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Therapist ForumDeanna Maciole 
Finding Ways to Keep Children Happy for the Holidays
Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L  

Oh, the holidays...that wonderful time of year where schedules and routines go by the wayside.  It seems as for an entire month what is known as 'normal' in our daily lives no longer exists.  Anywhere you turn, there are lights, music, decorations and yummy treats.  From decorating, to shopping, to attending various functions, we tend to find ourselves exhausted, but enjoying the time with family, friends and loved ones.  As well regulated adults, we are able to handle all of these changes and different inputs while still making it through the day to day life.
Now enter the world of a child with sensory processing difficulties.  What once was a semi-cluttered classroom is now even more stuffed with brightly colored crafts, new decorations, and extra energy.  At home, every room has been transformed into a holiday wonderland.  And you cannot walk into any store without being greeted by a ringing bell, lots of noise and overstuffed aisle ways. In addition, there seems to always be a change in a daily routine, sometimes with warning and sometimes without.  A child may enter the "shut down" phase from overstimulation, or all of a sudden those little meltdowns that you haven't seen in months tend to re-surface.  As parents, therapists, teachers and adults, we need to be creative at finding ways to help these children really enjoy this time of year. 
First, despite the long list of to-dos, it is important to try and keep some consistency and provide some attention to what a child is communicating to you. In addition, it is necessary to make an effort to maintain some sort of a sensory diet.  The fun part is finding ways to bring the seasonal activities into the daily sensory diet.
No matter which holiday you celebrate, there is some sort of gift and card giving. Not only in a trying economy, find the value in creating homemade cards and gifts.  Create cards and wrapping paper with art rubbing.  This can be accomplished by drawing or tracing holiday symbols that are then outlined with glue.  Once the glue dries, place a piece of paper over the design and have a child use a crayon to continuously rub over it until the design appears.  What a great way to get some proprioceptive input, To make it even more difficult have the child stand at the table or hang it vertically to be performed.  In addition, many holiday designs can be created through hand and finger painting to meet tactile needs.  Using a child's hand Santa Claus, a reindeer or angel can be created.  Use individual painted fingers to create the candles of a menorah.  Take time to explore the many internet, magazine, and book ideas to help create these.
As always, think outside the box to find creative ways to bring the holiday themes to using everyday therapy equipment.  Using the glider swing as Santa's sleigh, have children obtain various weighted objects to place on the sleigh. After flying through the sky they can act as Santa to deliver them one by one to each child's home.   Set up obstacle courses that allow children to pick up candles at each stop to place into a menorah or ornaments to be placed on a tree.  Or have them put on a Santa hat and pretend to be Santa 'swinging' in his sleigh, 'climbing' a ladder or rock wall up to the roof and walking across it using a balance beam, to then 'crawl' through a tunnel to get down the chimney. 
In the kitchen, allow children to create apple-cinnamon ornaments or gift tags using holiday themed cookie cutters.  Once dried, puffy paint can be used to decorate or write on them.  Find creative food snacks to make, including wreaths out of mini bagels, reindeer feed, or marshmallows for snowmen.  Or when completing those many hours of baking and candy making, allow children to help out.  Mixing and kneading dough, rolling it out and using cookie cutters or scoopers are always favorite tasks.  And don't forget to allow them to be creative with the decorating.
Listening to the sounds of the season, especially in the instrumental versions provide calming periods.  As well as spending time in areas lit with only tree lights or candles while enjoying a cup of hot chocolate. 
It would be easy to go on and on with different ideas for this time of year, but here are just a few to get you started.  They are not meant to add another 'to-do' to your list, but as a way to bring children into the fun of the holiday season.
Well, it has been just about a year since the beginning of the online newsletter Pawprint.  The Therapist Forum section has been a way to provide quick and simple ideas and strategies to be used in a variety of settings, mainly addressing sensory concerns.  We truly hope that there has been at least one, if not all of the articles that have sparked some new ideas in your home, classroom, or clinic.  As we approach the ending of another year, we thank you for your support and wish you a happy holiday season and best wishes for the coming New Year!
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