Holiday Activity Ideas for Neurodiverse Children

December in South Africa brings with it a welcome break from school for remedial students. This is a chance to rest up, to relax and to recover after a demanding academic year. It is also a time for parents to be with their children over the festive season.

For many people, on the other hand, this time can also be quite stressful. For the neurodiverse child and their parents, this period brings with it unique challenges. 

With some planning, however, these challenges can instead be an opportunity for a truly wonderful time for these precious children.

We will be considering a few strategies and some suggestions for making this festive break a fun and fulfilling time. Whether your child has ADHDhigh-functioning autismdyslexia or any number of neurodiverse conditions, this holiday can be “the most wonderful time of the year” for both the child and the family.

We will also briefly look at a few ways for the child to come back ready to forge ahead academically at our proudly remedial school in the New Year.

How to help navigate the holidays with a neurodiverse child

Keeping to a routine is key to helping your child during the break. Stick to bedtimes, meals times and other key times during the day. When it comes to outings, make sure to plan ahead for them in the routine schedule.

To assist with this, print up a daily routine and have it placed where everyone can see it. This will help keep everyone on the same page. It will also help the child with their anxiety by handing back some control to them. It will also allow them to see what to expect as the day and week unfolds.

Plan time in the schedule for activities, whether at home or as an excursion. Make a point to discuss the upcoming activities with your child. Then rehearse with them, so their anxiousness is allayed. In this way, they can be prepared for whatever it is your family is doing each day. 

One way to do this is to prepare and practise social stories. Social stories are tools to help a child navigate their emotions and manage their expectations of events to come. These stories will assist children in understanding what to expect and how to behave in particular scenarios. Many are already available online at little to no cost. (See below in our further reading and bibliography section for one such online resource.)

When preparing to go to someplace new, rehearse the applicable social story. If you cannot find one that fits, make one up that is suitable. For example, visiting a family member’s house: What to expect if there are pets, and if they are fussy about how furniture is to be used. This will again help prepare your child for the event.

Plan to have a quiet space to which a neurodiverse child who might be feeling overwhelmed can retreat. This would need to be a quiet location with dimmer lighting and less overall stimulation. Bring some earphones along that cancel sound. Have some sunglasses handy and a comfort blanket on hand that can be used to give your child this space, wherever you go.

Some activities that can be enjoyed over the holidays

Some Inside Activities

Puzzle building can be very engaging and fulfilling for the neurodiverse child. Other activities, depending on age and preferences, include homemade playdough and finger painting.

Getting out the keyboard and turning the volume down could satiate your child’s busyness. This will also allow them to learn transferable motor skills and introduce them to music. The availability of easy piano tutorials on platforms such as YouTube has proliferated over the past few years. With this readily on hand your neurodiverse prodigy could be on their way to having a large portfolio of playable tunes by the time they return to school next year. Music is demonstrably very beneficial for both neuro-normative and neurodiverse children.

Plan a home family movie night. Let the children choose, or share one of your favourites from your childhood. Think blankets, snacks and family memories, in a safe and secure environment. If any of the parts become overwhelming, the movie can be paused for recalibration.

Have a family games evening. These can be tailored to the needs and preferences of your unique family. Charades and Pictionary can be very informal. If your child enjoys facts and factoids, organise a quiz evening. What about hide and seek? Even a game of tag or touchers can be a lot of fun.

holiday activity ideas for neurodiverse children

Some Outside Activities

Take the family for a walk. Remember to plan the social story to prepare!

Getting outdoors can calm anxiety. It also gives space to grow family bonds. This is also a great option for children with lots of energy but an aversion to team sports. Making a game of it is also fun. Ideas could be to see if they can spot three round rocks or four types of birds.

If your child is new to walking, start with 20-minute walks and slowly build up from there. Also, a trip to the local park is a great family outing that won’t break the budget.

Stargazing and cloudwatching are also fun ways you can get your child to be outdoors with you.

Going for a long drive can be a playful diversion. Some children, neurodivergent or not, find car drives very comforting. Pack snacks and toys. Exploring the city and countryside makes for many options. Pick a safe route and have your GPS on to direct you there and back again.

These are just some ideas. There are many more that you can do to suit your family’s needs and tastes.

Learning loss during the holidays for neurodiverse remedial learners

There is a phenomenon known as the summer slide. This has been an academic topic of discussion and investigation for over 100 years! Some findings suggest the problem has been overstated. Other studies confirm that there is learning loss over extended breaks. What can be agreed on, though, is that it is good for learners, remedial or otherwise, to still practise some of their academic disciplines over the holidays. With a little bit of effort, there are fun and friendly ways to keep your remedial and mainstream learners practised in reading, writing and maths.

Set aside a few reading goals. Maybe aim to read a book and some stories before Christmas, and then another before the New Year.

Have a short story writing competition. See who can make up the funniest one-page story. Take a moment to check spelling, without it becoming another chore.

Print a few maths worksheets. Spend 10 minutes a day just practising the skills learnt in the past year. This will help your child avoid needing to relearn these skills when January arrives.

For a few more details and additional pointers, see our article here. Check out our website to see some free resources that can help as well, click here.

Japari: Looking forward to helping remedial children in the new year

Japari is a proudly remedial school, assisting children who don’t thrive in a mainstream class environment. After the well-deserved break, contact us to see how we can help your child achieve their best.

We are specialists with a track record of seeing neurodiverse learners succeed in our supportive and well-equipped environment. More than that, we set learners up to follow this up with ongoing success in mainstream high schools. Our students do well after spending a few years with us.

From Japari, to everyone, remedial, neurodiverse or otherwise, we wish you a wonderful festive season. May it be a time to recuperate and make marvellous and merry family memories.

Bibliography/Further Reading

Social Stories:


Neurodivergence and travelling:

Learning loss:

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