Outdoor Sensory Activities for the Backyard

outdoor sensory activities for kids with sensory processing challenges.

If you are looking for outdoor sensory activities, this is the place to start. Here, you’ll find outdoor sensory ideas to address each sensory system. Also included are sensory play ideas to use in the backyard when creating an outdoor sensory diet for children.

outdoor sensory activities for kids with sensory processing challenges.

Outdoor Sensory Activities or a Sensory Diet?

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.

The important thing to recognize is that there is a difference between sensory play and sensory diets. Read here for more information on what a sensory diet is and isn’t.

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.

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 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 Activities

These outdoor sensory 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!

Below is a huge list of outdoor sensory activities, but to focus on each sensory system, check out these resources:

These outdoor sensory 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 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 bare feet
  • 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
  • Outdoor lawn 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 water bottles
  • Act out a favorite nursery rhyme
  • Play tag games for heavy work, spatial awareness, and body awareness.
  • 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 summer crafts that build skills.
  • Have an art show and invite friends.
  • Create a spatial concepts map
  • 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  
  • Play with goop
  • Draw in shaving cream on a cookie sheet outdoors. Then squirt off in the hose.
outdoor equipment for sensory input in the backyard

Backyard Sensory Equipment

There are outdoor play items you may have already that can be repurposed to use in outdoor sensory play. These are common backyard toys or things that might be in your garage! It can be fun to re-think these items for a means of adding sensory input.

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. For example, all of these items could be used in an outdoor balance beam.

  • 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
  • Swing set
  • Climbing structure
  • Flashlight
  • Magnifying glass
  • Cones
  • Bubbles
  • Bean bags

Outdoor Sensory issues

Summer can mean sensory processing issues that impact kids with sensitivities or over responsiveness to sensory input. For autistic children or anyone with a neurodiversity that impacts sensory processing, summer can mean a real hatred for being outside in the hot summer months.

So what are some of the reasons that sensory kids have issues with being outside during the summer?

It can be hard to encourage outdoor play (and gain all of the benefits of outdoor play) when the summer months add a different level of sensory input. Here are some of the reasons that sensory kids are challenged in the summertime:

For kids with sensory needs, it can be overwhelming to have an open space full of sights, sounds, scents, and textures.

  • Tolerance of the cuffs of shorts or sleeves
  • Tight bathing suits
  • Sensation of sunscreen
  • Sensation of socks or other clothing in hot weather
  • Humidity changes
  • Summer thunderstorms (can change the air temperature)
  • Short clothing that brushes on legs or arms
  • Sandals or open-toed shoes
  • Crowds or places where others are in close contact
  • Wearing a mask in warmer temperatures
  • Honking horns, barking dogs, and other sounds that frequent the backyard or lawn can be too much for the child with sensory sensitivities
  • Bright sun that is at a different angle in the sky than other months of the year
  • Overwhelming smells: cut grass, lawnmower gas, sunscreen, sweat, body odors, garbage scents
  • Interoceptive issues with body temperature, increased need for water, less hunger due to heat

All of these sensory issues can occur unexpectedly and that unexpectedness of sensory input can be overwhelmingly alarming for those with autism or neurodiversity.

How to help with summer sensory overload

  • Visual schedule
  • Help the child know what to expect
  • Wear shoes instead of sandals or bear feet
  • Proprioceptive input such as firm touch to the shoulders
  • Limit time outdoors
  • Know triggers for sensory overload and plan ahead when possible
  • Oral motor jewelry
  • Communicate travel or outdoor time needs
  • Calming vestibular sensory input such as side to side or forward-front slow swinging
  • Play that involves 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
  • Bring a water bottle with straw for proprioceptive input
  • Calming or alerting snacks
  • Portable fan to help with overheating if needed
  • Hat with brim to reduce bright light or intense light in eyes or on face
  • Umbrella to deflect direct sun rays and prevent overheating
  • Sunscreen with firm touch before going outdoors
  • Scent free sunscreen
  • Sunscreen lotion vs. spray sunscreen (or vice versa depending on the particular needs and preferences)
  • Sensory friendly clothing, bathing suits, goggles
  • Wear sunglasses
  • Wear headphones to reduce background noise
  • Be aware of freshly cut grass which as a strong scent
  • Wear thin gloves for tactile activities
  • Use water shoes or crocks instead of sandals

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.  

Get The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook here.

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.

Working on building skills this summer? The Summer OT Bundle is for you!

Summer occupational therapy activities bundle

Work on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, scissor skills, and much more so that kids can accomplish self-care tasks, learn, and grow through play all summer long.

This bundle is perfect for the pediatric occupational therapist who needs resources and tools to use in summer therapy sessions, home programs, or extended school year therapy plans.

This bundle is perfect for parents, grandparents, and caregivers looking to provide developmental fine motor activities designed to help kids build skills.

  • Send kids back to school in the Fall without worrying about the “Summer Slide”.
  • Use these materials to work on areas like hand strength, fine motor development, scissor skills, handwriting, pencil control, pencil grasp, sensory play experiences, and much more. Just pull out the pages or activities you need for your child, and develop skills through play!

The Summer OT Bundle includes 19 resources that you can print and use over and over again:

Helping children develop and achieve functional skills this summer was never so easy (or fun!)

Be sure to grab the Summer OT Bundle, a HUGE resource of therapy tools and activities for all things building skills this summer.

Grab the Summer OT Bundle here.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Outdoor Sensory Activities: Visual Sensory Processing

outdoor sensory activities for visual processing

Getting kids outside is more important in recent months and years than ever before. That’s why I’ve put together a series of blog posts on outdoor sensory activities for visual processing and visual motor strategies to incorporate in outdoor sensory play. You may have seen our Backyard Summer Sensory series that covers all things outdoor sensory activities. You can see the other posts in the series, including backyard oral sensory activitiesoutdoor sensory activities for tactile sense, outdoor proprioception activities, backyard auditory processing activities, and outdoor oral motor sensory activities (yep, that’s possible to address in outdoor play!)

All of these outdoor sensory diet strategies are powerful ways to help kids thrive.

Outdoor Sensory Activities for Visual Processing

Today, I’m sharing visual sensory activities that can be done right in the backyard. The visual sensory system is so closely related to the auditory and vestibular systems and is essential for function and independence in skills like reading, writing, and motor planning, balance, eye-hand coordination, among many other areas.  The visual sensory system is responsible for visual acuity, oculomotor control of the eyes, and processing of what our eyes take in.  When one or more of these areas are a problem, functional skills are affected.

We’ve been sharing creative and easy sensory-based activities that can be done right in the backyard.  This is perfect for summer (and the series was intended as a backyard summer series!) but each post in the series can totally be adapted for year-round sensory ideas for backyard play.  

Visual sensory processing activities that can be done in the backyard this summer

Backyard SENSORY ACTIVITIES for Visual Processing:

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

  • Grass hide scanning- Use grass clippings to fill a large plastic bin.  Tuck small items, coins, or small parts into the bin.  Ask kids to scan the area and locate items with just their eyes.  Kids can try to remember the order that they found the items in a visual memory game.
  • Backyard Toy Memory Game-  Continue to work on visual memory and scanning visual perceptual skills by spreading out small toys into a plot of backyard.  Ask your child to look at the toys and try to remember all of the items.  Cover the toys with a blanket and then remove one or two items.  Remove the blanket and ask your child to recall the missing item.
  • Cloud Scan-  Lay on the ground with your child as you look up at the clouds on a clear but cloudy day.  Watch clouds as they move across the sky.  Ask your child to see images in the clouds shapes.  Ask them to rotate on the ground so that their head is now where their feet just were.  Ask them if they still see the same shape or if it is a new shape. Discovering an outline of a shape in a form uses a visual perceptual skill known as form perception and works along with visual closure and form constancy to allow us to determine that shapes, letters and numbers are the same no matter what their direction.
  • Figure Ground Hunt- Use rocks and letters to practice visual perception with a sensory bin like we did in this activity.
  • Catch a ball.  Try catching while standing, sitting, swinging, rolling a ball, catching between legs, etc.
  • Hit a tennis racket at a target.  Ideas include bubbles, falling leaves, large balls, small rubber balls, and balloons. 
  • Scavenger hunts-try doing these while crawling.
  • Catching butterflies in a net.  Try catching fire flies, too.
  • Visual scanning between targets.
  • Bubble pop- Try popping bubbles with a toe, knee, foot, head, finger, or elbow.
Visual sensory processing activities that can be done in the backyard this summer

  Looking for more backyard sensory ideas for summer?  

The Summer Sensory Activity Guide is the place to find everything you need for a summer of sensory input.  Use the sensory activities described in the booklet as a guide to meet the individual needs of your child.  The activities are not a substitute for therapy.  Rather, they are sensory-based summer activities that are designed to address each sensory system through summer play.  Activities are described to involve the whole family.  Check out the Summer Sensory Activity Guide today!

The guide is included in our Summer OT Bundle: 

Working on building skills this summer? The Summer OT Bundle is for you!

Summer occupational therapy activities bundle

Work on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, scissor skills, and much more so that kids can accomplish self-care tasks, learn, and grow through play all summer long.

This bundle is perfect for the pediatric occupational therapist who needs resources and tools to use in summer therapy sessions, home programs, or extended school year therapy plans.

This bundle is perfect for parents, grandparents, and caregivers looking to provide developmental fine motor activities designed to help kids build skills.

  • Send kids back to school in the Fall without worrying about the “Summer Slide”.
  • Use these materials to work on areas like hand strength, fine motor development, scissor skills, handwriting, pencil control, pencil grasp, sensory play experiences, and much more. Just pull out the pages or activities you need for your child, and develop skills through play!

The Summer OT Bundle includes 19 resources that you can print and use over and over again:

Helping children develop and achieve functional skills this summer was never so easy (or fun!)

Be sure to grab the Summer OT Bundle, a HUGE resource of therapy tools and activities for all things building skills this summer.

Grab the Summer OT Bundle here.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Outdoor Sensory Activities: Proprioception

outdoor sensory activities proprioception

You may have seen our Backyard Summer Sensory series that covers all things outdoor sensory activities.  Today, I’ve got outdoor sensory focusing o proprioception activities that are designed to get the kids moving with heavy work using items you’ve probably already got right in your backyard. These are easy ways to build sensory breaks into the day, get the kids moving with heavy work. You can see the other posts in the series, including backyard oral sensory activities, outdoor sensory activities for tactile sense, and outdoor oral motor sensory activities (yep, that’s possible to address in outdoor play!)

Proprioception activities for backyard sensory play, these are free and inexpensive sensory activities that provide heavy work right in the backyard.

Outdoor Sensory Activities for PROPRIOCEPTION

Try these outdoor heavy work activities to add input through the core and gross motor muscle groups for regulation and body awareness.

Amazon affiliate links are included below.

  • Hoola Hoop Jump- Place out several hoola hoops (or just one) on the ground.  Create a hopping obstacle course into the hoops. Jump with both feet, one foot, and then the other.  Place the hoops further away for more work. Try making a hopping memory game, much like playing “Simon” in a gross motor way. This activity provides heavy work and input through the lower body as kids jump and hop into hoops.
  • Hose Tug- Use a regular garden hose to incorporate heavy work by pulling the hose across the lawn.  Use the hose to water flowers, bushes, or even to spray at targets drawn with sidewalk chalk.
  • Shovel Carry and Dig- Use a garden shovel in an adult or kids’ size to shovel dirt, rocks, leaves, sticks, or mulch from one area to another.  Try filling a bucket with the different mediums and then carry them to another area of the yard.  Good old fashioned lawn work can do wonders for a proprioceptive input seeking kiddo!
  • Jump Rope Pull and Slide- This activity adds a bit of vestibular input to the heavy work of pulling a jump rope.  Use a piece of cardboard cut from a large box or cereal box to create a flat piece.  Have your child sit on the cardboard and hold onto a jump rope.  Pull them around or down slopes as they hold onto the rope.  You can also try this activity with the child pulling another individual on the cardboard.
  • Hop Scotch
  • Bean Bags
  • Corn Hole
  • Play Leap Frog with friends
  • Jump Rope
  • Fly a kite
  • Climb trees

more backyard sensory ideas for summer?  

The activities in this post are part of our Summer Sensory Activity Guide, where you can find everything you need for a summer of sensory input.  Use the sensory activities described in the booklet as a guide to meet the individual needs of your child.  The activities are not a substitute for therapy.  Rather, they are sensory-based summer activities that are designed to address each sensory system through summer play.  Activities are described to involve the whole family.  Check out the Summer Sensory Activity Guide today!

AND…that guide is actually a bonus item in the Summer OT Bundle. So if you are working with children this summer to improve fine motor skills, handwriting, sensory processing, and other skill areas, check out the Summer OT Bundle:

Working on building skills this summer? The Summer OT Bundle is for you!

Summer occupational therapy activities bundle

Work on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, scissor skills, and much more so that kids can accomplish self-care tasks, learn, and grow through play all summer long.

This bundle is perfect for the pediatric occupational therapist who needs resources and tools to use in summer therapy sessions, home programs, or extended school year therapy plans.

This bundle is perfect for parents, grandparents, and caregivers looking to provide developmental fine motor activities designed to help kids build skills.

  • Send kids back to school in the Fall without worrying about the “Summer Slide”.
  • Use these materials to work on areas like hand strength, fine motor development, scissor skills, handwriting, pencil control, pencil grasp, sensory play experiences, and much more. Just pull out the pages or activities you need for your child, and develop skills through play!

The Summer OT Bundle includes 19 resources that you can print and use over and over again:

Helping children develop and achieve functional skills this summer was never so easy (or fun!)

Be sure to grab the Summer OT Bundle, a HUGE resource of therapy tools and activities for all things building skills this summer.

Grab the Summer OT Bundle here.

Proprioception activities for backyard sensory play, these are free and inexpensive sensory activities that provide heavy work right in the backyard.

More proprioception activities that kids will love: 

Working on building skills this summer? The Summer OT Bundle is for you!

Summer occupational therapy activities bundle

Work on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, scissor skills, and much more so that kids can accomplish self-care tasks, learn, and grow through play all summer long.

This bundle is perfect for the pediatric occupational therapist who needs resources and tools to use in summer therapy sessions, home programs, or extended school year therapy plans.

This bundle is perfect for parents, grandparents, and caregivers looking to provide developmental fine motor activities designed to help kids build skills.

  • Send kids back to school in the Fall without worrying about the “Summer Slide”.
  • Use these materials to work on areas like hand strength, fine motor development, scissor skills, handwriting, pencil control, pencil grasp, sensory play experiences, and much more. Just pull out the pages or activities you need for your child, and develop skills through play!

The Summer OT Bundle includes 19 resources that you can print and use over and over again:

Helping children develop and achieve functional skills this summer was never so easy (or fun!)

Be sure to grab the Summer OT Bundle, a HUGE resource of therapy tools and activities for all things building skills this summer.

Grab the Summer OT Bundle here.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Outdoor Sensory Activities: Vestibular Sense

outdoor sensory activities using the vestibular sense

This collection of outdoor sensory activities focus on the vestibular sense. Today, I’ve got another post in the Backyard Sensory Summer series that have here on the website. This series of summer activity ideas are perfect for challenging kids to get outdoors and play. The backyard sensory ideas can be used as part of a sensory diet at home, or as individual summer activities. Today, we are talking about vestibular sensory activities for summer. Grab the kids, the family, or a favorite stuffed animal toy. Here are summer ideas for kids that incorporate the vestibular sense and are perfect for the backyard.

Summer vestibular activities for kids

If you are looking for information on how to create a sensory diet and use these movement activities with kids, then you are in the right place. Here are more outdoor sensory diet activities to get you started with sensory needs and the outdoors.

If you’ve been following this summer activity series, then you know that I’ve been sharing sensory activities that can be done right in the backyard.  In most cases, these sensory play ideas use toys and materials that you probably already own.  Most importantly, these sensory ideas are perfect for getting the kids outdoors and playing in the backyard while meeting sensory needs.  They are easy (and fun) ideas that can be added to a child’s sensory diet this summer and every day.  Take these ideas and sensory play ideas right into Fall and all season long with backyard sensory play!

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

Summer Activities for Kids

Working on building skills this summer? The Summer OT Bundle is for you!

Summer occupational therapy activities bundle

Work on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, scissor skills, and much more so that kids can accomplish self-care tasks, learn, and grow through play all summer long.

This bundle is perfect for the pediatric occupational therapist who needs resources and tools to use in summer therapy sessions, home programs, or extended school year therapy plans.

This bundle is perfect for parents, grandparents, and caregivers looking to provide developmental fine motor activities designed to help kids build skills.

  • Send kids back to school in the Fall without worrying about the “Summer Slide”.
  • Use these materials to work on areas like hand strength, fine motor development, scissor skills, handwriting, pencil control, pencil grasp, sensory play experiences, and much more. Just pull out the pages or activities you need for your child, and develop skills through play!

The Summer OT Bundle includes 19 resources that you can print and use over and over again:

Helping children develop and achieve functional skills this summer was never so easy (or fun!)

Be sure to grab the Summer OT Bundle, a HUGE resource of therapy tools and activities for all things building skills this summer.

Grab the Summer OT Bundle here.

You’ll find ideas to use in virtual therapy sessions and to send home as home activities that build skills and power development with a fun, summer theme. Kids will love the Summer Spot It! game, the puzzles, handouts, and movement activities. Therapists will love the teletherapy slide deck and the easy, ready-to-go activities to slot into OT sessions.

Try these backyard vestibular sensory activities for summer

VESTIBULAR SENSORY BACKYARD ACTIVITIES:

Swing painting-  Grab some paint brushes and create art while providing vestibular sensory input in a calming back and forth motion in the swing. Read more about that here. (Idea from Homegrown Friends.

Slip and Slide Relay Race- Set up a slip and slide and use a timer to time kids as they race down the slide.  Children can sit on their bottom, lay on their belly, or slide on their back for variations in positioning.

Slide on cardboard-  Grab a cardboard box or even cereal box.  Open it up using a sharp knife or scissors to create a large piece of cardboard. Kids can use the cardboard to slide down slopes.  Try various positions on the cardboard.  An alternative to this activity is using a cardboard box to create a “car” like we did here.

Picnic Blanket Roll-  Use a large blanket or comforter as a picnic blanket.  Spread it out on the grass and ask your child to lay on the blanket.  Roll them up in the blanket to add a calming proprioceptive component with deep pressure. Roll the child in a log-roll fashion while they are wrapped up in the blanket.  Then, why not use the blanket for a real picnic?

Roll down hills- Find a hill in the backyard and start rolling!

Spin in circles- This is a great activity with a family member or even a stuffed animal. Hold hands and spin. Try spinning fast, slow, to music, or even in the sprinkler.

Swing side to side on a swing set- Playing on the swings doesn’t need to look like the regular back and forth. Try swinging side to side. Ask the child to sit sideways and straddle the swing.

Hang upside down from swing set equipment- What are some other movement-based ways to play and challenge motor skills using the play equipment you already have? Climb up the slide. Swing on the belly. Create an obstacle course or play “the ground is lava”. The options are limitless.

Swing on a hammock- do you have a hammock? This inexpensive lawn item can be used in calming or facilitating side to side movements, rocking, a log roll swing, laying in prone or supine, or back and forth swinging.

Backyard dance party- Encourage lots of whole body movements and spinning. Use fast or slow movement to facilitate alerting or calming movements. Try adding a copy dance, or freeze dance play. Get the whole family involved.

Cartwheels- Tumbling or cartwheels in the lawn is a fun way to add movement right in the backyard.

Tumbles- If cartwheels are too tricky, try tumbles.

Hopscotch- Add this movement and motor planning game to the backyard. Use sidewalk chalk to draw a hopscotch board on the sidewalk or driveway. This is such a great core stability and strengthening activity for building confidence and coordination. There are options to upgrade or downgrade this activity. Use more or less hop spaces, or make them bigger or smaller.

Play Leap frog- This classic game is a great one for building gross motor skills, motor planning, core stability, visual convergence, and more with a movement based forward motion.

Mini trampoline (or the big sized-trampoline)- If adding a sensory tool to your backyard is priority, then a mini trampoline is an easy and affordable option. Kids can sit or stand to hop or bounce. Try adding other toys to make the sensory play interesting. Add water balloons, chalk, a sprinkler, or make a cozy resting place to calm down.

Add these resources to the ones you can find here under sensory diet vestibular activities to meet the sensory needs of all kids. 

Vestibular Sensory Backyard Activities

Looking for more ideas for summer?  

Take summer play and skill building to the next level? Be sure to grab your copy of the Summer OT Activities Bundle!

Be sure to check out these other movement and sensory activities for the backyard. They are great to challenge kids in movement all summer long:

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Outdoor Sensory Activities: The Tactile Sense

This article on outdoor sensory activities focuses on the tactile sense. Our sense of touch plays a huge part in sensory experiences, sensory tolerance and challenging behaviors (the actions we see) as a result of difficulties regulating tactile sensory input. From tickly grass on the bare feet to tolerating bathing suit textures or sunscreen, tactile input and summer go hand-in hand. If you are looking for outdoor sensory play ideas, then you are in the right spot!

Outdoor sensory Activities for Tactile Sense

Touching toes on the grass can make some kiddos squirm.  The sandbox brings on a mini world of sensory defensiveness when grains of sand stick to skin.  For the child with a hypersensitivity to touch, the backyard can be overwhelming. Other kids seek out tactile sensations and need to touch everything.  Still others find comfort in certain sensations but other textures bring on the tantrums or withdrawal.

There are ways to introduce tactile sensations in the backyard in a controlled way.  Incorporate these with tactile sensory input to involve the whole body into sensory play.  Try adding backyard proprioception input or backyard oral sensory processing activities.  You’ll also find resources in this outdoor sensory activities for vestibular input. These are super easy ways to play with the senses with items you probably already have in or around the home.

If you are looking for information on how to create a sensory diet and use these movement activities with kids, then you are in the right place. Here are more outdoor sensory diet activities to get you started with sensory needs and the outdoors.

Outdoor sensory activities and tactile sensory input in backyard play ideas for kids, perfect for summer and all year with outdoor sensory play at home.

outdoor sensory activities for autism

A quick note on various sensory challenges that can result in actions we see in neurodiverse children of all ages (adults included). Some of the outward actions we see can be related to sensory input that is regulated differently in summer or warmer weather:

  • Tolerance of shorts
  • Tolerance of bathing suits
  • Sensation of sunscreen
  • Sensation of socks or other clothing in hot weather
  • Humidity changes
  • Summer thunderstorms (can change the air temperature)
  • Short clothing that brushes on legs or arms
  • Sandals or open-toed shoes
  • Crowds or places where others are in close contact
  • Wearing a mask in warmer temperatures

This is just a short list of considerations. Remember that no child will be alike and there can be many other situations that arise in the summer months that impact tolerance of differences in tactile sensory input.

Below you will find outdoor sensory activities that focus on tactile sensory input as a challenge or outdoor sensory play ideas that can be helpful and fun this summer.

Related Read: Occupational Therapy ideas for kids

Tactile sensory input in backyard play ideas for kids, perfect for summer and all year with outdoor sensory play at home.

TACTILE SENSORY INPUT BACKYARD ACTIVITIES:

  • Create a mud kitchen in an area of your backyard.  It doesn’t need to be complicated. A simple piece of wood or a sheet of cardboard makes a nice work space. Use buckets, scoops, and spoons to mix up muddy concoctions while working on fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination to scoop and pour in a tactile sensory (and very messy) imagination play.

Don’t be afraid to let the kids get muddy and messy! Just hose them off           afterwards. Mud and puddles are a part of childhood and the dirt will wash         off.  Have fun and get messy with your kids!

  • Flower Sensory Bin- Explore tactile differences with an outdoor dandelion messy sensory bin.  Add more squishy messy play by adding dirt or sand to the bin.  Use scoops and tongs to add in fine motor work.
  • Feel and Name Game- Fill a bin or paper bag with grass clippings.  To the bag, add random small toys, plastic figures, or magnetic letters.  Ask the child to reach into the bag without looking.  They can locate a small item and feel it as they try to name the object.  
  • Sandbox Dig and Find– Practice tactile discrimination in the sandbox.  You’ll need two sets of matching items for this activity. (Magnetic letters, coins, small figures, or matching utensils would work.) When the child is not looking, hide small objects and figures in a sandbox.  Then, show the child an object that matches one of the hidden items.  Do not name the object. Rather, ask them to “find another one just like this.”

When in doubt add water!  Try these backyard sensory tactile play ideas:  goop play dough shaving cream backyard messy play date paper mache.

You’ll also love these ideas:   

Working on building skills this summer? The Summer OT Bundle is for you!

Summer occupational therapy activities bundle

Work on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, scissor skills, and much more so that kids can accomplish self-care tasks, learn, and grow through play all summer long.

This bundle is perfect for the pediatric occupational therapist who needs resources and tools to use in summer therapy sessions, home programs, or extended school year therapy plans.

This bundle is perfect for parents, grandparents, and caregivers looking to provide developmental fine motor activities designed to help kids build skills.

  • Send kids back to school in the Fall without worrying about the “Summer Slide”.
  • Use these materials to work on areas like hand strength, fine motor development, scissor skills, handwriting, pencil control, pencil grasp, sensory play experiences, and much more. Just pull out the pages or activities you need for your child, and develop skills through play!

The Summer OT Bundle includes 19 resources that you can print and use over and over again:

Helping children develop and achieve functional skills this summer was never so easy (or fun!)

Be sure to grab the Summer OT Bundle, a HUGE resource of therapy tools and activities for all things building skills this summer.

Grab the Summer OT Bundle here.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.