Although it “’tis the season to be jolly”, I used to often find this time of year difficult as it pointed out the many things BJ couldn’t do. While parents excitedly purchased advent calendars, BJ couldn’t manage to open the tricky little cardboard windows. That’s now changed and he’s a pro but I remember simply aching for him to do what all the other kids could do. Over the years, like many parents, we’ve become masters of adapting and making things accessible. So I thought I’d share a few different advent calendar adaptations. We know only too well, what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another, so here’s some ideas on how to make advent calendars accessible for children, teens and adults with special needs.
I’m a little crafty and feel if you can add an element of therapy into a regular activity, that’s a good thing. I also think it’s a shame for anyone to miss out on fun because of access challenges. With the countdown to Christmas well and truly on I’m sharing how to make an advent calendar work both from a fun and therapy perspective. Remember advent calendars are a countdown tool so they can really be as many days are you like. 12 days is a good timeline and limits your work as the facilitator.
HANGING ADVENT CALENDAR WITH PINCER GRIP GOAL
Craft bags hanging from a piece of string make a simple but effective advent calendar. I bought these little craft bags in red and green, purchased some larger than usual pegs and decorated with a little Christmas card at the front.
The activity can be adapted to the recipients goals, so it can be as simple or complicated as you like.
It can be used to assist with colour recognition, or the bags can be numbered and used for a number recognition exercise. For those needing to develop or improve a pincer grip, removing the pegs to release the bag is a good activity.
A small gift, chocolate, coin (or if in the US a dollar bill) or treat can be in the bag.
If you want to expand on the skill building then pop a gift tag inside the bag. Then put a matching gift tag on a wrapped present. Have multiple gifts lined up so the recipient needs to match their card to the correct gift.
Gifts can be small items like a high bounce ball, stickers, a toy car, chocolate or bubbles. If you prefer not to give an item, you can include vouchers for time with you to play a game, watch a movie together or read a book. It doesn’t have to be expensive items, this is about fun and skill building.
GIFT BOXES – ENCOURAGING GETTING HANDS WORKING TOGETHER
Depending on a person’s ability you could use little gift boxes for an advent calendar. It’s not easy to separate the lid from the bottom of the boxes above so they would be best given to someone who already has a fairly good skill level otherwise it will be frustrating. These could work well in helping with fine motor development. Inside the box you could include a small chocolate or a note with a clue as to where to find a gift. The note could use picture symbols or words. Once again, this could be used as a matching exercise or a clever way of getting walking practice done in a walking frame while finding the answer to the clue.
These are a variation on the trickier-to-open flat boxes above.The lids on these boxes are much simpler to remove but may prove a good incentive to get two hands working together. If going into a standing frame is something your loved one resists, maybe save the advent calendar until that time of day and use it as a reward for cooperation.
PARTY HATS – REACHING OR PINCER GRIP TASK
A packet of party hats is a cheap way to do the advent calendar and still festive. I’ve once again hung them from a string and decorated with a card. You could either use this activity to encourage a pincer grip or the person doing it could just use their hand to get the note or item out of the upturned hat.
Here’s some more ideas for accessible advent calendars I tried another year.
Remember, this idea could also be used for a countdown for any special occasion with a few changes. It would be a fun pre-birthday or holiday countdown tool.
We have always found BJ cooperates more readily when a therapy based goal is made fun and purposeful. When it’s so hard to do something for him I can see his need to have a motivator or reward at the end.
And if you’re stuck for ideas for gift ideas, make sure you check out my Ultimate Gift Guide with over 100 ideas for a person with special needs.