Outdoor Sensory Diet Activities for the Backyard

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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
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!)
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.
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 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
Tennis Racket
Butterfly Net
Baby Swimming Pool
Tarp or Slip and Slide
Water Hose
Scoops and cups
Sidewalk chalk
Target or net
Play wheelbarrow
Climbing structure
Magnifying glass
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.