Winter can present challenges for children with cerebral palsy, a disability affecting movement and muscle function. Due to varying levels of mobility, getting outside in the ice and snow is not always possible. However, children with cerebral palsy need to stay active year-round. Learn some fun ways to get your child involved this winter.
The Importance of Staying Active During the Winter
Many families around the United States live in climates with cold, icy, and snowy seasons, making it more difficult to be active during the winter. However, it is very important for you and your loved ones to stay active even during the colder months, especially if your child has cerebral palsy (CP).
Benefits of regular exercise for children with CP include:
- Easing some cerebral palsy symptoms such as spasticity
- Helping with cognitive and behavioral development
- Improving overall mobility
- Keeping children engaged to ease co-occurring conditions
- Maintaining serotonin levels, keeping children happy
Another vital reason for staying active during the winter months is that having a routine helps your child feel safe and secure.
When developing a winter exercise or activities plan, it is important to note that any activity should be adapted to fit your child’s abilities. You should also contact your child’s health care provider to discuss safe and effective activities tailored to their individual needs.
5 Outdoor Winter Activities for Children With Cerebral Palsy
Outdoor winter activities are a great way to spend winter days, especially when it has snowed. Being outdoors allows children to interact with others. It also gives them a chance to get vitamin D.
Learn about some outdoor winter activities that can be adjusted for your child’s abilities below.
1. Make Snowballs
Instead of encouraging snowball fights, which can be too aggressive or triggering for some children, you can throw snowballs at outdoor targets like rocks, walls, or trees. This provides exercise and can also help improve steadiness and focused attention.
2. Use Snow as a Sensory Tool
Encouraging your child to experiment with the cold and lightness of the snow can be a great sensory experience. Your child can also practice their vocabulary by saying winter-related words, such as frozen, cold, etc.
3. Go Sledding
Sledding can be a good activity because it gets kids moving and socializing. If your child cannot safely sled independently, you can attach a rope to a sled and pull them through the snow. Tobogganing is another option so your child is not on their own.
If you decide to go sledding, make sure to start on smaller hills first to avoid overwhelming your child or getting hurt.
4. Paint the Snow
Filling spray bottles with food coloring is a fun way to encourage creativity. Children who are hesitant to play in the cold snow may really enjoy the visual experience of painting it with bright colors.
5. Go Exploring in the Snow
Exploring in the snow can be an exciting adventure for your child. If they use a wheelchair, look into adding snow tires so they can still get outside and explore.
With a bit of creativity, families can adjust most activities as needed to adapt to their child’s abilities.
5 Indoor Winter Activities for Children With Cerebral Palsy
Sometimes, snow days call for indoor fun without spending time in the cold. Children with CP may also prefer to stay indoors if they don’t do well in lower temperatures. Luckily, there are plenty of fun and cozy indoor activities as well.
1. Make a Fort
Get blankets, pillows, sheets, cardboard, and clothespins together, and let your child use their imagination. Forts can be built in couches or between chairs. Once the fort is built, bring your child their favorite games, books, and snacks for an indoor campout.
2. Have a Scavenger Hunt
Collect items and hide them around your house for your child to find. These can be things your child can play with that don’t require a lot of supervision, such as winter-themed puzzles, books, and sensory toys. Your child can have double the fun by first searching for the items and then playing with them.
3. Create an Indoor Obstacle Course
Set up an obstacle course under tables, around chairs, and through blanket tunnels. Navigating their way around obstacles can help your child with CP develop motor skills.
4. Bake Snowflakes
Just as you can cut snowflakes out of paper, you can also make edible ones by shaping cookie dough into snowflakes using a cookie cutter. You can even decorate them with blue frosting, candies, or sprinkles to make them look frozen.
5. Make a Winter Sensory Bag
Making a bag filled with winter-like sensory items is a great way to allow your child to experience the cold and snow without going outside. You can fill a sealable bag with clear hair gel and refrigerate it to make it cold for your child to squeeze.
Adding sparkly ingredients like glitter will give the illusion of ice. Marshmallows or cotton balls can also be added for extra squishiness.
Parents can adjust any indoor activities to align with their child’s abilities just as they can with outdoor activities.
Other Fun Winter Experiences to Enjoy With the Family
Sometimes, it’s just more fun to venture beyond your own home or yard. Plan a trip with your child to make a winter’s day special.
Some fun ways to spend winter days include:
- Checking out a winter farmers’ market
- Driving around to admire holiday decorations and lights
- Gathering blankets or coats and donating them to local charities
- Going to see snow sculptures
- Helping out at a local food bank (be sure to follow COVID safety guidelines)
- Meeting friends at the local park
- Visiting an ice skating rink
In 2023, more than 300 malls across the U.S. are creating sensory-friendly events for children to meet Santa and take photos. Find a participating mall near you at the Santa Cares website.
These experiences can help your child see things they usually wouldn’t see at home, opening their eyes to new ideas and creativity.
Whatever your child’s ability level, there are many ways to stay active year-round. With a bit of creativity and planning, winter activities for children with CP can be loads of fun for the whole family.