Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L
Playing in water is a fun part of summer play and a great way to beat the heat on those hot summer days. For most, it is the type of play that is not allowed in the house, so now is the time to incorporate these activities that offer an array of therapeutic benefit into your sensory diet.
Let’s start with the one that offers some of the most therapeutic benefit-swimming. Swimming is a great way to provide proprioceptive input and helps with overall body awareness. Even if your child is not yet able to swim, just providing play in the water is beneficial. So, get a bucket and let them scoop and dump the water while hanging out in the pool. The activity of actual swimming offers great core strengthening and motor planning. Moving through the various swim strokes addresses bilateral coordination, as well as reciprocated body movements. Getting in a pool this summer will be therapeutically beneficial to any child, and a lot of fun.
Just as there are sensory bucket activities with beans, rice, and others items to help incorporate tactile play, there is no reason why water cannot be one of those items. Water tables and bucket playing offers a tactile media for kids to have a splash in. Increase the fun by having the child scrub cars at the car wash or bath their dolls using shaving cream and then rinsing off in the water table. Let this summer be the perfect time to get messy!
To address those fine and visual motor needs, have your child use water squirters or shooters for target playing. From water guns and blasters, to the small hand squirters, everyone’s needs can be met. Set up a target range, or use a beanbag toss board to have children work on hand-eye coordination by aiming the water at the particular target. For improving fine motor strength, use water guns of various sizes for trigger pulling. In addition, this activity will help with increasing finger flexion and hand strength needed most for tasks such as handwriting and scissor use. Using the smaller character or animal squirters are ideal for your younger children or those with a more immature grasp to address grasp and finger strength.
And you can always include stroke, letter, and shape making with water play. Fill up a bucket and using a paintbrush, have children draw and copy strokes. Tracing can be provided by drawing the shapes or letters on the cement with sidewalk chalk, and then allowing the child erase it with the paint brush. With this activity, you can work on shoulder, elbow and wrist stability by having them pretend to “paint” a wall, house, etc. in the vertical position, and you may even get some cleaning done in the process.
Cooling off in a sprinkler or at the spray park allows children some gross motor playtime, with a different tactile experience. Based on the set up the sprinkler, this activity is an ideal way to work on direction following and motor planning. In addition, it is these activities allow for peer interaction.
So no matter how you choose to cool off this summer, make water play a way to improve your child’s sensory diet with activities that you cannot do during those cold winter months!