Plan for a Sensory Summer

Despite the fact that it’s only 45 degrees and raining today, I have faith that summer weather will come. I know that summer vacation will, and it’s sooner than we think.

For me, the end of a school year brings joy, excitement, and nostalgia for the innocence of my own childhood days. I remember camping trips that lasted forever (in my childish memory), campfires, bike riding from sunup to sundown, picking berries and mowing the lawn. And yes, I enjoyed mowing the lawn…still do actually. Magically I never got tired, thirsty or hungry.

As a parent, I still have those same feelings but some doubt and anxiety sneak in too. With the loss of the school routine it means: long, seemingly endless days with my children and NO break. This has the potential to stress any parent; for the parent of a child from the hard places, it can make you curl into a ball and hide with your head under the blanket.

Here are some tips for managing the transition to summer vacation and for a summer filled with the awe and wonder all children should have.

1. Start now, today. Mark the calendar for the end of school and discuss what this means. Ask your children how they are feeling about summer vacation. Talk about changes to routine. If they’re going to a sitter or day camp every day, begin the planning process. What will their day look like there? What resources will they have to help them regulate? Talk to other caregivers and make sure they’re ready to provide nutrition and hydration every two hours…more on hot days, that they can meet sensory needs, especially proprioception, have calm down activities/fidgets available. Do they know your child’s biggest triggers?

2. Plan the activities in advance. I’m a big picture sort of girl. I am not much of a detail planner. I prefer to make it happen on the fly. But as caregiver to child(ren) from hard places, it means I MUST be mindful of my time, environment, energy, and yes, I have to plan, in advance. This doesn’t mean every minute of each day has to be planned out. But, think ahead…how will I meet their sensory needs each day? Summer provides some wonderful sensory experiences unavailable at other times of the year, especially in the northeast.

Are there some special activities you want to do together? Put them on the calendar so that trip to the zoo and the day trip to your favorite beach aren’t pushed off until it’s too late. Have a rain date backup.

3. Visual schedule. I am a HUGE fan of visual schedules. When we started using them with our four year old, the perserevating suddenly stopped…that day! The constant kicking and screaming and undercurrent of anxiety, were simply gone. Now, four years later, we only need the schedule on certain days AND she is beginning to verbalize when she needs it. Schedules don’t have to include every minute or even each activity of the day. Who can really plan that much detail? It might look like this, in picture… Breakfast, indoor play, clean up, snack, walk the dog, read a book, lunch, outside play, nap (if your child doesn’t nap anymore, schedule rest breaks and establish the boundaries for rest time…where, when, how long, what is allowed during rest time such as books, quiet toys, etc.) snack, special activity, dinner, family yoga, bath, bed. Allow some flexibility, give some control, make compromises, and always have a wild card ready.

4. Go with the flow… planning is great, but flexibility is a must. Perhaps you planned a day of wildflower picking to meet sensory needs and the ground is soaked from last night’s thunderstorms…plan B. Maybe your child will discover a new interest, such as fireflies or the sandbox becomes Thunderball Beach. Just because our children have experienced trauma doesn’t mean they don’t have preferences and imaginations. Let them experience the joy of discovery. Return to “the plan” with adjustments as needed.

5. Model how to enjoy summer. Instead of complaining that there’s no school or it’s 95° out, express gratitude for the time together, and really mean it. Show them how to make juice pops and make silly voices into the fan. Mention your body is hot and sweaty and you don’t like it. It makes your engine run yellow or red…then show them how you will regulate with a glass of iced tea and a good book or a game of cards.

6. Remember that connection comes first and summer is a wonderful time to make lasting memories that build trust and healthy attachment forever.

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