Sensory Diet Activities at the Playground

The outdoors is a goldmine for play! Kids can be creative, build healthy bodies, and develop the skills that they NEED through playing outdoors. For the child who requires a sensory diet, the outdoors is a goldmine for acquiring the right kind of sensory input. The activities below are those sensory diet activities that can be accomplished through play at the playground. Also check out our resource on playground therapy.

Even a sensory diet for adults can include a walk in the park as a movement and sensory break!


Playground sensory diet activities that kids can use for sensory needs, perfect for occupational therapists who are creating sensory diets for kids with sensory processing needs.

A while back, we shared information about sensory processing at the playground and sensory input that can be provided at the playground. Today, we wanted to share a few quick lists for sensory diet activities that can be implemented at an outdoor (or indoor) playground or play area. 

These are sensory diet activities that an occupational therapist can prescribe based on evaluation of a child’s specific sensory needs. Use the playground sensory diet activities listed below as part of a list of specific activities and sensory tools that meet certain sensory processing needs or a home program for children with sensory processing challenges. 

There is a lot of research on playing outdoors and about the benefits of just playing outside! 

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.

Playground Sensory Diet Activities

Climb the slide
Swing on the swings (side to side, forward-back, twist, superman fly, or even upside down!)
Go down the slide (forward, backwards, on belly, on back)
Roll a ball up the slide and catch it before it hits the cround
Balance beams
Monkey bars
Rope equipment
Elevated surfaces
Uneven surfaces
Sound tubes and equipment
Teeter totters or bouncy equipment
Merry go rounds or spinning equipment
Climbing walls
Sandbox play
Playground scavenger hunt
Tunnels (Crawl through, army crawl through)
Playground “I Spy”
Bouncing a ball against a wall
Textured sensory scavenger hunt
Climbing surfaces

Accommodations for addressing sensory needs in the backyard

For kids with sensory needs, it can be overwhelming on a playground with running children, background noises, or other sensory input. Try these accommodations for addressing sensory needs in backyard play:
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 


Baby wipes to clean 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
Sports bottle with straw
Calming, chewy snacks

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 occurring 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.





Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

Bird Play Dough Mat Thank You

Thank you for grabbing our Bird Play Dough Mat! You should have an email in your inbox right now with a link to access the file. 

Did you find this page accidentally and want to know what the fuss is about? Go to our outer space play dough mat page to get your free bird play dough mat!

The email also includes some instructions and the “why” behind play dough mats like this one. There is a lot of development going on when a little one uses a play dough mat like the one you just accessed! Scroll below to to find some additional instructions to best use the play dough mat to increase hand strength of the intrinsic muscles of the hands.

How to use your Bird Play Dough Mat and General Housekeeping Information on your Free Printable:

You are going to build so many small muscles of the hand with this activity!

1. To use this play dough mat, you will first want to cover it with a plastic surface so you can use it over and over again. Some ideas to do this include (Amazon affiliate links are included below):

  • Cover it with clear contact paper. Click the link to purchase a large roll of clear contact paper.
  • Slide the play dough mat into a clear plastic page protector sleeve. Add it to a folder workbook or binder booklet of play dough mats for quiet time or a busy bag-type of activity.
  • Use a laminator to cover the play dough mat with a laminated surface that can be used over and over again. This is a great price on a quick laminator and laminating pouches.
  • Use pocket sleeves to create a quiet time or fine motor center activity.

2. Once the play dough mat is covered, provide the child with play dough, clay, foam dough, or other moldable material.

3. Ask the child to roll small balls of play dough using just the fingers and thumb of one hand. They should use their dominant hand to roll small balls of play dough with the tips of the fingers and thumb. This is an AWESOME hand strengthening exercise for kids. 

4. Ask the child or children to roll various sizes of play dough so the balls of dough fit into the various circle sizes on the play dough mat. 

If you do not see the email right away, check back within 30 minutes. Be sure to check your SPAM folder.  Other subscribers using an email hosted on a school system’s email provider may have security restrictions in place that block the email. If you still don’t see the email, shoot me a message at and I will send the file to you directly.

If you arrived here by accident and would like to receive a free outer space themed play dough mat to improve hand strength, check out this post that shares information on the Outer Space Play Dough Mat.

How to use a Play Dough Mat to Improve Fine Motor Skills

Your kids or therapy clients are going to build so many small muscles of the hand with this activity! Follow the directions below to maximize intrinsic muscle strengthening. Start with play dough of any kind and the printable playdough mat.

Rolling play dough within one hand promotes development of a variety of areas: 

  • Strengthens the arches of the hands, helps awareness and coordination in separation of the two sides of the hand
  • Promotes finger isolation for improved control and dexterity
  • Encourages dexterity and coordination of the thumb and index finger which are important in pencil grasp
  • Strengthens the intrinsic muscles for improved endurance in fine motor tasks such as maintaining hold on a pencil, manipulating clothing fasteners, managing and using scissors, coloring, and many other tasks.

Looking for more play dough activities to boost fine motor strengthening?

Play Dough Farm Activity | Play Dough Activity Color Match  | Play Dough Cupcakes