Water Sensory Bin Ideas

Sensory water bins in therapy

When the weather is hot, you need water play ideas that build skills…and make Summer memories! These water sensory bin ideas are perfect for HOT Summer days while incorporating sensory and motor skills. Use these water sensory bin activities in therapy or in the backyard to help kids build skills this Summer…and cool off!

Sensory water bins and sensory water table ideas for water therapy with kids.

Water Sensory Bin

Now, you may be wondering what is a water sensory bin??!! A water sensory bin is a sensory play experience that uses water as a medium for holding various textures designed to promote sensory motor play and learning.

A water sensory bin inspires motor skill development through the use of materials presented in water and the manipulation of tools to scoop, pour, and manipulate water and themed items.

Water sensory bins inspire creative play, exposure to various textures, and motor skill opportunities such as laterality, bilateral coordination, grasp, precision, manipulation, grip and pinch strength, and others.

And best of all, water sensory bins are a fun way to play and explore!

Water Sensory Table

Similar to a sensory water bin, a sensory water table is a sensory play experience using water and other materials in a water table. Water tables can be great for child development for toddlers and preschoolers as they are the perfect height for standing and moving around during play.

Aquatic Therapy

Water sensory tables, like water sensory bins, can be created in a variety of themes, designed for creative play or for learning specific skills or concepts. While aquatic therapy is often thought of as a gross motor therapy tool (using water or a swimming pool as a therapy medium for whole body movements, balance, and gross motor coordination), water bins and water tables involve water therapy play into a smaller scale of aquatic therapy. With a small pool of water, kids can develop and refine so many skills!

In therapy, water tables and water bins can be used to focus on specific skills, including functional tasks. Let’s take a look at different ways that water bins and water tables can be used in therapy:

Functional Skills in Aquatic Therapy

Water therapy can be used to help kids refine and develop functional skills…making water a resistive surface that provides proprioceptive feedback, turn-taking, and self-confidence. Functional skills that can be addressed in water play in therapy include:

  • washing hands
  • drying hands
  • wiping spills
  • pouring water (liquids)
  • using cups and pitchers or scoops (tool use)
  • measuring liquids for cooking tasks
  • play
  • washing dishes

Sensory Benefits of Water Therapy

Aquatic therapy involves the sensory systems and on a small scale, water bins and water tables are a powerful therapy tool. You can focus on refined sensory input on a small scale through play using water tables in therapy.

  • Proprioceptive input
  • Tactile exploration
  • Mixed textures
  • Temperature tolerances
  • Warm water temperature as a calming sensory input
  • Cold water temperatures as alerting sensory input
  • Reduces stress through calming sensory input
  • Visual processing benefits- visual scanning, visual tracking, visual discrimination, eye-hand coordination, visual closure

Fine Motor benefits of water therapy

On a small scale, water tables and water bins offer many motor skills opportunities for kids to develop fine motor skills! Fine motor skills abound in aquatic therapy!

  • Grasp
  • Coordination
  • Pincer grasp
  • Hand strength (tong or tweezer use, squeezing water squeeze toys, syringes, spray bottles)
  • Eye-hand coordination (scooping, pouring, dumping water)
  • Water resistance

Gross Motor Skill Benefits of water therapy

Even on a small scale, there are gross motor benefits of using water tables and water bins to help with gross motor skill development. Consider these strategies for developing skills using water play:

  • Core strengthening by playing in a water bin on the ground: crouching, squatting, getting up and down from the ground
  • Upper body support through the arm and shoulder for developing strength and stability
  • Sitting crisscross apple sauce with extended reach in all directions
  • Weighted containers to pour, mix, and dump water
  • Coordination skills
  • Motor planning
  • Heavy work to dump and move water
  • Crossing midline to pour or scoop water, reach for objects in the water
  • Bilateral coordination to support and manipulate items
  • Standing with reach at a water table
  • Mobilizing along a supported surface with head and arm movements

How to use a water sensory bin in aquatic therapy

Kids will love these water bin play ideas listed below! Adding sensory play into a water bin is an easy way to explore the senses, challenge tactile and sensory systems, and encourage development of skills such as fine motor skills, bilateral coordination, crossing midline, visual motor skills, coordination, confidence, and language. Kids love so many sensory activities when you simply add water.

Water sensory bins and tables use any basic water table or can be set up with just a large tote bin, a small food casserole dish, storage bins, or any container that will hold water. The nice thing about these water play ideas is that you can create any theme or use any type of manipulative to the water to engage kids attention and interest. Place the bin on the floor for floor play and core strengthening or position the bin on a table surface for a table set-up.

Water play is so great for little kids to experience and enjoy.  The sensory aspect of getting their hands in the water and manipulating objects is great for brain development and sensory integration.  They are improving their fine motor skills, bilateral hand coordination, language development, problem solving, creative development, and even self-confidence!  

The open-endedness of water play enables learning in endless varieties.  Consider adding math or letter concepts to a bin of water.  The child is enthralled by the sensory experience and learning happens!  Just think, all you have to do is add water and there is so much learning to experience!

To encourage movement, heavy work input, fine motor skill development, try adding these materials to water sensory play experiences:

  • Scoops
  • Measuring cups
  • Spoons
  • Watering can
  • Marble run
  • Water dropper
  • Syringe
  • Spray bottle
  • Squeeze toys
  • Tweezers
  • Tongs
  • Floating toys or foam
  • Cut pool noodles
  • Balls or ping pong balls (any ball that floats)
  • Small animal toys or figures
  • Water beads
  • Scents
  • Glitter
  • Food coloring or water paints
  • Paint brushes
  • Chalk

Water Sensory Play Ideas

Below are are fun water bin sensory play ideas for kids that can be used to address a variety of skills or concepts. Scroll on to find some creative ways to encourage play and development of skills with simple water bins.

Kids of all ages will love these water play ideas…even the big kids! When the weather is hot (Or not…bring these water bin ideas indoors for more fun and sensory play!) you can add any type of learning, cause and effect, and even STEM activities, using some water and some added materials.

  • Colors/Fine Motor/Sensory Water Play– Work on bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination, motor planning, precision, and proximal stability as well as tool use in this color water sensory bin.
  • Island Luau Water Party Water Bin – Use small scoops and island themed items to work on fine motor skills, scooping, pouring, and fine motor strengthening.
  • Swamp Water Bin – Explore textures in this swamp themed water bin.
  • Pool Noodles Water Bin -Incorporate cut pool noodles for fine motor work, core strengthening, and gross motor skills.
  • Color Match Water Bin – Use colors and letters to work on visual scanning, visual motor skills, visual discrimination, and learning colors and letters.
  • Rainy Summer Day: Ice Muffins Water Play – Freeze letter magnets or foam letters into ice cubes for sensory motor learning experiences. Kids can chip the alphabet letters from the ice cubes and explore letters while strengthening visual perceptual skills and fine motor strength.
  • Colors, Fine Motor, Sensory Water Play -Work on hand strength, grasp, coordination, visual perceptual skills and more with simple materials you already have in the home.
  • Ping Pong Ball Water Play for Toddlers– Work on eye-hand coordination, visual scanning, tracking, coordination, crossing midline and more.

    We are so excited to start playing away the summer with our water bins.  We’re hoping you are inspired…we are inspired, too!              

And here are links to the fun water bins over at Frogs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails:
             Week 1: Lavender/Purple Water Bin by FSPDT
             Week 2: Beach Luau Water Bin by FSPDT
             Week 3: Swamp Water Bin by FSPDT
             Week 4: Pool Noodle Water Bin by FSPDT
             Week 5: Color Match Water Bin by FSPDT

more Sensory water bins

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.

Camping Writing Activity

camping writing

Going camping this summer? This free therapy slide deck is a camping writing activity that kids can use to work on handwriting skills this summer. Use the camping activity as a tool to work on handwriting skills in therapy sessions or at home this summer.

Use this camping writing slide deck to work on handwriting skills this summer, with a camping theme.

Camping Writing

When you think of camping and writing, you might think about writing letters home from a summer camp. Or, maybe you think of writing out packing lists before you head off to tent in the woods for the weekend.

Both are actually really great natural writing tasks that kids can use to put pencil to paper this summer and work on writing skills without the boring rote practice that thoughts of handwriting typically bring.

However, to expand on that theme a bit, this camping writing slide deck is great for building specific writing skills over the summer months.

You can use this slide deck in teletherapy sessions, in home programs, in extended school year, or at home to work on writing skills such as:

  • copying skills
  • letter formation
  • size awareness
  • line use
  • visual motor skills

The camping activities include visual forms that children can copy without admitting details so that they are working on visual perceptual skills such as form constancy, visual discrimination, visual closure, and other areas.

There are several simple camping images that build up to more complex camping images that kids can copy to build visual motor skills and attention to detail.

There’s also a part of the activity where kids can copy specific terms related to tenting and camping.

Kids can copy these words right onto the screen using an Google Jamboard or they can copy the words onto paper. Several slides have lined portions where kids can copy the words onto the screen. You’ll find a link to access this resource once you access the file in the form at the bottom of this post.

When kids copy words they need to work on they are using visual perceptual skills such as visual scanning, visual attention, visual memory, and visual shift. These tasks this skills are important for tasks such as copying written material from a chalkboard or smart board in the classroom.

This handwriting active activity can also be expanded to ask kids to copy the words into alphabetical order or to expand the activity by asking them to write a sentence including the words.

Free Camping Writing Slide Deck

Would you like to add this camping hand writing activity to your therapy tool box? Enter your email address into the form below to access this free therapy slide deck.

FREE Camping Writing Activity

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    More Ideas for Summer

    Want more ways to play and build skills while camping or with a camping theme in therapy sessions or at home? Check out these fun 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.

    Pinwheel Painting is Sensory Painting

    pinwheel painting

    This pinwheel painting is a sensory painting art activity is one that we actually did YEARS ago.  It was such a fun messy, creative art activity and a fun one to add to your summer painting ideas, and I wanted to be sure to show you all!  My kids still talk about painting with pinwheels, so we’ll be doing this one again soon, especially now that the weather has warmed and we can get back outside for sensory play with the kids!

    Pinwheel Painting

    Pinwheel painting is a creative art painting experience with kids!  This is a cute art project for a letter "P" preschool theme and a great sensory painting activity for summer.

    This post contains affiliate links.  

    Kids love this painting with pinwheels messy art activity for sensory painting fun.

    Painting with pinwheels is such a simple and fun outdoor painting activity for summer.  Or, if you’re looking for a “letter P” theme for preschoolers, painting with pinwheels would be perfect!

    You can definitely take this painting activity indoors, with paper spread over the table surface.

    To paint with pinwheels, there is just steps to set up this sensory painting activity:

    1. Set the stage- Find a space to work in the grass or on a table which can be wiped down. This is a messy sensory painting activity! Consider using a wipeable plastic table cloth.
    2. Pour a little washable paint into bowls. (Click here for our favorite paint for it’s bright colors that don’t fade as they dry.)
    3. Prepare your paper or canvas. We used a giant roll of paper for big art.
    4. Dip the pin the pinwheels into the paint.
    5. Roll, blow, spin, and tap the pinwheels onto the paper with color mixing. This is such a fun and creative painting activity!  

    Sensory Painting Activity

    The paint coated pinwheels make the paint spray, especially as kids start getting more into the activity and discover that blowing the pinwheels makes paint spray in super artistic ways!    

    Pinwheel painting is a great activity to add to a summer of sensory play!

    There are many sensory benefits to this Sensory painting activity:

    Oral motor benefits- When children blow out through their mouth with concentrated effort, they are gaining proprioceptive input through their mouth. This is a calming and regulating sensory input that can help to organize and calm down. Read here about the development of oral motor skills. And, check out these oral motor activities for summer play.

    Visual Convergence benefits- When we visually track an object as it nears our eyes (such as a pinwheel), and then track it as it moves away from the eyes, visual convergence is occurring. This visual processing skill is needed for functional tasks that we do throughout the day. Here is more information on convergence insufficiency and here are more activities to promote visual convergence skills.

    Painting with Pinwheels Art activity for sensory painting.

     Let us know if you do this Pinwheel Painting art with your kids or your class.   More creative sensory painting techniques you may enjoy: 

    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 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: 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.

    Summer Occupational Therapy Activities

    Summer 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.

    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!

    In the bundle, there is the 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.

    NEW RESOURCE: The Summer Fine Motor Kit– This 90 page packet it specifically designed to build the motor skills kids have been limited in over the past year or so: handwriting, cutting with scissors, small motor manipulation, arch development and hand endurance, strength, pinch, and coloring. The Summer Fine Motor Kit includes different tools and materials than our other fine motor kits, but has some of the most-requested favorites in fun summer themes:

    • Summer Play Dough/Handwriting Mats (3 writing paper styles: single rule, double rule, and highlighted lines)
    • Lacing cards
    • Color and cut sensory bin cards
    • Sea Creature, Summer Play, & Summer Treats Silly Paths (great for pencil control and eye-hand coordination)
    • Tracing mazes/ Fine motor mazes
    • Symmetry drawing page
    • Fine Motor Flip Pages (flip a coin or small object and place them along a path)
    • Glue skills pages
    • Prewriting shapes sheets
    • Toothpick art activities
    • Pencil control worksheets/Fine motor placement paths
    • Scissor skills activities (simple and complex shapes)
    • Sensory bin cards

    NEW RESOURCE: The Summer OT Bundle– Want to cover all your bases this summer? This bundle has everything you need for therapy planning, home programs, summer camps, Grandma’s house, or extended school year programs so you can just print and go. The bundle is $20 and includes:

    Let’s help kids struggling from a year of mega-screen overload meet the goals they need to thrive. Plus…take more time for you this summer by using done-for-you resources!

    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

    Tag Games

    Tag games for kids

    The thing about playing tag is that you can take this classic lawn game and make rules to change the game a thousand different ways and never play the same game twice! What a fun way to get kids moving and outside with movement, balance challenges, development of the visual system, and heavy work. Add these tag games to our massive list of outdoor lawn games to get kids moving, running, jumping, and building motor skills!

    These tag games are powerful ways to help kids develop skills. Use the creative tag games in therapy or in summer camp activities.

    Tag games

    The tag games listed in this post are great ways to add motor movement to kids, to get them off the screens, and outside. Tag also is a powerful way to play together as a family, adding a chance for connection and creating memories.

    What better way to spend some time together as a family than playing a game of tag that offers heavy work, sensory input, in the great outdoors?

    These tag games are also great running games for physical education. Use the tag games in a group therapy setting, in PE planning, or in summer camp activities.

    The nice thing about using a simple game of tag in summer camp activities is that you can modify the tag game to meet any theme or topic!

    • Have an ocean summer camp? Play ocean animals tag (kids call out ocean animals and drop to the ground to stay safe.)
    • Planning a space camp? Play space tag. Kids can call out planets when the “it” person is near and stay safe.
    • Creating a Pirates theme summer camp? Modify sharks and minnows tag to meet your theme.
    • Coming up with a handwriting camp to work on handwriting skills? Encourage heavy work through the arms by adding crawling, hopping, or heavy work animal walks.

    The options are limitless! Here are more summer camp ideas that tag can fit well into with therapeutic and team-building benefits.

    There are many therapeutic benefits of playing tag. Use these tag games in therapy or summer camps to help kids with child development and have fun too!

    Therapeutics benefits of playing tag

    When kids are running, stopping, turning course, running around obstacles, there are many developmental benefits.

    Let’s break down games of tags for their therapeutic benefits:

    Running- running in short bursts offers cardio input that gets the blood pumping. When kids run and stop in short bursts, they are gaining heavy work input through their legs and core. The short intervals involved in tag games build muscle strength, and allow for running at various speeds. As opposed to longer distance running, kids can be successful in running in short bursts. This is also a great way to “reset” after being indoors for a while, on a long car ride, in the classroom all day, or on screen devices for a long period of time. We talked here about the benefits of treadmills and wellbeing, but for shorter bursts of running, the mindfulness benefits definitely exist!

    Stopping and Starting- When we run and then stop abruptly or stop and turn, there are so many motor components occurring at one time. The muscles that are actively engaged need to stop abruptly, adding heavy work input through those muscles and joints. Then the opposing muscles and core need to activate to maintain posture. The whole body is engaged in this action. Kids often play tag in a yard or park where there are trees or other stationary structures. These provide a need to move around targets and slow running speed. This requires the visual processing system to interact with the motor tasks. When kids are running around other tag players, they are running around moving targets, which further engages muscles and visual processing system.

    Tagging others- Tag is such a great way to interact with others in an appropriate way. You may have had a school yard experience where you were pushed down in a game of tag. When others tag you and it occurs unexpectedly or with too much force, a fall can happen! However, by playing tag, kids get that experience with proprioceptive input, vestibular input, and visual motor skills. How much force must they exert to tag without pushing over a playmate? How far do they need to reach out to tag a friend without hitting their face? All of this experience in movement is powerful! It helps kids learn about how their body moves in space, spatial awareness, and eye-hand coordination skills.

    Spatial awareness- Expanding further on the spatial awareness skills, body awareness, and position in space, all of these body concepts are able to be carried over to other functional tasks. This experience allows kids to use this knowledge when walking in crowded hallways without bumping into others, spatial awareness in handwriting on a page, moving while carrying plates or heavy items. All of these experiences can be integrated for functional movement.

    Executive functioning skills- Playing a simple game of tag can build executive functioning skills, too! Think about it: when you play tag, there is working memory to recall movements that allowed you to escape in a previous game or trial. If you’re playing a fun tag game version, you need to recall specific words or phrases that were already used. Other executive functioning skills that are used in tag include planning, prioritization of movements, impulse control, task completion, initiation, processing speed, self-monitoring, foresight, mindset, and cognitive shift. What a powerful game tag is in building cognitive skills!

    Motor planning- Moving, making motor plans, running around obstacles and other children…what a great game tag is to build motor planning skills. There’s more: tag is a fast-paced game. So those motor planning sequences and movements need to happen quickly. The good news is that a game of tag offers many trials and repetitions to build motor plans and muscle memory.

    Visual Processing Skills- Visual processing skills is an umbrella of visual skills and tag addresses many of these areas through play. And playing tag requires many visual processing skills under that umbrella! Take a look at all of the visual skills needed for tag: eye-hand coordination, visual motor skills, visual scanning, visual tracking, visual convergence, visual discrimination, form constancy, visual figure ground, peripheral vision, visual efficiency, and visual acuity…what a powerful game tag is!

    So, now that we know the massive therapeutic benefits of tag, let’s take a look at some fun tag games for kids.

    Play these creative tag games to add a twist to the classic tag game.

    Fun Tag Games

    1. Classic tag– Someone is it and chases the others in the group. When they touch someone else, that person is now “it”. The game continues.

    2. TV Tag– One person is “it”. When they approach another person, the player yells the name of a TV show and drops to the ground. They are then safe and the person that is “it” needs to run and tag another person. This type of tag can be adjusted to call out music, songs, YouTube shows, games, sports, favorite foods, animals, etc.

    3. Flashlight Tag– Play tag in the early evening hours with flashlights.

    4. Sharks and Minnows Tag– One person is the shark and the others are the minnows. When the shark touches another player, that person then turns into a shark. Now there are two sharks. Play until all of the minnows turn into sharks.

    5. Freeze Tag- When a person is tagged, they need to freeze in place until another player touches them to “unfreeze” them.

    6. Cops and Robbers Tag- A group splits into either “cops” or “robbers”. The cops chase the robbers and once tagged, they need to sit in “jail” until another robber tags them and releases them.

    7. 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.

    8. Animal Walk Tag- Players can assume an animal walk (crab walks, hop like a bunny, waddle like a penguin, sway like an elephant, etc.) and play tag!

    Social Distance Tag Games

    9. No-Touch Tag Games- Tag games can be modified to any theme which is great for social distancing. One person is “it”. When they near another child, that person yells out a word or phrase, or completes an action like hopping, squatting, acting like an animal, touching the ground, dabbing, or completing any physical action. Tag could take any action or theme in this way.

    10. Shadow Tag- Play classic tag but tag one another by stepping on the shadow of others. This is a great social distancing version of tag, as well.

    11. Social Distancing Tag- This tag game is another way to play with others, gain the benefits of tag, and play in a socially distanced form. Simply play tag in the classic version (or use any of the fun tag versions described here) and when “it” is within 6 feet of another person, they have tagged the other player. This is a nice way to work on spatial awareness and scanning at a distance, too.

    What do you think? Have you played any of these tag games before? Let’s get those kids moving!

    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.

    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!