Sun’s Out Fun’s Out!
Now that warmer weather is here, there are so many opportunities to get outside and engage in a variety of experiences that provide sensory input for your child. Research has shown that a sensory diet in combination with outdoor play can enhance the functional behavior of children (Sahoo & Senapati, 2014). A group of public health experts developed a position statement on outdoor play, recognizing this summer activity as “essential for healthy child development”. (Tremblay, M., et al., 2015). The following are just a few ideas for ways to engage your child’s sensory system, which can lead to improved emotional regulation, increased attention span and cognitive development, and a heightened ability to process new information.
Go on a Nature Walk
Going on a family nature walk provides a variety of opportunities to engage multiple senses. The visual sense (sight) can be stimulated by the abundance of trees, leaves, and flowers found in nature. The auditory sense (hearing) can be engaged by the sounds of birds singing, leaves crunching, and twigs snapping underfoot. The tactile sense (touch) can be affected by the different textures and temperatures of items found on a nature walk, from feeling the bark on a tree to dipping your toes in a puddle of water. The proprioceptive sense (muscles and joints) can be impacted when your child lifts heavy rocks, climbs a hill, or when they simply hop or skip down a trail. These sensory experiences found in nature can help children achieve an ideal state of alertness and well-being.
Check out this 5 senses scavenger hunt for use while you walk!
Don’t be afraid to allow your child to get messy by playing with mud. Patting and squishing mud are great ways to get tactile sensory input. Create a mud kitchen in your backyard using spoons, buckets, and scoops to mix up muddy creations while engaging in messy play. In a similar way, finger painting with mud is fun and engages multiple senses. Encourage your child to paint things such as rocks, a newspaper, or a driveway. In addition to the sensory input it provides, playing with mud can boost a child’s creativity and imagination.
Heavy Outdoor Work
Though this can be age-dependent, even younger children can help out with yard work. Mowing the lawn (or pretend mowing), raking leaves, sweeping, and watering plants are all ways to provide heavy work opportunities, which give the body essential proprioceptive input. Engaging in heavy work has been shown to be an effective way to organize and regulate the sensory system, which can result in lower anxiety and stress.
Take a Trip to the Beach
Walk in the sand, bury each other, build a sandcastle, dip your toes in the water, or swim. Sand provides a rich tactile experience and deep pressure from being buried can provide unique proprioceptive input in small doses (i.e., bury just their feet OR their whole body)! Walking barefoot in the sand or holding sand in your hands provides a rich tactile experience as well.
On some of those long hot summer days, try filling a bucket or getting out the sprinkler to engage in some cooling water play. Not only does this provide engaging, and relatively mess-free, tactile experience, this can help to develop a wide variety of skills. Bring out some paint brushes and improve fine motor skills by “painting” with the water on sidewalks. Practice self-care skills and sequencing tasks by setting up a “car wash” with toys. Bonus regulation tip – add some ice cubes into the mix for added calming benefits!
Keep on Moving
Sunnier weather provides ample opportunities to get outside and get moving. Movement can provide vestibular input for children seeking this type of sensory experience. Head to the local park and try out the swings, play “the floor is lava” on play structures, or race down the slides. Find a nice grassy field for rolling down the hill, cartwheels, and somersaults. Grab a piece of chalk and play hopscotch or create a sidewalk obstacle course with winding lines. Throw a backyard dance party with a mix of fast and slow songs, or play freeze dance for an added challenge. For kiddos who are more sensitive to movement, try and stick to calming back and forth input, like hammocks. They may also prefer movement paired with calming proprioceptive input to their joints, such as jumping.
We hope these activities inspire you to get outdoors to reap all the benefits nature has to offer! Happy playing!
Sahoo, S.K., & Senapati, A. (2014). Effect of sensory diet through outdoor play on functional behavior in children with ADHD. The Indian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 46(2), 49-54.
The OT Toolbox (2021). What Research Says About Outdoor Sensory Play. Retrieved from: https://www.theottoolbox.com/research-outdoor-sensory-play/#:~:text=Outdoor%20play%20provides%20an%20environment,Outdoor%20play%20improves%20physical%20health.
Tremblay, M., Gray, C., Babcock, S., Barnes, J., Bradstreet, C., Carr, D., Chabot, G., et al. (2015). Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 12(6), 6475–6505. MDPI AG. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph120606475