Outdoor Sensory Diet Activities for Playing in the Woods | The OT Toolbox

Outdoor Sensory Diet Activities for Playing in the Woods

Kids just don't get much time to play outdoors anymore. We talked about the impact that reduced outdoor play has to do with sensory processing needs in kids in our recent Outdoor Sensory Diet Activities post. We chatted about the benefits of outdoor play in a typically developing child as well as those with sensory processing needs. This post covers the benefits of playing in the woods or a wooded area of a backyard or park. This might be a great recommendation for families who are going camping this summer and need some sensory strategies. Playing in the woods offers so many opportunities for sensory input, movement, gross and fine motor work. Not only that, but playing in the woods is a calming and organizing way to play! 

These activities can be used as part of a sensory diet of specific activities and sensory tools designed to meet specific needs of an individual. 

This will help when explaining about what a sensory diet is and what a sensory diet looks like for kids with sensory needs. 

These ideas would be a great addition to all of our summer occupational therapy activities here on The OT Toolbox! 

Occupational therapists can use these sensory diet activities for wooded areas to recommend sensory diet activities for outdoors or as part of a home program for children with sensory processing needs or SPD.


Disclaimer: When therapists develop a specific and highly individualized sensory diet, it's not just throwing together a day filled with sensory input. A sensory diet  is a specific set of sensory tools used to meet and address certain needs of the individual based on sensory need and strategizing. Each of the sensory diet activities above should meet specific needs of the child. Every child is different so applying sensory input to one child may look very different than that of another. Parents should use the tactics below along with your child's occupational therapist.

Wooded Area Sensory Diet

Fallen tree balance beam
Jump in leaves
Climb small trees
Look Up scavenger hunt
Bird watch
Touch tree trunks
Natrue collection
Picnic in the woods
Magnifying glass to find bugs
Lift rocks and inspect what's underneith
Hike
Climb rocky areas
Play in streams
Climb steap hills
Ride bikes on a trail
Bug hunt
Collect sticks
Build a fort
Climb trees
Scent scavenger hunt
Carry a backpack full of supplies


Accommodations for addressing sensory needs in a wooded area

For kids with sensory needs, the sensations of the outdoors and a wooded area can be too much for the child to tolerate. Try these accommodations for addressing sensory needs in backyard play:

Calming snacks for a picnic
Drink water from a sports bottle with a straw
Wear sunglasses
Wear a brimmed hat
Wear high top shoes or shoes that provide proprioceptive input
Wear shoes that the child is able to tolerate
Compression clothing
Wear a lightweight wind jacket
Be cognizant of the scent of bug spray
Recognize early signs of sensory overload and head back to the house or car before a meltdown occurs (Leave on a happy note)


How to incorporate sensory play into playing outside


Sensory diet activities can be specific to sensory system like these vestibular sensory diet activities. Sensory activities can be prescribed according to need along with environment in order to maximize sensory input within a child's day such as within the school day. Using authentic sensory input within the child's environment plays into the whole child that we must understand when focusing on any goal toward improved functional independence. 


Many sensory diet activities can naturally be found outdoors. In fact, outdoor sensory diet activities are a fun way to encourage sensory input in a child's environment and without fancy therapy equipment or tools. 

It's a fact that kids are spending less time playing outdoors. From after-school schedules to two working parents, to unsafe conditions, to increased digital screen time, to less outdoor recess time...kids just get less natural play in the outdoors. Some therapists have connected the dots between less outdoor play and increased sensory struggles and attention difficulties in learning. 

Knowing this, it can be powerful to have a list of outdoor sensory diet activities that can be recommended as therapy home programing and family activities that meet underlying needs.

That’s where the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards and Sensory Challenge Cards come into play.

They are a FREE printable resource that encourages sensory diet strategies in the outdoors. In the printable packet, there are 90 outdoor sensory diet activities, 60 outdoor recess sensory diet activities, 30 blank sensory diet cards, and 6 sensory challenge cards. They can be used based on preference and interest of the child, encouraging motivation and carryover, all while providing much-needed sensory input.

Here's a little more information about the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards
  • 90 outdoor sensory diet activities
  • 60 outdoor recess sensory diet activities
  • 30 blank sensory diet cards, and 6 sensory challenge cards
  • They can be used based on preference and interest of the child, encouraging motivation and carryover, all while providing much-needed sensory input. 
  • Research tells us that outdoor play improves attention and provides an ideal environment for a calm and alert state, perfect for integration of sensory input.
  • Outdoor play provides input from all the senses, allows for movement in all planes, and provides a variety of strengthening components including eccentric, concentric, and isometric muscle contractions. 
  • Great tool for parents, teachers, AND therapists!

Be sure to grab the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards and use them with a child (or adult) with sensory processing needs!

Outdoor sensory diet activity cards for parents, teachers, and therapists of children with sensory processing needs.

More about outdoor sensory diet activities

Sensory diets and specific sensory input or sensory challenges are a big part of addressing sensory needs of children who struggle with sensory processing issues. Incorporating a schedule of sensory input (sensory diet) into a lifestyle of naturally occuring and meaningful activities is so very valuable for the child with sensory needs. 

That's why I've worked to create a book on creating an authentic and meaningful sensory lifestyle that addresses sensory needs. The book is now released as a digital e-book or softcover print book, available on Amazon. 

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook walks you through sensory diet creation, set-up, and carry through. Not only that, but the book helps you take a sensory diet and weave it into a sensory lifestyle that supports the needs of a child with sensory processing challenges and the whole family.

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a resource for creating sensory diets and turning them into a lifestyle of sensory success through meaningful and motivating sensory enrichment.


Occupational therapists can use these sensory diet activities for wooded areas to recommend sensory diet activities for outdoors or as part of a home program for children with sensory processing needs or SPD.