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A CHRISTMAS TREE FOR CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS

Including a child with special needs in many of the Christmas rituals can require modifications.  BJ is a big fan of Christmas but actively including him in decorating the tree is a challenge.  It isn’t helped by the fact that he doesn’t like the feel of the real trees we get each year.

If you have been following along for a while you will know that I love finding solutions to ensure BJ doesn’t miss out on anything.  When I saw pictures of a felt Christmas tree I thought it would be ideal for many children with special needs and would have been the ideal solution when BJ was younger.  I can also see that it opens up the opportunity for a little sneaky therapy while having fun.

I decided to give it a go and share the results with you.

AJ
A Christmas tree to decorate for children with special needs.

THE TREE

Collagetree
Cutting the felt Christmas tree.

Hubby folded the felt in half and drew a tree outline on one side.  He then cut along the lines.  Once cut, he opened it out and voila, one felt Christmas tree was ready to hang and decorate.

Collagewhatyouneed
What you need – velcro, decorations, cookie cutter to cut your own, hanging tape.

At Coles supermarket I found $1 felt hanging ornaments.  I cut off the ribbon used for hanging the ornaments and added velcro strips to the back of each one.  AJ used Christmas cookie cutters to outline shapes on stiff felt for some therapy related games.  We used Command’s Damage-Free Hanging strips which hopefully will live up to the ‘damage-free’ when it comes to remove the tree.

Collagedecorations
Add velcro strips to inexpensive felt decorations.

Buying two of each ornament allows for a matching game. We found the ornaments needed velcro strips on the top and bottom to attach well to the tree.

Collagetreedecs
Tree decorated with a mixture of decorations.

The tree is bright and colourful meaning that it fits in as just another bit of Christmas cheer around the house.  I see this as a world of therapy possibilities for children.

INCORPORATING THERAPY GOALS

Children with special needs do so much therapy it is important to always make sure it is functional and fun.

You can tailor the tree to your child’s particular goals but here are a few ideas AJ and I came up with while making the tree.

  • Placing the decorations on the tree is a good activity in itself.  The decorations can be removed and replaced over and over making it good for hand function.  They could be placed in a container to add to the process.  The child could be asked to find a specific ornament in the container and then place it on the tree.
  • Matching – by having two of each decoration it is an opportunity for children to scan and find the matching ornament.
  • Colours – cutting your own felt decorations means that you can choose blocks of colour and turn it into a colour identification game.
  • Numbers –   We numbered the home-made gingerbread men.  You could ask your child to find a particular number or put a particular number gingerbread man on the tree.  They could put the numbers in sequence if appropriate for their ability.
  • Talk as you decorate about colours, count the decorations, talk about features ie. Santa’s nose, beard, belt
  • If your child is able to trace around shapes have them trace around the cookie cutters to make a decoration.
  • Let your child show independence by decorating ‘their own’ tree however they like.
  • Use communication boards and devices to incorporate communication goals.

The opportunities are endless and hopefully it will be seen as fun.

AJ also suggested that this could be used instead of an advent calendar by removing one ornament a day until Christmas with the child receiving a small treat each day as they remove the ornament.  Last year we shared an accessible advent calendar in a blog post which you can read here.

We also had a very popular Christmas activity fun blog post for children with special needs last year which you can catch up with here.

WHAT YOU NEED TO MAKE YOUR OWN TREE

I wanted a large tree so it was accessible from wheelchair height but you can modify the size to suit your child and the space you have available for hanging.

I used 1.25m of light green felt (about 50 inches).

Velcro strips for ornaments.

Blu tac to keep the tree ‘branches’ sticking to the door.

Stiff felt to make some specific decorations for therapy goals.

Inexpensive ready-made felt Christmas decorations.

Damage-free hanging tape.

If you make your own tree we’d love you to share your pictures here on on our Facebook page.

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2 thoughts on “A CHRISTMAS TREE FOR CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS”

  1. I love this idea. I always struggle with how to get the wheelchair close to the tree so my daughter can be part of everything. Thanks for the terrific idea. I just got my daughter a kid style “Go Pro” camera because she wants to attach it to her wheelchair and take movies.

    Reply
    • Thanks Patty. It is always great to hear our ideas help families. We have a Go Pro and love it. It is so good for capturing the action and the quality is great. Being able to get water-proof casing and brackets to attach to it have been it great for our holidays. Happy Holidays! Julie

      Reply

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