Sensory Nature Walk for the Family

Nature walk activities for sensory nature experiences for the whole family

There are so many benefits to getting the whole family out for a family nature walk. Besides the physical exercise and family time, nature walks are powerful tools to incorporate all of the senses without any sensory equipment. Research tells us outdoor sensory play has many benefits. Use the sensory activities described here to learn and explore all of the senses (including the proprioceptive, vestibular, and interoceptive senses!) and add these sensory nature walk ideas to an outdoor sensory diet to help kids achieve an optimal sensory state so they can complete functional tasks and daily occupations.

Nature walk ideas for sensory based family walks.

Nature Walk Sensory Benefits

A nature walk and all of its colors, sights, and sounds make for a multi-sensory experience that can be easily shared as a family.  There are so many sensory benefits when going on a nature walk or simply just by getting outdoors. The sensory input, learning and development, and simple family connection are just a few long-term benefits that can be provided by hiking in the woods.

Nature walks promote wellness by meeting many different needs:

  • Physical exercise and physical activity
  • Relaxation
  • Establishment of healthy habits in kids
  • Emotional management
  • Mindfulness
  • Facilitate engagement and an alert state of regulation
  • Learning and cognitive benefits
  • Play and activity
  • Social interaction
  • Rest and sleep
Sensory nature walk for families to explore the senses and support sensory needs.

Sensory Nature Walk

Stimulating the senses can help a child reconnect with their inner self, helping them identify how their body calms and relates to a free-flowing natural environment. Parents can help facilitate a child’s interaction in nature and the outdoors by simply being aware of a few activities that can be enjoyed as a family while experiencing the outdoors. Every sense can be utilized and engaged with a few fun ideas.

To help get you started, take look at the sensory components of a nature walk:

Nature Walks and the Visual Sense

The visual (sight) sense can be stirred by the abundance of colors with the trees and leaves and don’t forget to take some time to seek out a few outdoor critters or insects which can add a little element of fun while observing.

Try these visual processing activities during a family nature walk:

  • Play a game of I-Spy during your outdoor adventure. Think about playing using colors or items found in the environment. Take turns, and work on building vocabulary while playing this game.
  • Do a scavenger hunt and look for certain things found in the woods (you can find printable nature scavenger hunts on the internet).
  • Complete some nature rubbings with paper and crayons. Maybe rub some leaves within a notebook or complete rubbings of different types of tree bark.
  • Take a notebook and write down items you see in nature. It can be a nature journal that adds an opportunity to work on handwriting.

Auditory Processing and Sensory Walks

The auditory (hearing) sense can be jostled by the crunching of leaves under the feet as well as the snapping of twigs that can be heard while walking along a path or in the woods.

  • Snap twigs and listed to the cracks. Maybe even taking some time to build a few fun critter forts allowing for snapping of twigs to measure and build.
  • Also, try snapping twigs and building letters to add a little handwriting into the nature walk.
  • Listen for the birds and their chirping of songs and listen for some rustling of leaves when squirrels and other critters move about the woods.
  • Maybe the breeze is blowing, is it causing the trees and leaves to sway back and forth? Close your eyes and simply just listen to hear (it adds another fun element).

Gustatory Sense and Family Walks

The gustatory (taste) sense can be provided a little nudge, with adult supervision of course, if you find some wild blackberries or strawberries. They can be yummy to eat, but they do require cleaning so you may want to wait until you get back home to eat them so they can be properly cleaned for complete safety. If you are not that adventurous though, that’s okay you can still stimulate the gustatory sense on your walk if you work to prepare a fun trail mix before you leave the house so you can eat it on your outdoor adventure.

  • Bring a cold drink- A water bottle can be added to a backpack and brought along for a cold drink during a family walk. Remember the proprioceptive and oral motor benefits to drinking through a sports bottle, or a straw in a water bottle with a straw lid.
  • Nature walk snacks-Don’t have time to make trail mix, that’s okay too, you can just grab some granola or granola bars or maybe even some veggie sticks or beef jerky!

Tactile Sensory Nature Walk

The tactile (touch) sense can be heavily engaged with all of the different textures that can be explored and possibly gathered on your nature walk. Try some of these strategies on your nature walk:

  • Take some time to feel the leaves, moss, tree bark, rocks, dirt, and even a few fuzzy critters that can be given a little lift to their next destination.  
  • Tossing rocks into small streams or even walking through puddles of water could provide a multi-sensory experience.
  • Write a few letters in the dirt with use of broken twigs as a pencil.
  • Take some time to feel the warmth of the sun or the breeze on your face as you walk.  
  • Be sure to collect some nature items along the way though so you can explore them later either in a sensory bin or in an art project.
  • Find and count nature items in an egg carton.
  • Play toss and catch with pine cones as appropriate. Toss and catch to each other or have kiddos toss to themselves including back and forth between their left and right hands.
  • Stick nature items to contact paper while on a nature walk.

Olfactory sense and family sensory walks

The olfactory (smell) sense can be triggered by taking time to smell the dried leaves, flower scents, and even the smells that get blown as the wind or breeze lifts them through the air. Let’s face it, the wilderness has many smells that are unidentified and when mixed together create scents that are unusual kind of, musty. Even decaying wood has a very unique smell. Try these olfactory activities:

  • Smell flowers
  • Close your eyes and smell the air. Can you identify any scents?
  • Talk about scent words and the meaning of those terms. Some concepts to explore are: fresh, musty, moldy, sweet, sour, dry, etc.

Proprioception and Nature Walks

The proprioceptive (muscles and joints) sense can be impacted if you allow the child to lift heavy rocks, larger limbs and even just jump from higher elevations such as large rocks. All of the walking, climbing, and exploring adds heavy work input that tells the body where it is in space so the legs and body as a whole can move. Heavy work is a calming and regulating source of getting to a calm and alert state. Consider these opportunities for adding proprioceptive input on a nature walk:

  • Allow them to climb some trees and hillsides.
  • Explore trails with variations on elevation.
  • Consider the walking surface. Walking through a field, even trail, flat trail, or wooded hiking trail, or paved sidewalk offer different variants of heavy work though the legs and core.
  • Add hopping, jumping, bending, leaping, galloping, or skipping as you walk.
  • Even just the act of walking up and down the trail inclines can provide muscle and joint input that can be regulating for some kiddos.
  • Carrying water bottles in a backpack is an additional opportunity for heavy work.

Nature walks and the Vestibular sense

The vestibular (movement) sense can be activated as a child moves their body around the trees and rocks even while crawling up large rocks and trees. Incorporate vestibular input through these ideas:

  • Have them try some simple spinning with their eyes open and closed and arms outstretched to get a unique view of the outdoors maybe even doing some somersaults or cartwheels.
  • Allow them to try out their balance skills as they walk across a downed tree or along a trail of rocks.
  • Climb trees.
  • Run up hills.
  • Roll down grassy hills.

Nature walks and interoception

The interoception (inner body awareness) sense can be explored by the act of simply disconnecting from technology and other distractions and identifying how the body feels during this change of setting and heavy multi-sensory environment. An additional benefit of family walks is the connection to sleep (described more in detail at the bottom of this post.) Sleep has been noted to be included in the interoceptive processes much like hunger or thirst, as a brain process similar to other homeostatic processes.

Incorporate interoception in nature with these strategies:

  • Work on identifying their feelings and bodily responses to the sensory input such as noticing their breathing, heart rate, temperature, or possibly if they feel either tired, hungry, or thirsty.
  • How do you feel? A walk can change how you’re feeling. Maybe you feel re-energized and more alert. Talk about it.
  • Mindfulness is impacted by nature. Take deep breaths. Can you feel your heart rate slowing down?
  • Thirst inventory- How do you feel after a hike in nature? Thirsty? Dry mouth? These are signs that your body is thirsty. Some people struggle with this internal awareness. Talk about the signs of thirst and how the body reacts to this need and then afterwards once you’ve got a drink.
Nature walk activities for families to incorporate sensory systems.

Nature Walk Activities

A nature walk is a fun time to collect items from nature for exploring. While out on family walk, collect items from nature such as rocks, pebbles, sticks, leaves, moss, etc. These items can be placed into a backpack or bag and brought home to explore and create. (Be sure to return items to nature, afterwards as long as they are free from paint or glue.)

After you’ve finished your outdoor adventure and you’ve collected some fun nature goodies from your walk, take those items home and create a sensory bin, fine motor craft kit, or maybe even use them in a fun art project. What can you collect?

Look for some of these items (and explore the visual sense as you seek and find items):

  • Acorns
  • Twigs
  • Leaves
  • Rocks
  • Feathers
  • Pine needles
  • Pine cones
  • Moss
  • Seeds
  • Grasses
  • Sand
  • Dirt
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Fallen tree bark

Nature Walk Sensory Bins

Use these materials to make a sensory bin. Add the items you’ve collected to a large bin, basket, or tray. Now it’s time to explore! Try these nature sensory bin ideas:

Nature Walk Art Projects

The nature items collected on a family walk can be used to make art, too. Incorporate some added art supplies to get started:

  • Paint
  • Paint brush
  • Playdough
  • Beans/Peas
  • Glue
  • String
  • Paper/paste or cardboard
  • Googly eyes
  • Chenille stems
  • Egg cartons
  • Contact paper

Then, try these nature art projects that help to develop motor skills, fine motor strength, coordination, motor planning, and more:

Sensory Nature Walks and Rest

An added benefit of incorporating a nature walk into the family routine is that walks in turn promote rest. All of the physical activity of nature walks may be helpful in encouraging rest and as a result, sleep.

Additionally, research suggests a relationship between sleep difficulties and patterns of sensory processing issues in children.

Studies show that sensory processing differences, considerably including increased sensory sensitivities, sensory-avoiding patterns, sensory-seeking patterns, and poor sensory registration have been associated with changes in sleep quality. (Vasek, M., Williamson, J., Garden, J., Zwicker, J., 2015).

Occupational therapists play a role in sleep by offering tools and strategies to promote adequate and restful sleep. Because sleep is a necessary component of performing functional tasks and daily occupations, occupational therapists can assist with promoting adequate and healthy sleep by using evidence based methods, once of which can include physical activity such as family nature walks.

A final note about sensory walks

Take a seasonal nature walk to simply allow children to explore with their senses while building skills needed for learning and development! Allow children the freedom to explore at their own pace and to be creative. Give them the opportunity to come up with a fun, family activity outdoors. They’ll surprise you!

Don’t live near a colorful hiking area? Take some time to visit a farm, a pumpkin patch, a flower garden, a cornfield, or even the beach. Really, just get outdoors and explore anywhere! By being outside away from technology and other distractions, children can rejuvenate their bodies and minds while stimulating their senses.

Try these resources to incorporate the sensory system when in the great outdoors:

Outdoor Sensory Diet Activities

Outdoor Sensory Diet Activities in the Backyard

Outdoor Recess Sensory Diet Activities

Sensory Diet Activities at the Playground

Sensory Processing at the Playground

Add the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards to your therapy toolbox:

Create the “right kind” of sensory experiences to improve regulation, attention, focus, body awareness, motor development, and sensory processing.

  • 90 outdoor sensory diet activities
  • 60 outdoor recess sensory diet activities
  • 30 blank sensory diet cards, and 6 sensory challenge cards
  • They can be used based on preference and interest of the child, encouraging motivation and carryover, all while providing much-needed sensory input.
Outdoor sensory diet cards

References:

Mark Vasak, James Williamson, Jennifer Garden, Jill G. Zwicker; Sensory Processing and Sleep in Typically Developing Infants and Toddlers. Am J Occup Ther 2015;69(4):6904220040. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2015.015891

Regina Allen

Regina Parsons-Allen is a school-based certified occupational therapy assistant. She has a pediatrics practice area of emphasis from the NBCOT. She graduated from the OTA program at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute in Hudson, North Carolina with an A.A.S degree in occupational therapy assistant. She has been practicing occupational therapy in the same school district for 20 years. She loves her children, husband, OT, working with children and teaching Sunday school. She is passionate about engaging, empowering, and enabling children to reach their maximum potential in ALL of their occupations as well assuring them that God loves them!

Summer Occupational Therapy Activities

Summer occupational therapy activities
summer activity packet

Be sure to grab the Summer Activities Packet, containing a Beach theme slide deck, handwriting prompts, movement activities, visual perceptual and visual motor activities, sensory ideas, and more. Make your summer OT session planning easier. Use the prompts in preventing summer slide over the next three months. Grab the Summer Activities Packet here for just $10.

Looking for summer occupational therapy activities or ideas to use in home programs for the summer? This year’s summer OT activities may look a little different than previous years. In years past, therapists may have been gearing up for an end of another school year and a break from in-person OT sessions. What hasn’t changed about the end of a school year is the carefree days of summer that are ahead. As an OT, I love the feeling of the start of summer. There is just something about back-to-the-basics play of summer. Running around the backyard, hopping on bikes, sidewalk chalk, sprinklers and water play…summer play is a goldmine of motor and sensory activities that can boost those underlying skills kids NEED.

Because of this, I wanted to put together a resource on summer occupational therapy activities that can be implemented today. These are strategies to use for your own child to boost development and challenge skills. These are ideas to use in teletherapy or in home programs. These are play ideas that help kids with the balance of screens and active play. Use the summer resources for parents, teachers, and therapists to develop underlying skills in very fun ways! These are AWESOME summer occupational therapy activities!

Check the summer activities for kids of all ages listed below!

You’ll also be interested in our new Summer Occupational Therapy Activities Packet. It’s a collection of 14 items that guide summer programming at home, at school, and in therapy sessions. The summer activities bundle covers handwriting, visual perceptual skills and visual motor skills, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, regulation, and more.

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. The packet is only $10.00 and can be used over and over again for every student/client!

Grab the Spring Occupational Therapy Activities Packet HERE.

summer occupational therapy activities for kids
Occupational therapists can use these summer occupational therapy activities when planning OT home programs for for summer programs.

Summer Occupational Therapy Activities 

In many areas, schools are winding down for the year. You may have a few weeks or a few days left. The daily countdown of number of remaining school days is dwindling.

You might be wondering how to balance work-from home and making summer days count.

You might be wondering how to keep the kids busy this summer without breaking the bank.

You might be a clinician thinking about summer programming and need a few fresh ideas.

You might be thinking about summer plans and ways to encourage development in fun ways the whole family can enjoy.

You might be a therapist putting together summer home programs.

You might be a teacher who is READY for the final bell to ring this school year 🙂

I wanted to put together a list of resources for summer activities that can boost the skills kids need. The “summer slide” can happen in handwriting and other school-based therapy goal areas, too!

Summer Occupational Therapy Activity Resources

~ Do some or all of the activities listed here in this Sensory Summer Camp at Home plan. All of the activities and ideas are free and use items you probably already have.

~ Sneak in handwriting practice while traveling with these motivating and authentic ideas. HERE are a few MORE natural writing experiences for summer that keep those pencils moving.

~ Try some of the activities in this Summer Activity Guide designed to encourage play and creativity in activities for the whole family.

~ Practice the motor planning and fine motor skills needed for handwriting and with a sensory twist using the ideas outlined in this Sensory Handwriting Backyard Summer Camp.

~ Try these Backyard Vestibular Activities for Summer to encourage movement and sensory experiences right in the backyard.

~ Print off this June Occupational Therapy Calendar for ideas to last the whole month. (It’s from a couple of years back so the dates are off, but the activities still work!)

~ These no-prep, basically free summer activities won’t break the bank and boost the underlying skills kids NEED, in fun ways.

~ Use sidewalk chalk to boost fine motor skills.  

~Make a summer time capsule with the whole family and create memories that can be looked back on years from now.   

~Create a summer kick-off bucket filled with toys and items for months of sensory play.     

~The kids will love these frozen fruit kabob snacks. It’s a great alerting sensory snack that doubles as a healthy summer treat.

The ideas listed above should help you create therapy home programs, and keep the kids loaded up on creative, open-ended, and movement-based PLAY that their little bodies NEED!

Use these summer occupational therapy activities when planning sensory activities, fine motor, and gross motor developmental ideas for kids.

Want to take summer play to the next level? Be sure to grab your copy of the Summer OT Activities Bundle!

Summer activities for kids

Monthly Movement Activities

October movement activities for preschool and toddler development.

Looking for ways to keep the kids moving and active? Maybe you need some indoor play ideas. Perhaps you are looking for movement activities for children when getting out of the house just isn’t possible. Kids just aren’t moving like they used to. Need a few ways to add movement activities into each and every day? Adding extra movement breaks or brain breaks into the classroom or just daily play can be a helpful tool for improving the underlying skills kids need for strengthening or just getting the sensory input they crave and need to develop. Sometimes, it’s as simple as coming up with creative movement ideas. Other times, kids play the same favorite gross motor games over and over again. These monthly sensory movement activities provide the sensory input and gross motor movement that kids need! 

Monthly movement activities for kids
Use these sensory movement ideas for kids to add movement and play into activities for kids all year long! They are perfect for play and occupational therapy activities.

Monthly Movement Activities

Add a few of the occupational therapy activities in this post into your therapy line-up. Having a few monthly themed activities for therapy can make the routines less boring and a great way to throw a wrench at the burnout machine.

Use the lists below to inspire therapy plans for the month or weeks ahead. Simply add the theme into your occupational therapy activities for the week. Then, use specific graded activities to meet the needs of each child on your caseload. This strategy can help in planning OT activities in the clinic or school-based interventions. (And, having a theme set up for the week totally helps with carting items from place to place in that trunk of yours, too!)

Monthly Movement Activities for Kids

Kids love a fresh occupational therapy activity, too. Adding a fresh and fun new game or activity can make a rainy indoor day more fun or can bring a little something different to a sunny afternoon outdoors. The best thing about these movement and play ideas is that they provide all of the right kind of sensory movement input that kids need to pay better attention, calm down, or self-regulate. Use these activity ideas as movement activities for preschoolers in planning lessons that meet movement needs. 

The movement activities listed below are play ideas that promote proprioceptive input, vestibular input, gross motor skills, body awareness, fine motor skills, visual motor integration, bilateral coordination, crossing midline, core strengthening, motor planning, and so much more. Best of all, they are FUN! 

Movement activities for Preschoolers

In the preschool setting, there is often an emphasis on writing letters. However, there is a much more important area that needs addressing…movement! Adding movement activities for preschoolers in learning builds the underlying skills that are many times, lacking in preschool-aged kids, and beyond. By adding movement activities to the preschool classroom, kids can learn letters, colors, numbers, and more through movement, and really gain that kinesthetic learning component.

Given that so many kids are spending more time on screens and have less opportunities to play outside, I wanted to provide a big old list of movement pay ideas that can be incorporated into every day of the year! These ideas cover each month and have themes but can be expanded on so that every day of every month is covered. 

occupational therapy games and activity list

Therapists will love to use these movement activities as home programs or as part of therapy interventions. Adding themed activities is a fun way to work on specific skills or goals using occupational therapy games with this activity list.

Teachers could sneak some of these movement ideas into the school day as brain breaks, indoor recess activities, or movement breaks to improve attention. 

The list below separates each month into themed sets of activities that can be used in handwriting, gross motor games, fine motor activities, sensory movement activities, movement breaks, and more.

Parents will love adding these activities into everyday of the year to get the kid active and moving both indoors and outdoors! 

A Year of Sensory Play
This year of movement activity list is part of our A Year of Sensory Play packet. It’s a printable packet of TONS of themed activities that will last the whole year long. Each activity is designed to promote movement and sensory processing through sensory challenges and play activities. There are 67 pages in the Year of Sensory Play Packet  and the activities cover every season. The packet also includes 12 months of sensory planning sheets, and the monthly movement activities listed below. There are also monthly sensory bin filler ideas so that every month of the year is covered when it comes to gross motor and fine motor sensory play. 


The Year of Sensory Play packet is a resource for planning out and actually USING the sensory ideas that provide sensory input kids need to develop the skills they require for attention, focus, regulation, handwriting, learning, managing clothing fasteners, and overall functioning as a thriving kiddo! 


Now onto the sensory play ideas! 


Monthly Sensory Movement Activities

The ideas listed below are movement-based activities. Each sensory activity doubles as a gross motor or fine motor movement activity that builds on sensory based activities. These are fun ways to get the kids learning through play and are activities for toddlers to gain skills like balance, eye-hand coordination, fine motor development, and core strength. 

When intending to improve various skills in preschool-aged kids, use these sensory movement activities for preschoolers, as well.

Try incorporating these ideas into each month for a year of movement and fun!

January Movement Activity Ideas

January movement activities for preschoolers, toddlers, and sensory learning.
Jumping Jacks
Indoor Yoga
“Snowman Says”
Indoor Tag
Build a couch fort
Hide and Seek
Burpees
Push-Ups
Brain Break YouTube Videos
Build with blocks
Indoor parade
Packing peanuts
Blanket tug-of-war
Bean bag toss
Hop on paper snowflakes


February Movement Activity Ideas

February movement activities for preschoolers, toddlers, and sensory play.
Heart hopscotch
Obstacle course
Masking tape maze
Paper plate ice skating
Slide on cardboard on carpet
Indoor snowball fight (paper)
Draw on windows-dry erase marker
Scrub floors with soapy water
Build with cardboard boxes
Gross motor Uno
Bedsheet parachute play
Crawl through tunnels
Movement scavenger hunt
Marching games
Wash walls


March Movement Activity Ideas

March movement activities for learning, play, brain breaks, and sensory learning.
Indoor trampoline

“Leprechaun Says”
Therapy ball
Sit and spin
Charades
Tumbling
Dance party
Balloon ball toss

Shamrock balance beam
Hoola hoop
Dribble a basketball
Plastic Easter egg race on spoons
Animal walks
Roll down hills
Easter egg hunt

April Movement Activity Ideas

April movement activities for occupational therapy games and activities.
Playground tour
Jump in puddles
Bear walks
Dig in dirt
Plant flowers
Sidewalk chalk race
Trace shadows with chalk
Bounce ball on wall
Flutter like a butterfly
Grow like a flower
Pick flowers
Fill a recycle bin
Wheelbarrow walks
Crawl like a bug
Draw big flowers with both hands

 

May Movement Activity Ideas

May movement activities for kids.
Leaf balance beam
Hula hoop race
Beach ball toss
Ride bikes
Mother May I
Use a bike pump
Outdoor yoga
Swim relay
Bouncing ball tic tac toe
Lawn games
Jungle gym
Hike
Outdoor picnic
Bounce a ball on a line
Collect sticks





June Movement Activity Ideas

June movement activities for occupational therapy activity planning.
Swimming
Craw walks
Log balance beam
“King of the Mountain”
Kick a ball course
Throw paper airplanes
Hammer golf tees into ground
Climb trees
Play catch
TV Tag
Limbo
Ride scooters
Collect nature
Walk a dog
Toy scavenger hunt



July Movement Activity Ideas

July movement activities for preschoolers and toddlers learning and play.
Fly like a bee
Jump waves
Creep like a caterpillar
Catch fireflies
Jump rope balance beam
Leap frog
Waterguns
Freeze tag
Shadow puppets
Put up a tent
Water balloon race
Pull a wagon
Pillow fight
Cartwheels
Blow bubbles




August Movement Activities Ideas

August movement activities for kids
Slither like a snake
Hop like a frog
August Sensory Bin
Catch bugs
Gallop like a horse
Sort seeds
Small toys frozen in ice
Finger paints
Hang clothes on a clothes line
Hunt for sounds
Walk with a ball between legs
Hit a kickball with tennis racket
Run through sprinkler
Pick fruit or berries
Water table play



September Movement Activity Ideas

September movement activities for occupational therapy games.
Write on sandpaper
Pool noodle balance beam
Balance board
Hop on leaves
Scurry like a squirrel
Fall hike
Bob for apples
Roll like a pumpkin
Fall leaf hunt
Collect acorns
Family walk
Bike parade
Wash the car
Donkey kicks
Waddle like a duck





October Movement Activity Ideas

October movement activities for preschool and toddler development.
Spin like a spider
Carve a pumpkin
Stretch spider web netting
Punch holes in leaves
Cut leaves
Football toss
Farmer in the Dell
Jump in pillows
Paper football
“Scarecrow Says”
Autumn art projects with leaves
Wash apples
Chair push-ups
Make applesauce





November Movement Activity Ideas

November movement activities for brain breaks, and classroom movement and learning.
Jump in leaves
Rake leaves
Catch falling leaves
Waddle like a turkey
“Turkey Pokey”
Thread beads on feathers
Flashlight Tag
Thanksgiving Charades
Crumble and stomp on leaves
Trace leaves
Turkey hunt
Roll a pumpkin
Run in place
Cut feathers
Blow a feather with a straw





 December Movement Activity Ideas

December movement activities for preschoolers, toddler learning, and occupational therapy activity planning.
Christmas themed yoga
Wrap presents
“Santa Says”
Prance like a reindeer
Shovel relay race 
Decorate a tree
Roll and knead dough
Pull a sled
Crunchy walk on ice or snow
Holiday themed charades
Holiday march
Jingle Bell Catch
Relay with gift bow on a spoon
Stocking guessing game
Push boxes


Looking for more ideas to add movement throughout the day? Check out The Sensory Lifestyle handbook to add sensory input throughout daily activities to create a lifestyle of sensory success! 

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.
 
Use these monthly movement activities to encourage sensory input or gross motor play all year long.






Visual Tracking Games

Visual Tracking is an important part of everything we do and visual tracking games can be a valuable resource to improving visual tracking skills! For tasks such as reading and writing, however, the ability to track visually across a line of written text is essential for reading and fluency in reading.

When kids read across a line of text in a book, they are using visual tracking skills to follow the line from word to work. When they follow a finger along lines in a book they are using visual tracking skills. When they shift their vision from one point to another, they use a combination of visual scanning and visual tracking skills. Visual tracking is a multi-faceted topic and you can read more about visual tracking and all that it entails in functional tasks here on the website.

These visual tracking games will be a useful tool in helping kids with visual tracking needs to read, write, visually scan and complete other visual motor tasks, using fun tracking games and visual tools that kids will love to use in occupational therapy activities or as part of a therapy home program for visual tracking!

Visual Tracking Games and Visual Tracking Activities for Kids

So when visual tracking is such an important part of function and skills, how do you address this skill area? There are adaptations that can be put into place to help, such as prompting, cues, physical assists, and other tools. One way to work on visual tracking needed for functional tasks is to use visual tracking games in play and activities.

Visual tracking games and activities can be a valuable asset for increasing this skill area in kids with visual tracking skill deficits or needs.

Read on to find out more about visual tracking games and activities that may help  kids improve their visual tracking skills.

But first,

What does a Visual Tracking Problem Look Like?

The games and activities listed below are important for kids who struggle with tracking of words and letters when reading, writing, or completing math. Visual Tracking problems may also present as difficulty with sports or coordination. Visual tracking may be evident in learning. There are many ways that a visual tracking concern can become evident. If one of these areas or functional abilities is a problem for your child, student, or client, then a visual screening can be very useful in identifying specific needs.

Need help addressing visual problems in the classroom? Here are classroom accommodations for visual impairments

Occupational Therapy Vision Screening Tool

Occupational Therapists screen for visual problems in order to determine how they may impact functional tasks. Visual screening can occur in the classroom setting, in inpatient settings, in outpatient therapy, and in early intervention or home care.
This visual screening tool was created by an occupational therapist and provides information on visual terms, frequently asked questions regarding visual problems, a variety of visual screening techniques, and other tools that therapists will find valuable in visual screenings.

This is a digital file. Upon purchase, you will be able to download the 10 page file and print off to use over and over again in vision screenings and in educating therapists, teachers, parents, and other child advocates or caregivers.

Visual Tracking Games for Kids

Kids can play visual tracking games that are free or are fun games out on the market to address this skill area and improve visual tracking skills so that reading and writing are easier.

Try some of these fun visual tracking games to help kids improve their visual tracking skills and they won’t even know they are “working”!

Badminton GamePhysical games and gross motor games like this one can help promote visual tracking across all visual fields including peripheral and in all directions (horizontal, vertical, circular, and diagonal)
 
Pop and Catch Game – Combining fine motor skills like this Pop and Catch game can bring the target close to the body to challenge convergence in kids with visual tracking needs in a visual tracking activity that the whole family can enjoy.
 
Velcro Ball and MittThis visual tracking game combines gross motor and sensory components with resistive work that kids can use to challenge upper body strength while playing. Follow the target ball as it sails toward and away to challenge convergence of the eyes. This activity can easily be modified to meet various needs by using a brightly colored ball or moving closer or farther away. is a game kids can play indoors or outdoors while working on their visual tracking skills.

Scoop ball Try to scoop the ball while moving, while seated or while in a variety of positions and planes to add a graded component to this visual tracking game.

Wham-O Track BallThis classic visual tracking game is traditionally an outdoor lawn game for kids or adults, but it makes an awesome visual tracking game! When kids struggle with visual tracking skills, they can benefit from watching a moving target and challenges in visual tracking across various fields of vision. Play this visual tracking game indoors or outdoors. Why not add a prone component by playing while crawling or laying on the floor or while on a scooter board?

Light Up Bouncy Ball – While any ball could potentially be used as a visual tracking tool, this light up ball can be used in a dark room or at night for a visual tracking game that kids can’t resist! Play a slow rolling game of catch or try to invoke spontaneous visual tracking skills by bouncing the ball against a wall in a darkened room. What fun!

Glow in the Dark Ring Toss – This is another glow in the dark game that kids can play in a darkened space. The room doesn’t need to be completely dark to encourage visual tracking with this glowing game. Just close the blinds or play at night with a low light on and the glowing visual tracking can still happen! Ask the child to watch as the ring is tossed away from them. They child can also position themselves on the sidelines when they are waiting for their turn while others play, allowing for visual tracking across planes.

Zoom Ball – This is a great therapy tool because the child can control and feel when the moving target is moving toward them and away from them. Zoom ball is a visual tracking tool that requires convergence as the child watches the target move between them and another player.

Rocket Launch – There are many rocket launch toys on the market and any would work as a visual tracking tool. But this one is nice because it has the ability to change the angle so the rocket can be sent hier or at different angles. Kids can watch the brightly colored rocket as it sails through the air into unpredictable tracks and various fields of vision, including the peripheral.

Slingshot Creatures – These fun creatures can be sent at targets or at any plane as a visual tracking tool. Kids will love shooting these creatures or watching them sail across the room!

Parachute Toy – Parachute toys, flying discs, and other flying target toys are great for addressing visual tracking skills. Kids can toss them up or watch as they drop while following the target. This set includes lots of fun extras!

Glowing Finger Slingshots – Flinger slingshots are a fun tool for targeting visual tracking skills. This visual tracking activity is one kids will love to engage with! Try them in a darkened room to encourage visual tracking as the glowing toy flies across the room!

Flying slingshot copter – This is another slingshot activity that kids can shoot themselves while visual tracking as the target soars. Play indoors or outdoors. Visual tracking tools like this are motivating and a fun addition to goody bags or as a small gift idea.
Handheld helicopter drone – This indoor or outdoor drone is a nice visual tracking tool that kids will love to send up and watch as it soars.  


These visual tracking games are a helpful tool in addressig visual tracking goals that kids may have interfering with handwriting, reading, and learning.
Need a resource to address visual tracking or need to know where to start with identifying visual tracking concerns? The Visual Tracking Screening Tool can help therapists screen for and identify visual problems that interfere with visual tracking, convergence, and other visual skills.

Outdoor Sensory Diet Activity Cards

Outdoor sensory diet cards

The outdoors are the ultimate sensory experience for kids! It is possible to create the “right kind” of sensory experiences to improve regulation, attention, focus, body awareness, motor development, and sensory processing. Outdoor play provides sensory input in all planes, directions, and with multiple senses.  This printable packet all about taking sensory diet activities into the outdoors. Outdoor sensory diets are the perfect way to add sensory input that kids need!

Outdoor sensory diet cards for families

Outdoor Sensory Diet Activity Cards

Research tells us that outdoor play improves attention and provides an ideal environment for a calm and alert state, perfect for integration of sensory input. In fact, outdoor play provides input from all the senses, allows for movement in all planes, and provides a variety of strengthening components including eccentric, concentric, and isometric muscle contractions. The outdoors are a vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile, and overall sensory-enriched goldmine!
 
There’s more: Providing opportunities for sensory diet activities in the outdoors encourages open-ended play, imagination, creativity, body awareness, learning skills, self-confidence, gross and fine motor development, attention, and social-emotional skill development.
 
It can be a real struggle to help kids manage tricky sensory-related challenges.
 
Parents find it  difficult to weed through all of the information and pull out what will work for their child.
 
Teachers may struggle with kids who fall out of their chairs, can’t focus, and feed off other students. They may feel compelled to help these students but lack resources, time, or tactics.
 
Therapists may search for fresh ideas that provide the right kind of sensory input and will be carried over at home and at school, all while fitting into the child’s occupational performance sweet spot.
 
 
 
Do one or more of the categories described above sound familiar?
 
Maybe you are trying sensory strategies, searching for information, and creating sensory diets that just aren’t working. You’re doing all of the right things, but struggle to meet the sensory needs of an individual child.
outdoor sensory diet activity cards
 
That’s where the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards and Sensory Challenge Cards come into play.
 
They are a printable resource that encourages sensory diet strategies in the outdoors. In the printable packet, there are 90 outdoor sensory diet activities, 60 outdoor recess sensory diet activities, 30 blank sensory diet cards, and 6 sensory challenge cards. They can be used based on preference and interest of the child, encouraging motivation and carryover, all while providing much-needed sensory input.
 
Here’s a little more information about the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards:
 
    • 90 outdoor sensory diet activities
    • 60 outdoor recess sensory diet activities
    • 30 blank sensory diet cards, and 6 sensory challenge cards
    • They can be used based on preference and interest of the child, encouraging motivation and carryover, all while providing much-needed sensory input.
    • Research tells us that outdoor play improves attention and provides an ideal environment for a calm and alert state, perfect for integration of sensory input.
    • Outdoor play provides input from all the senses, allows for movement in all planes, and provides a variety of strengthening components including eccentric, concentric, and isometric muscle contractions.
    • Great tool for parents, teachers, AND therapists!
 
Here’s the thing: Outdoor play is the ideal setting for incorporating the “right kind” of sensory input. A child who uses a therapy band in the classroom receives just one direction of proprioceptive input. Outdoor play provides sensory input in all planes, directions, and with multiple senses. The sensory diet cards in this free printable pack can be used in SO many ways to help individuals with specific sensory needs.


Check out more about outdoor activities…like play…and sensory diets:

There’s more:
  • Outdoor sensory diet activities are easy, fun, and motivating…and they make memories for the whole family while meeting the needs of a child with sensory processing challenges.
  • Outdoor sensory activities can be completed as a group or on an individual basis, and learning can be incorporated right into the tasks.
  • Teachers will find the outdoor recess sensory diet cards appropriate for the right kind of sensory-based brain breaks throughout the day.
  • The great outdoors is the biggest sensory gym you can imagine…and all of the sensory equipment is already there! From tree stumps, to hills, to pebbles, to pavement…outdoor sensory diet strategies can occur with little or no equipment.
  • Parents will love these outdoor sensory strategies that make memories for the whole family.

 

  • The whole family can join in on these sensory brain breaks! They provide the best kind of calming proprioceptive input, alerting movement, and sensory-based play that we ALL need!

 

  • The outdoor sensory diet strategy cards include a section of outdoor recess activities. These are perfect for the parent advocating for more sensory input for their child at school. The school playground is a powerful source of calming and organizing input!

 

  • Therapists will find the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards a valuable tool in creating home programs. Every child needs more of this type of play!
 
  • Sometimes therapists run into issues with sensory diet carryover at home or in the classroom. These are sensory-based activities that kids will love and WANT to do!
 
  • As an added bonus, the Outdoor Recess Sensory Diet Cards included in this free packet can be used at any neighborhood playground, making a quick stop at a park a motivating means of incorporating much-needed sensory exercise.
 
  • The Sensory Diet Challenge Cards incorporate all of the senses and are a quick checklist of activities that can be used for easy sensory activities.
 
Be sure to grab the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards and use them with a child (or adult) with sensory processing needs!
 

 

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 Recess Sensory Diet Activities

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…there is just less time for kids to get outside and PLAY! 


When it comes to sensory play, using the outdoors in meeting sensory needs and through sensory challenges is perfect for those looking for easy and fun ways to meet sensory needs in kids!



Use these outdoor recess sensory diet activities for kids who need sensory input throughout the school day or crave sensory activities. The sensory diet activities can be used in various settings in the school environment, providing sensory challenges and activities that occupational therapists might recommend.



For the child in school, it’s known that recess time helps with attention, sensory needs, motor development, learning skills, language, executive functioning, and so much more. In fact, research about outdoor play tells us a lot about development in kids! 


The activities below are just some ways to encourage sensory input through outdoor recess. The fact is that plain old outdoor play will expand a child’s developmental needs and provide the kind of sensory input that kids need to learn and grow. 


But sometimes, a child who has a need for a specific sensory diet will benefit from a prescribed list of sensory diet activities. And using the playground at the school is a great way to do this! 


We’ve talked about sensory integration on the playground before and also sensory diet activities that can be used on a playground or park setting. 


But the sensory diet activities listed below are those that can be combined with other outdoor sensory diet activities and completed on a blacktop surface or a schoolyard setting. 


Outdoor Recess Sensory Diet Activities



These outdoor recess sensory diet activities can be used at a recess setting or within a sensory diet that allows for an outdoor movement break. 


Using the natural setting of the playground is perfect for allowing a student to use the setting within the school to get the sensory input he or she needs. 

The Outdoor Recess Sensory Diet Cards are activities that can be done with little or no special equipment, making carryover easier.


The outdoor sensory diet activities below are GAMES and PLAY that kids naturally love! That means other students can participate in activities that come natural to recess time…while providing the much needed sensory diet activity that is necessary for meeting sensory needs of specific students. 


These activities are part of our Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards packet. It’s a FREE resource that uses natural and therapeutic play activities that can be done in the great outdoors. 


The Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards packet includes sensory diet cards that meet a variety of needs and can be used for any child, based on specific needs. Therapists will love the variety of cards that can work for any child and can be adjusted to meet specific needs of clients. 


Part of the packet is outdoor recess sensory diet activiteis that come in card form for easy scheduling and recommendation of activities.


This is a free resource, available for download. Just click on the link below, enter your email, and download the file that is delivered to your inbox. 


If you use these sensory diet cards, share it with others! Share the link so others can download too. Be sure to catch a pic of your use of the cards and tag @theottoolbox on social media! 


Outdoor Recess Sensory Diet Activities

Teach the child to ask if they can push another child on the swing
Utilize playground equipment 
Walk or run on the perimietter of the playground area.
Bounce balls
Kickball
Stress ball in hand during playground play
Chewing tool for sensory overload
Running games
“I Spy” scavenger hunts for colors or shapes
Keychain fidget tool
Obstacle courses
Tug of war activities
Carry equiptment bins onto playgroung area and back in after recess
Organize one-on-one play with a buddy


The Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards printable packet includes A TON more ideas for outdoor sensory diet activities and outdoor recess sensory diet activities. 


In fact, there are 90 outdoor sensory diet activities, 60 outdoor recess sensory diet activities, 30 blank sensory diet cards, AND 6 sensory challenge cards.


They can be used based on preference and interest of the child, encouraging motivation and carryover, all while providing much-needed sensory input.


Free printable outdoor sensory diet activities that kids with sensory processing needs can use as part of a sensory diet while exploring and participating in challenges outside.



Get the Outdoor Sensory Diet Activity Cards HERE.

Use these outdoor recess sensory diet activities for kids who need sensory input throughout the school day or crave sensory activities. The sensory diet activities can be used in various settings in the school environment, providing sensory challenges and activities that occupational therapists might recommend.

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.

What Research Says About Outdoor Sensory Play

Research has a lot to say about play. When it comes to outdoor sensory play, there is a lot that can be discussed too. With the upcoming release of The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook, which encourages sensory strategies and sensory diet use in creating a lifestyle of sensory enrichment, today we are talking all about what the research has to say about outdoor sensory diet activities and outdoor sensory play.


Taking sensory diet strategies outside is nothing new. But, doing so may just be a meaningful way to create the “just right” state of alertness and calming nature that, well, nature provides!







Research says outdoor sensory play is beneficial in the development of children. Use these outdoor sensory diet activities to inspire outdoor activities that boost skills like motor development, attention, regulation, and more.

Use this information when explaining about what a sensory diet is and what a sensory diet looks like for kids with sensory needs. 


That’s where the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards and Sensory Challenge Cards come into play.

They are a FREE printable resource that encourages sensory diet strategies in the outdoors. In the printable packet, there are 90 outdoor sensory diet activities, 60 outdoor recess sensory diet activities, 30 blank sensory diet cards, and 6 sensory challenge cards. They can be used based on preference and interest of the child, encouraging motivation and carryover, all while providing much-needed sensory input.

Here’s a little more information about the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards
  • 90 outdoor sensory diet activities
  • 60 outdoor recess sensory diet activities
  • 30 blank sensory diet cards, and 6 sensory challenge cards
  • They can be used based on preference and interest of the child, encouraging motivation and carryover, all while providing much-needed sensory input. 
  • Research tells us that outdoor play improves attention and provides an ideal environment for a calm and alert state, perfect for integration of sensory input.
  • Outdoor play provides input from all the senses, allows for movement in all planes, and provides a variety of strengthening components including eccentric, concentric, and isometric muscle contractions. 
  • Great tool for parents, teachers, AND therapists!

Be sure to grab the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards and use them with a child (or adult) with sensory processing needs!


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. 

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.

Research on Outdoor Sensory Play



There has been decades of research on the benefits of play in kids. The information below depicts how outdoor play impacts sensory needs in kids. This is not an exhausted review of the literature, simply a smattering of research available on the topic. 

Research shows us that some of the developmental and primary tasks that children must achieve can be effectively improved through outdoor play. These include: exploring, risk-taking, fine and gross motor development, absorption of basic knowledge, social skills, self-confidence, attention, language skills, among others. Wow! Playing outside has a bigger impact than we may have thought!


Other research has shown an increase in communication, along with more observed emotions, and increased interactions in children with autism when more time was spent outdoors. 


Outdoor Playground Play and Sensory Input

Children have a large opportunity for sensory input through playground play. But, in recent times, children experience playgrounds that are more safe, allowing for less risky play. Encouraging specific activities such as a playground sensory diet on playground equipment can be beneficial to sensory needs. 


Another item to consider is the aspect of applying sensory diet strategies within the classroom or home environments as a fix for sensory processing needs. The specific and prescribed sensory diet activities for a particular child can be very helpful in addressing specific sensory-related behaviors. However, the use of a sensory tool such as an alternative seating system within the classroom provides only one type of vestibular and/or proprioceptive input, such as up and down vestibular input. The child who plays outdoors encounters a wide variety of sensory input across all sensory systems! 


You might even call sensory tools used to address specific needs a sensory band-aide. What if we as therapists could encourage authentic sensory input in the outdoors (or indoors, as indicated) that addresses all of the sensory systems. Using meaningful play experiences not only provide all the benefits of play. They encourage healthy development through the senses. 


There are quite a few benefits to sensory experiences in the outdoors:
Outdoor play is a calming environment. 
Outdoor play is alerting. 
Outdoor play fosters listening skills.
Outdoor play encourages risk-taking.
Outdoor play supports executive functioning skills.
Outdoor play encourages participation in the sense of touch.
Outdoor play promotes vestibular input.
Outdoor play provides an environment that encourages a calming and alert state of being. 
Outdoor play promotes self-control and comfort in task completion through graded participation. 
Outdoor play encourages social development. 
Outdoor play improves physical health. 
Outdoor play encourages body awareness.


Outdoor Sensory Diet and Improvement in Function and Attention

One study found a sensory diet in outdoor play along with sensory integration therapy resulted in better functional behavior of kids with ADHD (Sahoo & Senapati). 


Using sensory activities that are specific in time and quality such as those in a sensory diet should be done in an authentic and meaningful manner in a child’s life. In this way, sensory input is motivating to the child in that it goes along with interests and the environment in which the child lives.

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.


Need some outdoor sensory play ideas? Try these outdoor backyard sensory diet activities that inspire free play in the outdoors while encouraging sensory input of all kinds! 


Research says outdoor sensory play is beneficial in the development of children. Use these outdoor sensory diet activities to inspire outdoor activities that boost skills like motor development, attention, regulation, and more.







References:
Frost, J. & Sutterby, J. (2017). Our Proud Heritage: Outdoor Play Is Essential to Whole Child DevelopmentRetrieved from: from: https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/jul2017/outdoor-play-child-development


Hanscom, A (2017, October). The decline of play outdoors and the rise in sensory issues. OccupationalTherapy.com, Article 3990. Retrieved from http://OccupationalTherapy.com.


Von Kampen, M. (2011). The Effect of Outdoor Environment on Attention and Self-Regulation Behaviors on a Child with Autism.  Retrieved from: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://search.yahoo.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1118&context=cehsdiss

Sahoo, S. & Senapati, A. Effect of sensory diet through outdoor play on functional behavior in children with ADHD. The Indian Journal of Occupational Therapy. Vol. 46, (2 ) 49-54.

Outdoor Sensory Diet Activities for Playing in the Woods

Kids just don’t get much time to play outdoors anymore. We talked about the impact that reduced outdoor play has to do with sensory processing needs in kids in our recent Outdoor Sensory Diet Activities post. We chatted about the benefits of outdoor play in a typically developing child as well as those with sensory processing needs. This post covers the benefits of playing in the woods or a wooded area of a backyard or park. This might be a great recommendation for families who are going camping this summer and need some sensory strategies. Playing in the woods offers so many opportunities for sensory input, movement, gross and fine motor work. Not only that, but playing in the woods is a calming and organizing way to play! 


These activities can be used as part of a sensory diet of specific activities and sensory tools designed to meet specific needs of an individual. 


This will help when explaining about what a sensory diet is and what a sensory diet looks like for kids with sensory needs. 


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

Occupational therapists can use these sensory diet activities for wooded areas to recommend sensory diet activities for outdoors or as part of a home program for children with sensory processing needs or SPD.

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.

Wooded Area Sensory Diet

Fallen tree balance beam
Jump in leaves
Climb small trees
Look Up scavenger hunt
Bird watch
Touch tree trunks
Natrue collection
Picnic in the woods
Magnifying glass to find bugs
Lift rocks and inspect what’s underneith
Hike
Climb rocky areas
Play in streams
Climb steap hills
Ride bikes on a trail
Bug hunt
Collect sticks
Build a fort
Climb trees
Scent scavenger hunt
Carry a backpack full of supplies


Accommodations for addressing sensory needs in a wooded area

For kids with sensory needs, the sensations of the outdoors and a wooded area can be too much for the child to tolerate. Try these accommodations for addressing sensory needs in backyard play:

Calming snacks for a picnic
Drink water from a sports bottle with a straw
Wear sunglasses
Wear a brimmed hat
Wear high top shoes or shoes that provide proprioceptive input
Wear shoes that the child is able to tolerate
Compression clothing
Wear a lightweight wind jacket
Be cognizant of the scent of bug spray
Recognize early signs of sensory overload and head back to the house or car before a meltdown occurs (Leave on a happy note)


How to incorporate sensory play into playing outside

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. 





Many sensory diet activities can naturally be found outdoors. In fact, outdoor sensory diet activities are a fun way to encourage sensory input in a child’s environment and without fancy therapy equipment or tools. 


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.

That’s where the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards and Sensory Challenge Cards come into play.

They are a FREE printable resource that encourages sensory diet strategies in the outdoors. In the printable packet, there are 90 outdoor sensory diet activities, 60 outdoor recess sensory diet activities, 30 blank sensory diet cards, and 6 sensory challenge cards. They can be used based on preference and interest of the child, encouraging motivation and carryover, all while providing much-needed sensory input.

Here’s a little more information about the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards
  • 90 outdoor sensory diet activities
  • 60 outdoor recess sensory diet activities
  • 30 blank sensory diet cards, and 6 sensory challenge cards
  • They can be used based on preference and interest of the child, encouraging motivation and carryover, all while providing much-needed sensory input. 
  • Research tells us that outdoor play improves attention and provides an ideal environment for a calm and alert state, perfect for integration of sensory input.
  • Outdoor play provides input from all the senses, allows for movement in all planes, and provides a variety of strengthening components including eccentric, concentric, and isometric muscle contractions. 
  • Great tool for parents, teachers, AND therapists!


Be sure to grab the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards and use them with a child (or adult) with sensory processing needs!

Outdoor sensory diet activity cards for parents, teachers, and therapists of children with sensory processing needs.

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.
Occupational therapists can use these sensory diet activities for wooded areas to recommend sensory diet activities for outdoors or as part of a home program for children with sensory processing needs or SPD.