Christmas is a particularly challenging time of the year for autistic kids and their families. The amount of overwhelming external stimuli, so typical of Christmas celebrations and festive activities, may easily cause kids to shut down or get upset. To offer them some Christmas fun, we decided to host a big Christmas playdate here at New Trails, the Horse Boy Headquarters, in Elgin, Texas.

 

We turned our playdate area into a charming “Christmas town” where the kids and their families could walk from Christmas station to station and be involved in cheerful activities such as decorating a Christmas tree, baking gingerbreads cookies, make artificial snow and build a snowman. One of our staff members even dressed up as Santa Claus for the occasion: the kids could ride in wheelbarrows with him and have fun in a stress-free environment.

Here is a short description of the different stations that we set up for this special day.

Arena stations

Painting station

For this activity, we spread Christmas ornaments on the table, ready for the kids to paint and to hang on the Christmas tree.

 

Crazy rocks

We painted Christmas characters (a snowman, a gingerbread man and a reindeer) on some round rocks. Each character was split into three different parts: we painted the head on one rock, the body on another one and the legs on a third one. The kids could assemble their favorite Christmas characters as they liked. Sometimes, crazy characters would materialize and this made the activity even more amusing!

Christmas shop

We lined different ingredients needed to bake a gingerbread man. The kids could buy cookie dough, wizzly eyes, and colored glitter to make their own cookie. They could then go to another station which we called “The Gingerbread Lab” to bake the cookies.

Instead of using money to buy each ingredient, the kids were invited to exchange hugs, giggles and wiggle dances to get the ingredients they needed.

 

Gingerbread Lab

Here the kids could learn to use cookie cutters, rolling pins and kitchen utensils. They would arrive at this station with the ingredients bought from the Christmas shop and learn basic cooking methods. It was importnat to us to let the kids be as free as they wanted to be, to use and feel different ingredients, and to allow them be as messy and creative as possible.

The reindeers’ bells

The reindeers' bells was a game for kids to display that they had mastered a certain level of mathematical and/or art skill. We had reindeer heads on our small animal run. Each reindeer had a number attached to it. That number was in a certain color. On our icy Christmas tree in tire we hung bells. These bells were in different colors. The kids were encouraged to either hang the correct number of bells onto the reindeer thus displaying their mathematical skills or to hang the right colored bells onto the reindeer showing their skill of color matching. The kids that wanted to make it a bit more difficult for themselves tried to match numbers and colors.

 

Stations in the woods

Two of the stations - “Play with the snowman” and “Ride with Santa” - were placed in the woods. A fun and simple treasure hunt led the kids to each station through a trail of snowflakes for “Play with Snowman” and a trail of red stockings for “Ride with Santa”.

Play with Snowman

We made a snowman out of cardboard. We hung it between two trees and spread colored plastic balls all around it. The kids had fun throwing the balls into the holes and sorting them by color.

 

Ride with Santa

Santa was waiting for the kids in the woods and inviting them to have a ride on his sleigh (or for lack of snow in Texas his wheelbarrow).

Here are a few more pictures of the fun the kids had with the horses, Bruce the dog in his doggy car and we even had an impromptu Christmas parade led by Bo the dog, followed by Santa, the horses and a a child with a wheelbarrow.