the child opportunities to process different sensory experiences! In the bin, they’ll use sight, touch, sound, and smell (if you used cinnamon or clove). The combination of the filler, items, and tools allows your sensory child to increase regulation, practice fine motor skills, and even practice communication and cognitive tasks. For example - you could play games like “I spy” and have your child find specific items in the bin!
2. Holiday Sensory Tub
A holiday sensory tub might sound similar to the sensory bin, but the tub takes it to the next level! Using a larger tub allows your kiddo to make larger movements and explore more materials in the tub. This specific sensory tub also hits ALL 5 senses!
- Dry pasta (we like elbow pasta for this one, but any short pasta will work!)
- Red and green food coloring
- Two large plastic ziploc bags
- Rubbing alcohol for dyeing the pasta
- Christmas items - small bells, ornaments, tree figures, and more!
- Candy cane or other edible holiday candy
Optional: You can also add some sprinkles of cinnamon or clove to the dry pasta
Find a large empty tub - clear is best so your child can see the contents from any angle!
To dye the dry pasta, place half of the pasta in one plastic bag and the other half in the second plastic bag (one for green, and one for red!). Pour the rubbing alcohol into the bags to cover the pasta.
Pour the green food coloring in one bag, and red food coloring into the other. Zip them tightly, and shake! This will distribute the color to all of the pasta pieces. Let the bags sit for about 5 minutes. Place the pasta on a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper. Let them dry overnight!
Be sure to let them dry completely before assembling the tub!
Once your pasta is dyed and dried, add it to the tub. Then place your child’s favorite figures and Christmas items into the pasta to create a holiday scene! Last but not least, add your candy canes or other holiday candy!
This sensory tub lets your child explore ALL five senses! They use sight and touch to explore the objects, sound to hear the bells, taste for the candy, and smell if you add other scents!
Fun tip! You can also give your child cups and spoons. They can use these tools to practice fine motor skills like scooping and pouring! This tub is super exciting - but also gives your child the opportunity to be calm and focused.
Note: For food coloring, you can use any two colors you’d like. If your child likes blue and yellow more than red and green - go for it
3. Sensory Friendly New Year’s Party
Our third and final activity in this guide is throwing a party! A sensory-friendly New Year’s party, that is. There are three parts to this party - all of which can be modified to fit your child’s sensory comfort level.
- Plastic or paper party hats (easily found at dollar stores!)
- Decorations and supplies for your hats - glue, scissors, stickers, and whatever else you have on hand that your child loves!
- A plastic drawstring trash bag
- Confetti, streamers, or balloons
Our first party activity is making New Year’s hats! This is a super fun activity to do together. If your child is easily overwhelmed, they can decorate their hat independently in a quiet space. Use stickers, glue, colored paper, cotton balls, or anything you have in your art supply stash! Sensory kiddos can practice fine motor skills, and get tactile input by creating awesome party hats!
Our next two activities are all about the countdown to the New Year!
First, a celebration confetti or balloon drop! Using your plastic drawstring trash bag, fill it with confetti, strips of streamers, or small balloons. Once it’s filled with your materials of choice, hang the bag upside down. You can hang it from the ceiling or a high place on the wall where only you can reach it. When it’s time to countdown, get ready to open the bag. 3...2...1…. DUMP! Your sensory kiddo will love the tactile input of the materials falling on and around them. You can even make the clean up an activity to do together.
After your balloon or confetti drop, it’s time to watch some fireworks! For children with sensory challenges, loud noises can often be upsetting. Try watching videos of fireworks on the tv or a tablet. That way you can control the volume and keep your child feeling regulated. Watching firework videos allows your kiddo to still experience the celebration, but remain calm and happy.
New Year’s Tip: Some children with sensory challenges also have a hard time with sleep schedules. Try celebrating at noon, or in the afternoon, instead of the evening! This will make bedtime a lot easier.
There you go! Three fun, easy, and budget-friendly activities to bring the holiday spirit into your activities. Whether you choose a Christmas-themed bin or tub, or have a sensory-friendly New Year’s party (or do all 3!), your sensory kiddo will love them. Especially because they help them regulate their system while providing lots of holiday fun.
Tip: Get creative and build your activities with your kiddo’s favorite things in mind. Even though a new activity can be a bit overwhelming for a sensory child, incorporating their favorite toys or music can be just the right invitation!