Outdoor Sensory Diet Activities for the Backyard

So often, kids are sent home from therapy with a sensory diet of specific activities and sensory tools that are prescribed for certain sensory processing needs. When a therapist creates a home exercise program, they do their best to ensure carryover through small lists of activities, parent education, and 
motivating activities that are based on the child’s interests and personal goals.


If you are looking for more outdoor sensory diet activities that can be used in the backyard or as part of a home program, these occupational therapy activities will be a huge help!





These outdoor sensory diet activities are good sensory experiences to meet the needs of children with sensory processing needs or those who struggle with sensory related behaviors, perfect for a home exercise program or occupational therapy activities.



We’ve all seen home programs that are just not used at home! Between all of the things that need doing in the home, it is hard to do that one extra task that is a home exercise program…even when it’s a sensory diet strategy that can help everything else. 


So, using sensory diet tools within the context of environments or activities that are deeply meaningful to a family and child such as play that is already happening, can be the meaningful and motivating strategy to actually get that sensory diet task completed. And it benefits the child along with the whole family. 


These sensory diet activities are those that can be included into backyard play. That may look like independent play by the child or it might mean family time on a Sunday afternoon. Use these outdoor sensory diet activities in the backyard to as sensory tools that double as playtime for the child while he/she learns and grows… or to meet the sensory needs of the child while creating memories and enjoying time together!


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.


These outdoor sensory diet activities are good sensory experiences to meet the needs of children with sensory processing needs or those who struggle with sensory related behaviors, perfect for a home exercise program or occupational therapy activities.

Bakyard Sensory Diet Activities

Slide down a hill on cardboard
Grass sensory bin
Use a magnifying glass to inspect the grass and dirt
Mud kitchen
Roll down hills
Animal walks with barefeet
Create nature “soup” with grass, flower petals, sticks, etc.
Pick flowers
Cartwheels and tumbling on the grass (barefoot or with shoes!)
Water Table with nature
Cartwheel or tumbling 
Target games
Bean bag games
Relay races
Hide and seek games
Simon Says games
Tag 
Bell parade
Kazoo sound hunt
Listening for birds or animals
Record backyard sounds and playback the recording. Try to recognize and name the sound and where it was located in the yard.
Fill containers with items from the backyard.  Shake plastic containers or even paper bags with the items and see if your child can name the objects.
Play Marco Polo in the yard!

Auditory backyard games like: Neighborhood Listening Scavenger Hunt, Auditory Hide and Seek, Listening Tag, Noisy Toy Positioning Game
Create with recycled materials and make arts, crafts, and activities.
Pull plastic ware out of the cupboards and sort the lids onto the containers.
Mix colors with food coloring in water.
Blow bubbles
Jump rope
Play Kickball
Throw a book picnic: grab snacks, a blanket, and a pile of books and head outside.
Dress up with old fancy dresses and clothes from mom’s closet (then throw them in a bag and donate!)
Bake
Poke holes in a cardboard box and push pipe cleaners through the holes
Bowl with recycled plastic waterbottles
Act out a favorite nursery rhyme
Play Pizza Tag: one person is “it” and chases the others.  Players run from “it” and can stay safe from being tagged by naming pizza toppings and touching the ground.
Put dollhouses or play sets into a bin of shredded paper.
Play hide and seek
Climb trees
Watch and draw clouds
Tell stories where one person starts a story and each person adds a sentence to continue the story.  Write it down and illustrate your story!
Make and deliver lemonade to neighbors
Go birdwatching
Make creative firefly catchers and then catch the fireflies that night.
Play charades
Act out a favorite book
Create with finger paints (make your own with flour, water, and food coloring or washable paint!)
Sing songs
Turn on music and dance
Pick flowers and give them to neighbors
Make crafts. Have an art show and invite friends.
Spin in circles.
Swing side to side on a swing set.
Hang upside down from swing set equipment.
Swing on a hammock.
Backyard dance party.  Encourage lots of whole body movements and spinning.
Cartwheels
Tumbles
Hopscotch
Play Leapfrog
Mini trampoline (or the big sized-trampoline)
Catch a ball while standing, sitting, swinging, rolling a ball, catching between legs, etc.
Hit a tennis racket at a target including bubbles, falling leaves, large balls, small rubber balls, and balloons
Catch butterflies in a net
Bubble pop, including popping bubbles with a toe, knee, foot, head, finger, or elbow
goop
play dough
shaving cream
paper mache



Backyard Sensory Diet Equipment

Make a bin of outdoor toys that are readily available in your garage or storage area so that sensory play experiences are at your family’s fingertips. 
Hoola Hoops
Jump Ropes
Balls
Bat
Tennis Racket
Butterfly Net
Baby Swimming Pool
Tarp or Slip and Slide
Water Hose
Scoops and cups
Sidewalk chalk
Bike
Scooter
Skateboard
Cardboard
Target or net
Shovels
Buckets
Play wheelbarrow
Swingset
Climbing structure
Flashlight
Magnifying glass
Cones
Bubbles
Bean bags


Accommodations for addressing sensory needs in the backyard

For kids with sensory needs, it can be overwhelming to have an open space full of sights, sounds, scents, and textures. Honking horns, barking dogs, and other sounds that frequent the backyard or lawn can be too much for the child with sensory sensitivities. Try these accommodations for addressing sensory needs in backyard play:
Wear shoes instead of sandals or bear feet
Proprioceptive input such as firm touch to the shoulders
Calming vestibular sensory input such as side to side or forward-front slow swinging
Throw and play catch with a weighted ball 
Bucket of water to rinse hands if child is sensitive to messy hands or dirt
Sheltered area if child is sensitive to wind blowing on skin
Wear a lightweight wind jacket
Hat with brim to reduce bright light or intense light in eyes or on face
Sunscreen with firm touch before going outdoors
Wear sunglasses
Wear headphones to reduce background noise
Be aware of freshly cut grass which as a strong scent
Wear thin gloves for gardening activities

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.

These outdoor sensory diet activities are good sensory experiences to meet the needs of children with sensory processing needs or those who struggle with sensory related behaviors, perfect for a home exercise program or occupational therapy activities.

Outdoor Sensory Diet Activities

We’ve been talking a lot about sensory diets here on The OT Toolbox recently. Understanding what a sensory diet is and how it can be used within a sensory lifestyle is a big part of integrating sensory activities and sensory play into needed sensory input that a child needs to self-regulation, cope with his or her environment, and to attend or focus despite sensory overload or distractions. You’ll find more outdoor sensory diet activities like these outdoor sensory diet activities for the backyard coming to the site very soon!

These outdoor sensory diet activities are great for occupational therapists to use in development of a sensory diet for kids with sensory needs, using outdoor play ideas.

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. The sensory diet activities listed below include outdoor sensory diet activities that can naturally be found outdoors!


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.



Use these sensory diet activities outdoors to help kids with sensory processing needs


Outdoor Sensory Diet Activities



Use these activities to incorporate play naturally while meeting underlying needs in the great outdoors!



Outdoor Sensory Diet Activities

Hike
Play in the woods
Roll down hills
Balance beam on logs
Climb trees
Collect nature
Play at the beach
Nature walk
Play in the backyard
Climb on stumps
Jump in puddles
Driveway or pavement play activities
Swing on tree vines
Sensory play on a porch or enclosed space
Collect sticks
Leaf hunt
Water table
Move and cary rocks of various sizes
Hide and seek
Create with nature
Outdoor water play
Collect fireflies
Pour rocks
Build with rocks, stumps, sticks, small logs
Mix and create nature soup (mud, sticks, flower petals, grass clippings)
Mud play


When therapists develop a specific and highly individualized sensory diet, it’s not just throwing together a day filled with sensory input. It’s activities based on sensory need and strategizing. Each of the sensory diet activities above should meet specific needs of the child.


Imagine a world with more creative outdoor play that involves a variety of enriching sensory input. The proprioceptive input from running and jumping into puddles can calm the child who is typically overactive. The vestibular benefits of slowing swaying side to side on a tree vine can organize the child who is challenged by sensory overload.


The outdoor world is full of sensory input that can meet individual needs of every child. The kids with sensory needs as well as those who present as neurotypical will benefit from a lifestyle of sensory play and experiences in the outdoors. Over the next few days, we will be sharing specific outdoor sensory diet activities that can benefit children of all ages. As always, these activities should be looked over and utilized along with assessment and intervention of an occupational therapist, as each child differs so very vastly.


Some of the ideas above are going to be described in more detail here on The OT Toolbox. Watch this space for more outdoor sensory play ideas based on the following outdoor play spaces:


Backyard Lawn Sensory Diet Activities
Driveway/Pavement Sensory Diet Activities
Wooded Areas Sensory Diet Activities (Perfect for a camping trip or playing in the woods at home or at a park!)
Playground Sensory Diet Activities
Beach Sensory Diet Activities (Perfect for a family vacation to the beach or for those who live near a beach area!) 
Enclosed Area/Porch 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.
These outdoor sensory diet activities are great for occupational therapists to use in development of a sensory diet for kids with sensory needs, using outdoor play ideas.