Outdoor Sensory Activities: The Tactile Sense

This article on outdoor sensory activities focuses on the tactile sense. Our sensory 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.


  • 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:   

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 contact@theottoolbox.com.


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