First of all, let’s address the elephant in the room. It’s completely okay if you choose to stay home over spring break. You will not be called a bad parent if you don’t take your children to Disney World or Marco Island when school is out for a week this April. It is perfectly acceptable to plan a “staycation” with fun activities you can do right here in the Milwaukee area. And, if you have a child with special needs, you may find that it’s easier on the whole family if you avoid the crowds and long lines at the airport and choose to stay home instead.
Here are some great ideas for families who have a child with special needs:
Parks and playgrounds
Of course, this is going to depend on the weather, but we are very lucky to have some amazing outdoor spaces in Southeastern Wisconsin where children of all abilities can play together! Try Imagination Station in Oconomowoc, Possibility Playground in Port Washington or Kayla’s Playground in Franklin. Some of these playgrounds’ features are: cushioned play surfaces, specially-designed merry-go-rounds and liberty swings for children in wheelchairs, extra-wide ramps for easy access, slides with no electrical interference for children with cochlear implants, multi-sensory activities for children with autism and family restrooms with large changing tables.
When you can’t play outside, take the kids to see a flick! AMC partners with the Autism Society for their Sensory Family Film program on the second Saturday of every month. At both the Mayfair Mall and Johnson Creek AMC Theatres, they turn the lights up and the sound down low, so your child can feel free to get up, dance, walk, shout or sing without getting shushed from other moviegoers. Marcus Theatres offers the same experience through their Reel Movies for Real Needs at their Oak Creek, Mequon and New Berlin theaters one Saturday morning each month.
Country Spring Hotel, Water Park & Convention Center in Waukesha offers a special rate for children with special needs and their families during one of the more quiet times at the waterpark. Most Mondays throughout the year, from 4 to 7 p.m., a youth with special needs and two extra family members or caregivers can splash away for $6.50 per person, with tickets for each additional family member at $7.50. Please make sure to check their calendar ahead of time, as the Special Needs time is not offered during peak times and holidays when crowds are larger.
Need a little fresh air and exercise? Head over to Zachariah’s Acres in Oconomowoc, where kids with special needs and their families can enjoy nature and experience the great outdoors on 48 pristine acres. Special events this spring include an Arbor Day tree planting on April 22 and an “Honor Moms & Welcome Spring” activity on May 13.
Be sure to check out the Facebook pages of places like Kids in Motion in New Berlin, Fun Timez! In Franklin and Helium Trampoline & Climbing Park in New Berlin for special times and rates for kids with special needs. Some places offer weekly sessions, and others set aside time on a monthly basis.
Check out teamupwithfamilies.org for more fun activities for families with special needs.
And, remember, you are not a lesser parent if you don’t whisk your children away to Universal Studios over spring break. Spending quality time with your family is what’s important, not where you spend the time!
Tara Clark is the director of development and marketing at St. Francis Children's Center.