In this blog post, you'll learn how to create a fidget Christmas Tree and other tips for decorating when you live with a sensory seeking kid who loves to experience Christmas through all their senses! This is helpful for parents of autistic kids as well as for parents of babies, toddlers and young kids.
This is the first in a series of blog posts that I'll be sharing about ways to use creativity to make projects that are more inclusive! As a parent of an autistic child, I've had to navigate how to create a safe and fun environment for my son that our whole family can enjoy. I'm excited to include this more personal side to my life here and share ideas and tips for creative projects that suit a variety of needs. I hope you find them helpful and inspiring, and I'd love to know how you incorporate them in your own life because I know every kid is different, and I'm sure you'll find a way to put your own twist on these ideas!
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FIDGET CHRISTMAS TREE
Pictured above: Fidget Christmas tree featuring pop it keychain ornaments and pop tube garland.
If you have a sensory seeker in your life, then you probably relate with the struggle to keep decorations on your Christmas tree each December. My son Ollie is autistic, and he doesn't just want to look at our beautifully decorated tree, he wants to experience it with allll his senses! He especially loves to touch and taste things around him, and a bright, colorful tree is impossible to resist.
Pictured above: Sherry Freyermuth with her son Ollie in front of their fidget Christmas tree on Thanksgiving 2023.
This year, I decided early that I wasn't going to fight Ollie's instincts to explore with all his senses, and instead, I chose to embrace it. Rather than use the "shatterproof" ornaments that he always took as a personal challenge (Ollie won), I bought some of his favorite sensory toys such as pop it key chains and pop tubes to decorate the tree. I also bought his favorite chewy toys that help redirect his interest in chewing unsafe objects in our home. My mom is also working on creating fabric ornaments that are safe and fun for Ollie to play with.
Pictured above left: Ben in front of the fidget tree. Pictured above right: Our Elf on the Shelf named Rudolph with his own pop it ornament.
My older son Ben had fun getting involved, and picked out a tree that had colorful lights. He was so eager to get started that our family decorated the tree on Thanksgiving night with the help of their gram and auntie. We linked pop tubes together and strung them around the tree like garland, and we found pop it keychain toys that hang great and come in a variety of shapes and colors (we picked hearts, circles and squares). Ben even gifted a pop it to our Elf on the Shelf and as you can see Rudolph the elf LOVES his heart ornament :)
Pictured above: We keep the extra or removed fidget toys in a basket under the tree so the kids can just grab and play with them. Every few days, we can reset the tree with these extras.
I originally planned to have Ollie's tree along with a "nice tree" that we put up where Ollie couldn't reach it, but I realized we didn't need it all. This Christmas I set out to create the best Christmas tree that would suit Ollie, and it turns out, it's the perfect tree for our whole family.
If you're interested in seeing the exact products I used to decorate our fidget Christmas tree, you can see them here:
Pictured above: A daytime photo of our fidget Christmas tree featuring pop it keychains, pop tube garland and chewy toys.
OTHER DECOR IDEAS
I've had to think hard about what decor makes the most sense for our family, and I've found that focusing on soft decorations and toys are the best fit for our family right now.
Rugs and Fabric Decor
One of my favorite things I used this season are area rugs. I found an inexpensive rug for my living room, and I planned to use carpet tape to adhere it to my wall to wall carpeting, but Ollie likes rolling up in the rug so for now, I'm just keeping it as is to let him have fun with it. I also splurged on holiday Ruggables for my kitchen because we already had the rug pads and just changed out the rug tops for the season.
Additional ideas I've implemented are lots of holiday themed blankets and pillows. I also plan to get some fun Holiday themed dish towels and hand towels to add some festive flare to the kitchen and bathrooms.
With Ollie we can't do candles or anything heated, so we're using plug in air fresheners and will update the scents for the season.
Stuffy's and Toys
My other favorite hack for festive, sensory friendly decor are stuffy's and toys. We were gifted a Fisher Price nativity set that works great with our playful decorations. I also love stuffy's like Beanie Boos, and other soft toys. We've accumulated several over the years, and they work out great placed on our lower shelves. Anything breakable or with sentimental value stays up on high shelves or stays packed away until we're ready for it another season.
Other Sensory Ideas
Later in the season, I plan to add everyone in the family's favorite candy cane flavors to the tree as a fun holiday treat. I also want to put toys around the tree that add sound such as Ollie's favorite drums and figures that play Christmas music. I considered adding bouncy balls from Walmart in red and green to look like giant ornaments, but I'm not sure that's going to be the best indoor activity...something to consider when the kids get restless on cold days!
Do what works for you!
The best thing about creating a fidget tree or other sensory friendly decor is, anything goes! Consider the needs of the sensory seekers in your life and get creative with how you can make your own holiday as fun and as inclusive as possible for the season. Happy holidays and Merry Christmas!
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This blog post was written by Sherry Freyermuth on November 27, 2023.