Summer has finally come, and many of us are thinking about how to make the summer days both fun and productive. Here are three principles that will guide our family’s summertime choices:
1. Build on Their Interests
When our kids are interested in something, they’re often really interested. This can either be a problem or an opportunity. Paula Kluth’s book Just Give Him the Whale talks about how effective it can be to start with a child’s interest, and find ways to expand it. If our child likes buses and we take a bus trip, we can also talk about waiting our turn, what we see out the window, parts of the bus, the money we pay with, and so on. Connecting to something familiar and interesting helps kids stay happier, which opens them up to absorbing new ideas and skills.
2. Build on the Edge
Learning is about new things – skills, ideas, experiences. And as their parents know, new things tend to be very uncomfortable for kids with autism. So it’s important to consider how to introduce new things without moving too far outside our children’s comfort zone…or things tend to be the opposite of fun. And some activities will be quite comfortable and enjoyable for some children, and torture for others. For example, my daughter hates the sound buses make…but my son’s favorite toy is a bus and the noise doesn’t seem to bother him at all. So if we take a bus ride, it’ll just be with him.
So the best plan is to find ways to stretch our kids’ tolerance just a little bit. “Edge+1” refers to the idea of figuring out what a child knows and can already handle, and then figuring out how to add something to it that is just barely noticeable to them. For my daughter, it might be riding the LRT in Edmonton, because that is virtually silent and she will enjoy the scenery.
The duration of the trip and the number of people you have with you are also important considerations. Also think about intensity, for your own well-being and for theirs. You don’t have to do new things all the time…down time is important too.
3. Build on the Experience
And a third tip: we’ve had a lot of success taking pictures and making mini-books about our outings. I add text to describe what we’re doing in the pictures, and for my emerging-verbal kids, it’s a great way to give them the words to talk about where they’ve been, and to ask to go there again. We’re using Pictello, which allows me to make the “story” as I take pictures, and makes it easy to change the words once in awhile if the story is too popular and becomes repetitive.
Other ways to build on it are to do it again (my children ALWAYS do better the second time we do something), finding library books that share information about the experience, drawing or crafts, acting things out…the possibilities are endless.
So as you consider the opportunities below, think about what your kids would find interesting, and choose things that will be a mostly comfortable setting:
Our kids like car rides, so sometimes we just drive to a new destination and see what’s there. Or try a different way of getting around! The Assiniboine Valley Railway on Roblin is a model railway that’s big enough to ride on, and they’re having an open house on July 12-13 and August 9-10. Prairie Dog Central is a fun ride. Or go to the Forks and take a ride on a tandem bike or a boat. Take the bus, if it’s a novelty for your kids.
We’ve been making the rounds visiting different playgrounds around our area of the city. The Assiniboine Park Nature Playground has lots of sand, water, slides and things to climb on! A great place for movement and gross motor skills. If you’re concerned about safety because your child tend to wander (quickly!), you’ll want to scout around for fenced playgrounds. There’s one with lots of trees on the corner of Leola and Whittier, and another at the south end of Des Meurons (that one is by an outdoor pool and a wading pool). I also like St. Vital Park because the playground is a distance from the road, and it’s easy to see the entire play area.
For special play days, try the Manitoba Children’s Museum for hands on fun. Or check out Tinkertown, which is an outdoor amusement park for children. Kid City is a good rainy day choice – it’s like a McDonald’s play space but with more room. I suggest going to any of these in the morning to avoid their busiest times.
Or try a new “sport” – fly a kite, skip some rocks, get out a frisbee or a soccer ball, or try minigolf. There are some nice outdoor ones (like at Harborview Park) or on a rainy day, go indoors (for example, U-Puttz). Bowling is fun too, and you can sign up with Kids Bowl Free for free bowling for your kids for the summer.
If your child is OK with structured activities, there are lots of community programs to check out. Free summer programs in Winnipeg are listed here.
Looking for more activities to enjoy with your family? Here’s a list.
Our kids love water, and there are lots of ways to enjoy splashing or swimming in the Winnipeg area.
- Indoor: My son likes pools where he can walk in and they are not too deep. Some good places that are indoors and not too busy are YMCA West, Bonivital and Pan Am Pool. We also like that those pools are nice and warm! You can view the free swim schedule here. If you want something that is different and fun, try Dino Beach at Victoria Inn.
- Outdoor: Check out the Parks and Recreation wading pools document: it’s about outdoor pools and a mobile play van as well. The lovely thing about wading pools is that most of them are free! And of course don’t forget there are lots of beaches to visit on a day or half-day trip, such as Bird’s Hill.
Summer is full of festivals and special days in any city. For a list of Manitoba summer festivals and fun events, click here.
Just Do What You Do, Together.
Everyday activities can also be enjoyable social opportunities. Gardening, painting the fence, walking the dog…whatever is a part of your family life. Linda Hodgedon, SLP, has written a good article suggesting ideas for social activity that go along with your family’s routines and interests. You can read it here.
Also consider changing up the location of familiar activities: have a picnic, read together in a backyard tent, do a puzzle or paint at the picnic table. There are lots of possibilities.
Have a wonderful summer!