by Joanna Keating-Velasco, author or "A if for Autism, F is for Friend"
Kids with sensory challenges experience the world in a unique way. Whether kids feel uncomfortable with touching sticky stuff, are grossed out by experiencing new textures or are simply frightened by the thought of an unfamiliar activity, fall is a great season to include pumpkins in some sensory fun and learning.
Encouraging your child to try a variety of sensory activities may enable them to tolerate or even eventually enjoy the activity over time. October is a wonderful time for sensory fun and learning with pumpkins.
Pick a Pumpkin – Focus on Sensory Learning
Jack-o-lantern Sensory and Fine-motor Fun
Before the at-home activities begin, it’s time to go to your local store or pumpkin patch and pick out your pumpkins. Pick out two – one to carve and a lighter one for bowling. Use the pumpkin picking activity to let your child discover the differences in size, color, shape and touch (some are smooth, some rough, some bumpy). Also, compare the stems as each is unique in size, shape and touch.
Transforming from pumpkin to jack-o-lantern engages a child not only in sensory activities, but enables them to practice some fine motor skills.
Using a knife or tool, cut off the top of the pumpkin. For safety, you may choose to do this alone.
Next, the gooey sensory tactile activity involves scooping out the “guts” of the pumpkin and then separating the seeds from the “goo.” He can use his fingers or a large pincher-type tool as both encourage developing fine motor skills.
If your child is completely grossed out by these activities, try using gloves or a small scooper. Or for a not-so-gooey sensory activity, you take the guts and put them into a zip-locked bag. The child can now play with the goo without the extra yuckiness.
Depending on your child’s ability, determine how independent or supported he will need to be during this activity. You may have the child draw a jack-o-lantern face on a paper encouraging fine motor drawing skills. Or, if able, your child might simply draw the face onto the pumpkin directly.
For safety, the parent should carve the pumpkin possibly using hand-over-hand technique – if appropriate.
Obtain Oral Sensory with Roasted Seed Feed
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
Once the seeds are separated and cleaned, use the following recipe to create a sensory taste activity. Let your child participate in the mixing and spreading. Let him experience the sense of taste wherever tolerable. Once cooked, try to snack on them.
Toss cleaned seeds in a bowl with 2 tea spoons of melted butter and pinch of salt
Spread seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet.
Bake about 45 minutes or until gold brown
Your child may not like the idea of eating the pumpkin seeds. However, he can still benefit if he just plays with the seeds and feels the texture difference between the gooey seeds versus the roasted/salted seeds. This is all part of the sensory learning experience.
Garner Tactile Input from Stamping & Finger Painting
Using the extra carved pieces and the stem from the pumpkin, create combination of pumpkin paint stamps and finger painting opportunities. This tactile activity may be a blast for your child or it may seem like torture for kids with tactile defensiveness.
Don’t force anything, but work positively with your child to engage her in this activity as much as possible. Use a timer, if necessary, to show the child that there is a limit to this activity. It is important for kids with tactile defensiveness to be slowly and gradually introduced to these experiences to progressively desensitize their defensiveness opening up more opportunities for interaction and play.
Have plenty of paper for these masterpieces and have plenty of paper towels or wipes for quick clean up. Or better yet, have a big tub of water and let your child wash off his own hands and have some water play.
Attain Proprioceptive Input & Build Gross Motor Skills with Pumpkin Bowling
If you picked an additional smaller and lighter pumpkin at the pumpkin patch, pumpkin bowling can be a great way for your child to experience tactile interaction with the outside skin of the pumpkin. In addition, the activity facilitates gross motor skills.
Set up some bowling “pins” which can be empty soda cans, rolls of toilet paper or empty water bottles. You can cut finger holes into the pumpkin and remove the stem or simply just throw the pumpkin by holding the stem. Lifting the pumpkin, shifting her body toward the pins and finally aiming the pumpkin down the lane are all ways to practice gross motor skills while attaining fun proprioceptive input.
While you are enjoying your pumpkin activities, you and your child might even create some of your own experiences. Enjoy your time together and don’t forget to take photos to capture the memories.