Young parents playing with their toddler

Whether you’re stuck inside because of a global pandemic, health concerns, changing weather, or all of the above, finding engaging activities for your child with special needs can be a difficult task. Not to mention, you’re likely busy shuffling your family to and from school, work, doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, and a myriad of other obligations that require your time and attention during the week.

You need all the help you can get.

Luckily, we’ve compiled a list of indoor activities for your special needs kiddo, depending on their ability level and developmental needs; they’ll not only be engaged and entertained for hours, but will actually be developing essential cognitive and emotional skills in the process!

Fine Motor Skill Activities

Fine motor skills are those executed with small groups of muscles, mostly in the hands and wrists. They require active engagement of the brain and eyes, and impact how children learn and develop. For children with special needs, fine motor skills can be delayed if not encouraged and improved at home via simple activities.

Child picking out toys in a sand box

Sensory Boxes

Simply put, a sensory box is an opportunity for your child to use their hands and other tools to discover objects of varying sizes, colors, textures, etc. It is easy to gather and put together and is sure to be a source of countless hours of engagement, fun and learning.

What you’ll need:

  • A box or container
  • Sand, uncooked rice, or dry beans
  • Small toys, blocks, craft pom-poms, buttons, etc
  • Tongs, cups, or a spoon

How to play:

  • Fill your box or container with a filler of your choice (sand, rice, or beans), then add small toys, craft supplies, and other items with varying colors, shapes, and textures, covering them with another layer of filling.
  • Allow your child to use tongs, a spoon, or their hands to discover the items in the box. Ask them to pull things out of the box and describe them to you, or feel them inside their hands.
  • Other options: 1) Help your child sort the items according to color, shape, size, etc. 2) Lay down a sheet so that your child can dump out the contents in their entirety, play with the toys, then practice filling the box back up/putting the items away.

Skills used/learned:

  • Object permanence: your child will begin to grasp that objects exist even if they cannot be seen.
  • Sorting, organizing, and categorizing: by recognizing that certain objects share qualities, your child will start to make sense of and draw conclusions about the world around them.
  • Creativity and critical thinking: through play and sensory discovery, the brain’s ability to reason and “think outside the box” increases.
Child playing with play dough

Discovery Hour

The developing mind of a young child craves variation, diversity, and innovation. Make this happen by offering your special needs child a smorgasbord of arts and crafts to interact with. We like to call this “discovery hour.”

What you’ll need:

  • Playdough, children’s craft clay
  • Uncooked noodles of varying shapes and sizes
  • Buttons, coins
  • Paper and children’s craft scissors
  • Craft pom-poms, styrofoam shapes and letters, stickers, etc
  • String, yarn, pipe cleaners
  • Glitter, glue
  • Markers, crayons, colored pencils, etc

How to play:

  • On a table or the floor, set out whatever crafting supplies you have available and are appropriate for your child’s age and developmental ability.
  • You may choose to start a timer (again, for an age-appropriate time) and let your child create whatever they would like to during their allotted minutes, or allow “discovery hour” to last as long as the child is content.
  • Additionally, you may challenge your child with a specific task, like creating their own board game or making a card for Grandma, or crafting a piece of art that describes their day/favorite memory/best friend, etc.

Skills used/learned:

  • Creativity: giving your child freedom to dream, create, and play with a myriad of tools at their disposal grows their brain’s ability to think creatively and make decisions.
  • Independence/autonomy: children, especially those with special needs, need to grow in their confidence and ability to entertain themselves with engaging, mind-strengthening activities.
  • Resourcefulness: “discovery hour” will allow your child to work with what’s in front of them, to adapt and be imaginative with the tools/items they’re given.

Other Fine Motor Skill Activities

  • Musical instruments and toys
  • Keys and locks
  • Finger puppets
  • Games requiring specific hand movements, like Jenga
  • Threading beads onto string
  • Finger painting
  • Hand puzzles, Rubik’s cubes, fidget cubes, etc

Gross Motor Skill Activities

Gross motor skills are those that utilize the larger muscle groups of the body and control things like balance, walking, coordination, and controlled movements. These skills affect daily operations and eventual life functioning. Thankfully, you and your child can grow gross motor skills together, even when you’re stuck at home!

Mother and child playing with balloons

Balloon Volleyball

Unless someone in your family has a latex allergy, blowing up balloons is one of the easiest ways to bring the movement and energy of sports indoors.

What you’ll need:

  • A balloon
  • Tape
  • Space to spread out

How to play:

  • Clear out an area in your home, somewhere your little one(s) won’t be at risk for injuring themselves on something like a coffee table or breaking a valuable piece of decor.
  • Lay down a piece of tape to act as a net (string can work too!), and stand on either side of it. Then, proceed to “volley” back and forth as long as you can without letting the balloon touch the ground! This game works well with multiple players.
  • Additional balloon activities: 1) The “Penguin Waddle:” have each child place a blown-up balloon in between their legs and race from one end of the room to the other without letting the balloon slip. 2) Have a contest to see who can balance the balloon on top of their head or on the back of their hand the longest. 3) Instruct your littles to lay on their stomachs and place a balloon in front of them. Then, see who can blow their balloon across the finish line first (no hands allowed!).

Skills used/learned:

  • Coordination: one of the main components of gross motor skills necessary for children’s development, coordination is strengthened through games that require a hand-foot-eye connection.
  • Emotional regulation: there’s bound to be frustration if and when the balloon drops on the ground during gameplay. This is an excellent opportunity to coach your special needs child in naming their emotions and “bouncing back” in order to keep engaging in the activity.
  • Teamwork: an essential social skill, teamwork grows naturally in the context of group games and activities. These simple balloon games will give your child the opportunity to lose and win graciously, share, and communicate in a fun setting.
Child jumping on couch

Obstacle Course

Your children will rant and rave about this activity for weeks afterward! It might even become a staple on the days you’re stuck at home.

What you’ll need:

  • Pillows, toys
  • Various objects
  • Chairs
  • Tape, rope
  • Anything else you’d like to include in your obstacle course

How to play:

  • The sky’s the limit with this activity. Choose the room in your house with the least amount of breakables, valuables, or sharp edges to run into.
  • Create a path from a clear starting point to a “finish line.” In between the two, place varying objects that serve a specific purpose in the course. Use tape to mark where children should stop and complete five jumping jacks, place a chair where children can sit and say their ABC’s, set three pillows down for children to “leapfrog” over, etc. Be as creative as possible.
  • If you can, do the obstacle course first so that your child(ren) can make mental/visual notes about how to complete the challenge. Then, allow them to try for themselves.
  • The obstacle course should be adjusted for difficulty level, depending on the age and mobility of the child(ren) playing. Be safe, and have fun with it!

Skills used/learned:

  • Coordination: this activity will take creative coordination, as your child doesn’t have to move their body like this during normal day-to-day activities. It will require thoughtfulness and intentional body movements throughout.
  • Memory recall: once your child has begun the race/course, he or she will have to recollect the instructions they were given for completing the activity.

Other Gross Motor Skill Activities

  • Simon Says
  • Games utilizing bean bags (toss into baskets) or yoga balls (roll from one location to another)
  • Indoor hopscotch
  • Children’s workout class/video

Socio-emotional Development Activities

Helping your child establish and maintain socio-emotional skills can feel like a weighty responsibility, especially when mobility and opportunities outside the home are limited. Thankfully, there’s a way to do it that’s fun for you and your special needs child: hands-on, immersive indoor activities.

Empowering your special needs child to be socio-emotionally adept is one of the best things you can do for them. These skills increase independence and autonomy, relatability and enjoyment of relationships and learning.

Older sister playing with little brother in blanket fort

Living Room Campout

Whether or not your family enjoys camping as a regular leisure activity, chances are, your child will be delighted to find out that you’ll be camping together… in the living room! This can be used for downtime, imaginative/pretend play, a quiet reading space, etc.

What you’ll need:

  • Pillows, blankets, sleeping bags, a small tent (or DIY fort!)
  • Snacks
  • Flashlight
  • Any elements for play (stuffed animals, cards, books, etc)
  • A sound machine with forest or outdoor atmospheric noises

How to play:

  • Set the scene: be as animated and enthusiastic as possible. Let your child partake in the imaginative process. Where is your camping oasis located? An island off the coast of Madagascar? The deep, snowy woods of Alaska? A tropical rainforest?
  • Help your child create a safe place to “sleep.” If you are using a tent, this is a prime opportunity to teach your child how to set it up. If creating a fort, task your child with building something sturdy (with your help, of course).

Skills used/learned:

  • Problem-solving: let your child learn for themselves. Don’t be so quick to swoop in and help him/her when they become frustrated. Remain close and verbally coach through a predicament if needed, but first give your child the chance to strengthen their logic, flexibility, and problem-solving abilities.
  • Emotional regulation: did the fort collapse while your child was building it? Use this moment as an opportunity to teach self-deescalation and coping mechanisms.
  • Relationship building: whether your special needs kiddo is building their living room campout with just you or a sibling/friend, they are learning how to speak and express themselves in a way that’s conducive to others’ enjoyment as well as their own.
Little girl playing with colored pencils

Scavenger Hunt

Fostering play through creativity and critical thinking is one of the most effective ways to teach socio-emotional skills without a curriculum or handbook. A scavenger hunt is a fun, active way to keep your child’s body and mind engaged with their world.

What you’ll need:

  • Pen and paper
  • Hidden items throughout the house
  • A prize or “buried treasure”

How to play:

  • Easy version: on slips of paper, write descriptions or draw pictures for items that are hidden or hard to find throughout your home. Give your child the pieces of paper all at once and see how many he or she can find (with minimal help from mom or dad). Allow your kiddo to earn a prize for working hard with a good attitude.
  • More challenging version: use the slips of paper to create “clues” that lead from one location of the house to another. For example, if one clue leads to the bookshelf, there should be a slip of paper waiting on the bookshelf to lead your child to the next location. Then, the last clue should lead to a prize or “treasure” of some kind (can be as simple as a treat or snack).
  • Bonus fun: ask your little one to help you create a “map” of their treasure hunt to share with friends and family later.

Skills used/learned:

  • Problem-solving (with your patient and helpful coaching)
  • Communication of needs and ideas
  • Adaptability when unexpected challenges arise

Other Socio-emotional Activities

  • Card games (Uno, Go Fish, etc)
  • Charades
  • Board games (Candyland, Monopoly, Trouble, Sorry, etc)
  • Reading together
  • Drawing and describing emotions (what do they look and feel like?)
  • Chef’s Helper: let your child safely help in the kitchen according to their ability/age
Child in a hospital bed

Bed-ridden Activities

Whether your kiddo is battling sickness at home or in a hospital, being stuck in bed can be a lonely, isolating experience. Doing fun activities together not only keeps your child’s spirits high, but allows their minds to remain engaged during an otherwise stressful time. Some of these activities may work for special needs children who are bound to wheelchairs, as well!

Arts and Crafts

If you can do it at the table, you can do it in bed! Be creative and intentional to bring engaging, hands-on activities to your child who is stuck in bed. Consider doing a version of “Discovery Hour” described in the “Fine Motor Skill” section above. It will always be worth the mess, trust us.

  • Stickers, pipe cleaners, pom poms, glitter, etc
  • Paper airplanes, paper snowflakes
  • Playdough, clay
  • Beads and string
  • Coloring books and finger paints

Hands-on Games

Your bed-ridden child desperately wants to play – particularly, with you. Bring as many engaging options to their bedside as possible to keep their brain and body engaged. 

  • Books (“I Spy” or “Where’s Waldo/Wally”)
  • Puzzles
  • Play pretend (an all-time favorite for kids)
  • Hands-only Charades
  • Children’s Pictionary
  • Perform a skit or play with puppets

Don’t forget, mom and dad: you’re doing great! You don’t have to be perfect. You just need to be present. Start with one new activity this week, and enjoy learning and growing with your little one.

How Evergreen Home Healthcare Can Help Your Child

Caring for children with special needs might not always be the simplest, especially when you’re stuck inside. Evergreen Home Healthcare is passionate about coming alongside families as a resource and support system.

Our team of compassionate, competent healthcare professionals is equipped to assist you in any capacity on this journey. We offer a myriad of services to fit the needs of you and your little one. As the top pediatric home healthcare provider in Colorado, we are proud to offer specialized care for special needs children, including a Parent CNA Program, In-Home Support Services, Private Duty Nursing, Staffed CNA Care, and Skilled Nursing.

You don’t have to do it alone. Reach out today!