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Summer Crafts for Kids with Autism

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If you work with children on the autism spectrum in the summer, it’s important to make sure that our kiddos get to have some fun things to do. Students with twelve months of special education services deserve to have an enjoyable summer too! That is why I like to integrate crafts into my lesson for students on the autism spectrum over the summer. Plus as an added bonus it helps out students work on executive functioning and fine motor skills! 

Do you ever feel bummed about having to teach in the summer? It’s totally normal if you do. While the majority of our profession is taking vacations, doing PDs, or spending time with their families, a lot of special education teachers, SETSS providers, and SEITs are still hard at work.

I actually love teaching summer school. Click here to read why.

But I’m a nerd. 

However, whether you’re like me and actually want to teach in the summer, or you’re just smiling and gritting your teeth through it, there are things you can do to make teaching in the summer more enjoyable.

My favorite by far is arts and crafts! In this post, I’m going to share some of my favorite summer crafts for kids with autism! Read on to get ideas about how to make your summer more enjoyable!

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You might be thinking, children with IEPs who get 12 months of services should be focusing their energy and effort on learning and making the most of this extra time.

You aren’t wrong.

However, you know how you’re at least a little bummed to be teaching and working in the summer?

Well so are they. 

I think you both deserve to do some fun things together in the summer to build up skills in an enjoyable and more relatable way, outside of just doing worksheets all day long. 

Additionally, there are many benefits arts and crafts can bring to children with autism in the summer! 

These include

  • Improved Fine Motor Skills
  • Increasing Creativity
  • Executive functioning skills from following steps
  • Having physical evidence of their hard work
  • Feelings of Pride
  • Increasing enjoyment and effort put forward in sessions

Long story short, outside of just being fun, summer service providers should always have a few simple arts and crafts in their back pocket for their students on the autism spectrum!

Full disclosure, I love making things that we can then play with! I’ve found that improves children’s engagement in both the craft and the game afterward.

It can make your session more meaningful and encourages your student to be more engaged with the craft itself, as you aren’t just making something for the sake of making it. You’ll actually be playing with it later.

That is why I love making Paper Towel Roll Bowling games.

First, gather your supplies! 

  • Ten Empty Paper Towel Rolls 
  • Paint 
  • Paint Brushes
  • Cup for paintbrush water
  • Small ball (lightweight)

Gather all the materials together and with your students paint whatever design you would like on the paper towel rolls. I like to do solid colors as it’s easier for my students with poor body control or hand-eye coordination.

Allow the paper towel rolls to dry overnight. 

The next day set the painted paper towel rolls up as pins, and take turns with your students rolling a ball into them. See who can knock down the most! 

Variations can include using both a heavier ball and/or pins. Consult your student or child’s OT to see what weight would be ideal for them. 

If you’d also rather work on throwing rather than rolling, you can raise the pins up by putting them on a table and having your student throw the ball at them. Though I’d recommend doing this outside if you can find a safe place. 

I love doing fishing hole crafts because afterward you can play some amazing pretend play games that get your students to use their imagination! 

To learn more about the benefits of pretend play, click here!

In this game/craft, you’ll make fish with your students, create a pretend fishing hole, and pretend to fish with your kiddos! There are lots of ways to transition fishing into a fun game that gets them to use their creative brains!

First, gather your supplies! 

  • Paper
    • Coloring Pages of Fish also work
  • Pencil
  • Colored Pencils
  • Scissors 
  • Toy Fishing Rods
    • Or make your own with sticks and twine
  • Hula Hoop
  • Your creative brain! 

You can either start by having your student free-hand drawing fish or coloring in the pre-print coloring page! 

This totally depends on their drawing ability and artistic inclinations. I have some kids that love to draw freehand, and they get the blank paper. Meanwhile, I have others who get frustrated when asked to draw freehand and they get the coloring pages. 

Color in or draw your desired number of fish. I like to do 5-10 depending on my student’s patience.

Cut them out.

Afterward, we set the hula hoop on the floor, which serves as our pond. We then sit down and pretend to fish.

There are lots of things you can do to make this more engaging than sitting on the floor. You can pretend to almost catch something and get pulled in. You can sing songs about fishing or pretend to be afraid of sharks. 

Do something creative and imaginative with this that is customized to get your student to engage and play along with you. 

Even if they can’t think of things to move the game along on their own, you’re sure to get some giggles going and start building on their pretend play skills! 

This one does not lead to a fun game, but it can also be a great way to work on a student’s scanning skills and fine motor control. Additionally, if your student likes it, then you can start them off with a good hobby. 

I’m always looking for things my students can do on their own that aren’t just stimming or spending time on the computer, and painting by numbers can be a wonderful activity. 

The plus side is you need very prep time for it, but you do have to invest some money. 

First, gather your supplies! 

  • Paint by Number Kit
  • Small Paint Brush
  • Water for Dipping Brushes

Layout all your supplies on the table and explain what you’ll be doing to your student. I like to point out the numbers on the different colors and do a few demos to help my students learn how to do it. 

Once they’ve got it be sure to praise their efforts! 

Always pick out a color by number that is appropriate for your students. Don’t get one that is too large or has too many small points if their fine motor skills aren’t up to the task. 

Consult your student’s OT if you’re in doubt. 

As a variation, you can also consider getting a paint-by-sticker book which is easier for students with poor fine motor skills or short attention spans. 

This is another great one that can lead to a game. Though you’ll probably want to take this one outside if you can! 

Flyable kites are wonderful for working on gross motor skills after they’re made or pretend play if you use them right. 

While they won’t go very high or fly in a string, they’re amazing to run around with. 

First, gather your supplies! 

  • An 8.5 by 11 piece of cardstock (any color)
  • Pencil
  • Straight Edge
  • Scissors
  • Twine 
  • 2 plastic straws
  • Tape
  • Ribbon for decorating

The first thing you’re going to want to do is to draw a diamond, or kite shape on the card stock with your straight edge. Have your students cut along the line, 

Use adaptive scissors if your OT recommends it. 

Cut the straws so one fits going up the kite in the center vertically and the other goes between the two corners horizontally. 

Tape the straws in place with your students. Have your students thread twine through the vertical straw and tie it into a loop. You don’t want the loop to be too small, as it’s your handle.

You’ll hold onto it while you run! 

Cut out ribbon and tape it onto the front of the kite (the side without the straws) as a tail for your kid. 

You can play with this indoors or outdoors. Hold the kite by the twine and run or spin with it to feel it catch the wind.

I like to sing Let’s go Fly a Kite from Mary Poppins with my kiddos for this one. Or if you want to play pretend, act as though you’re going to get blown away and have your kiddos grab ahold of you to keep you in place!

Full disclosure this one is technically for babies, but many students with autism are prone to impulsive decisions and will stick their hands in their mouths regardless of what is on them.

If you use yogurt to make the paint, you don’t have to worry about anyone eating paint, during finger painting sessions.

First, gather your supplies! 

  • Plain yogurt (dairy-free works too)
  • Food coloring
  • Paper
    • Or large sticky note you can put on the wall

Once you’ve mixed the paint you can have your students pick the colors they want to use and finger paint abstract art, or whatever else they want! 

This paint is edible so if they grab a taste of it, it’s not the end of the word. 

I like to put the paper on the wall and cover a large area when we do this so my kids can experience working on a large “canvas” and it gives the activity more dimension. 

A lot of my kids have actually made some really amazing pieces of abstract art that I’ve found super moving this way. 

I always maintain that arts and crafts should be a bit part of any students with autism’s summer program. They’re fun and engaging and give students a chance to work on skills that aren’t just academic but can improve their fine motor skills and creativity.

Plus they can lead to so many amazing chances to play imaginative games and use your creative brain! 

I hope that something on this list speaks to you. Pick something you love and are excited about doing, and your students are more likely to be engaged and have fun,

Let your genuine excitement shine through, and you’ll all have a great time! 

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