By Jennafer Young, MS, OTR/L
Spring is here! And with it come many advantages to outdoor sensory play.
The outdoors is the perfect place for your child to encounter rich, meaningful, fun, and challenging sensory experiences! Think about it: playing outside provides some of the greatest variety in sensory experiences. You naturally have many sounds (birds, cars driving by, children down the street)...many smells (grass, pine needles, rain)...many sights (various colors, sizes, distances, and patterns)...and many textures (light breeze on your face, sticky mud on your hands, soft grass on your feet).
On top of all this input, you have plenty of movement input (vestibular and proprioceptive) from the play children naturally participate in when they are outside: running, swinging, puddle jumping, rolling, digging, sliding, climbing...the list goes on!
When children are playing outside, they get to learn about challenging and wonderful sensory input in a natural, non-threatening way. They get to learn about the world that will always be around them, rather than a contrived world of sensory bins and structured play. Don’t get me wrong - I love these too. But these activities imitate rather than replace the sensory-rich experiences found in nature. So let’s set aside our grown-up and all-too-practical ideas of uber cleanliness, hyper-safety patrol, and total control. Let’s encourage our kids to get outside, get sweaty, and get dirty! Here are a few ideas:
Instead of staying inside to create home-made play dough for a texture experience, why not go dig in the sandbox or make mud pies?
Rather than having animal races down the hallway, why not have your races outside where the whole body is engaged in a sensory experience?
Instead of playing in a water basin or bathtub, why not put on old clothes and go puddle jumping?
Rather than host a dance party to get the wiggles out, why not climb trees or have rolling races down the hill in the backyard?
And don’t forget to invite the neighbor kids! You may be amazed at the sensory input your child will accept when they have a friend laughing and playing right along with them.