Summer is upon us, children are out of school and parents are looking for activities to keep their little ones entertained. Thankfully the Los Angeles area offers many opportunities for some wonderful sensory experiences to be enjoyed by the whole family. A beach day is a classic summer activity, but kiddos with sensory issues can get overwhelmed by the texture of the sand on their skin, the sound of the waves and even the salty ocean smell. Here are some summer activity ideas and strategies to ensure a fun time in the sun:baby screaming in sand

Small changes in the environment can go a long way toward helping children with sensory issues have a good time. When a beach day is what you want, a boardwalk or a park by the water can offer a nice compromise. If a child can keep his shoes on, walk on solid ground instead of the sand, climb play equipment instead of making sandcastles, and even sit on a bench in a shady area for some much needed quiet time, he is more likely to stay in balance.

Remember that the proprioceptive system (sensory receptors in your joints that send information to the brain) is an incredible emotional and sensory regulator. All the pulling and pushing that happens when a child climbs on playground equipment helps to keep him emotionally regulated.

But what if your child is sensitive to the pungent ocean breeze? An easy solution is to have him carry a favorite cloth with a few drops of soothing essential oil (e.g. lavender or orange). This way, whenever he is overwhelmed by the strong smell of the air, he can smell the preferred fragrance instead.

Finally, keep in mind that your child will do better if you time your family’s trip to the beach according to his natural rhythm. The nervous system becomes more reactive when we’re tired. If your child has more energy in the mornings but fades in the afternoons, try to plan a breakfast or a brunch picnic by the water. The whole family will have a fabulous time.

Here’s a list of our favorite parks and boardwalks by the water:

A nice boardwalk for the whole family to enjoy a stroll:
Zuma Beach
30050 Pacific Coast Hwy
Malibu, CA 90265

A great place for a picnic, to climb, run around, use the zip-line and more:
Marina Park
Pierpont Ave
Ventura, CA 93001

A wonderful way to enjoy the beach by the pool, offers great amenities:
Annenberg Community Beach House
415 Pacific Coast Hwy
Santa Monica, CA 90402

Wondering what else you can do? Here are some other wonderful sensory rich activities in our area:

To cool off and have fun, take your kiddos to play in an interactive fountain:
Arthur J Will Memorial Fountain
210 N. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, Ca 90012

For a sensory feast, the whole family will enjoy a local farmer’s market:

Introduce your children to where their food comes from, take them to a U-pick farm for strawberries and other wonderful treats:
McGraw Family Farm
1012 West Ventura Blvd

Underwood Family Farms
3370 Sunset Valley Rd

More tips to help ensure a wonderful time:

    • Bring a sensory community kit (a collection of items and toys that your child finds soothing).
    • Bring plenty of drinks and food (thirst and hunger can make anyone dysregulate).
    • Bring sun hats, sunscreen and umbrellas for shade (too much sun exposure can be draining).
    • Bring a change of clothing for your child (children with tactile sensitivities get overwhelmed when their clothes are wet).
    • Bring a set of headphones with your child’s favorite music (it will help tune out the noise from other people or the crashing waves).
    • Prepare your child for what he can expect during this outing, get him involved in making a plan  to help cope with unpleasant stimuli.
    • Do some activities prior to the outing to help him experience some of the sensations he might encounter during your outing.
    • Learn to read your child’s cues; children with sensory issues can get overwhelmed fast.

Summer is a special time for parents and children to have fun and make memories together. Parents have the difficult task of respecting their child’s limits while still providing opportunities to explore and experience the world. This can be challenging—a lot of it is trial and error but remember that you are the expert on your child. The more you can just live in the moment and go with the flow, the more you will enjoy this special time with your child.