During the summer months, tiring out your children by bedtime can feel like a breeze. The pool….the backyard….the park….so many exhausting options! In the warmer months, little ones are sure to be yawning by bedtime because there is space for them to run, room for them to play, and the great outdoors for them to explore.
When our children were toddlers we quickly learned that, with 20" of snow on the ground, playing outside for prolonged periods was NOT an option. Days of going to the park, all gone till spring! I signed up for every playgroup and mommy & me I could find, ANYTHING to get out of the house a few mornings or afternoons. I had a mission, wear these kids out!
One of our new mommies at the toy store was talking recently about how her little one just started walking. Not only is he running around everywhere his little legs can carry him, he’s struggling to go to sleep and frequently gets out of bed during the night. As I listened and saw the mommy fatigue written all over her face, I was taken back to my own sleepless nights. My husband and I refer to them often, thankful that in many ways they are behind us now. Getting our daughter to get in to bed, to stay in bed, and to sleep through the night......what a struggle!
It's very common that children with autism have horrible sleeping habits. Something seems to click in their brains that tells them bedtime is only a nap. If I put her to bed at 8pm, she would wake up at midnight ready for a new day. I, however, was not! I quickly learned that my daughter with autism was wired differently than her brother. Bedtime for her was ten, then up at two and back down (when we were lucky), at about 4. Then at 6am, they both would be up for the day. Looking back, it’s no wonder I was tired!
My husband and I quickly understood that we had to come up with creative ways to deplete her energy supply before bedtime. The more active her play during the day, the better she slept at night. Whether or not your child has autism, these active indoor activities are sure to guarantee you just a little more time in bed each night. And what mom doesn’t need that??
During the cold weather months, our little 3-bedroom house turned into a toddler gym. We had a trampoline, tunnels, play huts, AND a push 'n scoot spread out on the floor. I even had one of those full-size climbing gyms installed in our son's room. Bring the outdoors in with hula hoops, jump ropes, and EZ- steppers; all the activities we think of as outdoor play can be modified and tweaked for a little indoor fun. When winters are long and cold, you have to expand your indoor-play repertoire and be open to activities you may have classed as outdoor-only fun.
Now I want to share our all-time favorite activity: the indoor racetrack. At the first snowfall, fetch your trike or Plasma car and get ready to make a special racetrack all around one floor of your home. Masking tape on the floor is perfect for designating the lanes and a finish line. Use your best announcer's voice to start the race—kids love when mommy models imaginative play with a silly voice. Announce each lap of the race with colorful commentary, make some fun ribbons for all the racers, and end the race with a marching parade around the make-shift track!
At lunch time, get out a quilt and have a picnic right in the middle of the racetrack. When lunch is finished get out a bottle of bubbles and have a Bubble Popping Contest. They can't slap or hit the bubbles, no no no.....they must pinch them using their thumb and pointer finger - a great exercise for those fine motor muscles we need for writing and cutting. Have the kids count the bubbles they pop and keep a tally on a big piece of paper with their names on it. This is a great way to teach counting, and the kids will love to see what it looks like as points accumulate.
I found that when I introduced these ideas to our kids, my older tot was immediately on board. Little
Kiki would follow or observe from afar and perhaps imitate it later, on her terms, at her pace. I learned to be patient and not always gain immediate gratification with her. She was slow to share what she knew. But when she would finally share a skill, boy did we get excited. We learned that she was watching, absorbing, and taking it all in. And that was just fine with us. Every child approaches learning and play in their own unique way, and that’s a wonderful thing.
Thanks for reading!