Do you serve itty bittys? There is evidence to suggest that starting programming as young as possible is beneficial to address adverse childhood events. The Stable Moments model serves children as young as 3 years old, but what exactly do you do with a 3 year old at the barn?
A lot of our life skill goals for littles are centered around independence, self worth, creating identity and healthy relationships. If they have experienced complex trauma we need to create a safe space for them to be exactly who they are....a kid!
Research shows that when children receive adequate sensory input, neurons link up into synapses, rather than being gradually pruned away. The barn is one of the best places for sensory play because there are so many different textures, surfaces and spaces to play in. Make your barn a sensory play ground for young children with these ideas.
Get some little shovels and digging tools and make a digging station.
Create a sensory table, like the one pictured and fill the removable bins with all sorts of things like sand, beans, rice, water or our favorite water beads!
Young children may or may not be able to be safe around horses but they can start to play and get used to the brushes. This makes for great sensory input as well!
Make Big Messes
All young children push boundaries and test limits. Remember, it is our job to be consistent and reliable. If you have a little that loves to make big messes, let them. As long as they aren't destroying property, let them spill all the leggos out, tear up paper, and scatter the blocks. Afterward, make a fun game out of clean up. "I bet you can't get all these leggos back in the bin in 30 seconds." "I bet I can get to the broom quicker than you!"
Allowing them to make big messes shows them we can handle all of them. We are not going to try to limit their natural energy and desire to make a splash in the world, but we do need to be responsible. Cleaning up in a fun way demonstrates how we can get big, make a mess and return everything to order without stress. This might just seem like silly play, but trust me, you are developing really important skils.
Prepare for Equine Activities
Before throwing a young child into a situation where they may be overwhelmed or even
unsafe, really practice and plan out your equine time. Practice how they are going to stand with the horse (having the mentor play the horse). Practice walking in a straight line, along cones, before ever introducing a horse. Getting this right beforehand will give you something to refer to when the very distracting equine is in the mix. "Remember how we practiced? Eyes forward!"
Slowing things down, preparing and equipping kids with the tools they need to be successful is rolemodeling self-regulation and executive functioning. Set them up for success and then celebrate their wins!
Even if you don't serve itty bittys, it is quite common for older children with complex trauma to actually be developmentally younger. So even if you only accept children who are older they could very well need these activities targeted toward a younger audience.