The following is a guest post by Marilyn Webster. After Marilyn told me about this activity she created and led, I mentioned that I would love for her to share it here on the blog. I’m so glad she took me up on it!

Thanksgiving Sensory Feast

Hi, my name is Marilyn Webster, and my daughter has been a client of Rachel’s for years! As my daughter with autism grew, we found it harder and harder to find fun activities that we could enjoy as a family. Her interests and abilities were not the same as her peers, and she was too old to join preschool groups anymore.

And so, I started my own group with the support of my church! We call them family fun nights, and all families with special needs kids are welcome to attend. Our group serves a few functions for our families: it provides us with a sense of community, provides fun activities which our kids are able to fully participate in, and gives families who often feel isolated “something to do”.

As I plan events, one question I challenge myself with is: how can I find ways to take situations which either I personally or others in the group shared have been difficult to access for our kids, and make it accessible? Some of the most commented on events that families find difficult are holidays. Parents desperately want their kids to be able to enjoy these important cultural and family events and participate in the traditions, but our kids can find it overwhelming and confusing.

Now, you’ve probably jumped quickly to the melee of Christmas or the raucousness of Halloween, and you are right, those are struggles. But the one holiday that comes up in conversation more often than you might think is Thanksgiving, and if you give it a moment of reflection, this makes sense.

First of all, the whole idea of Thanksgiving is very abstract. Some of our kids can’t grasp the idea of gratitude yet, and this isn’t a holiday with a lot of concrete symbols like Santa, pumpkins, or eggs that our kids might be able to enjoy. In fact, the only physical symbols of Thanksgiving are foods! And food is one area where our kids tend to struggle immensely! New foods are frightening, and many of our kids have very narrow diets.

So, how to make Thanksgiving a fun and welcoming experience? I created a sensory Thanksgiving feast! This way, kids could explore the smells, textures, and appearances of traditional Thanksgiving foods in a fun, non-threatening way, and maybe build a connection to what we mean when we talk about the holiday.

Our feast included:


Pumpkin pie playdough: You can use whatever basic play dough recipe you prefer, but add pumpkin pie spices to it and color it to look like pumpkin pie filling.

Cranberry sauce playdough: The texture of this was a bit weird, and most kids didn’t really like it. I think a simple activity with whole cranberries might have been more fun. But here is the recipe.

Dry corn sensory bin: We filled a water table with that dry corn you throw out for the birds. It was a huge hit!

Dry stuffing sensory bin: two bags of dry store bought stuffing in a wide, low bin. I think this bin was responsible for making the whole room smell like Thanksgiving!

Potatoes and “gravy” stamp painting: I cut a few potatoes in half to stamp with. Then I mixed a dry turkey gravy packet into some plain yogurt to use as paint. It looked and smelled like real gravy! This was most definitely “process art” as opposed to “product art”.

While kids explored the feast, we sang a few songs having to do with turkeys and saying thank you.

Our kids had a blast playing with all the Thanksgiving goodies, and their parents had fun being able to enjoy traditional holiday foods with them, albeit in a very unusual way! I know when we sat down to our Thanksgiving feast, and my daughter had her usual plate of spaghetti while the rest of us dug into the turkey, I was thankful that she had at least enjoyed a sensory Thanksgiving meal of her own.