Structured OT VS Sensory Experiences
Structured occupational therapy sessions offer many benefits for children experiencing sensory delays or impairments. However, there are so many other great ways to reinforce OT skills right in the environment all around us. With a little planning and effort, parents can easily encourage their children to participate in outdoor activities that help them advance their sensory skills.
Whether you’re at the park on a beautiful day or right in your own backyard, opportunities for outdoor sensory play experiences are endless! Keep reading to learn more about ways to encourage your child to participate in outdoor activities to work on their sensory skills.
What is a Sensory Experience?
A sensory experience is any type of activity that helps children interact with the world around them through their senses. The five senses (taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight) can all be strengthened through a variety of activities, many of which can be performed outdoors. Children with sensory processing disorders may look for sensory input. Parents might notice their child showing interest in lights, colors, smells, movements, and other sensory experiences.
Children may seek sensory experiences in a variety of ways. For example, some children may enjoy spinning or intense movements, want to hug/touch things often, show signs of fidgeting, and express other needs for sensory stimulation. Children who exhibit these “sensory-seeking behaviors” may seek feedback from the environment around them. Kids with a high neurological threshold may seek more intense sensory stimulation, while others may seek less. If your child seeks sensory stimulation, certain activities may help them to fulfill their needs.
Benefits of Outdoor Sensory Play
Sensory play comes in many shapes and forms. In traditional occupational therapy sessions, your child’s Occupational Therapist may provide activities and games designed to fill your child’s sensory needs. However, you don’t have to wait for these sessions to help your child meet their desire for sensory play. The outdoors offers so many opportunities for sensory play (that can take place anywhere!)
Children can benefit from outdoor sensory play activities that expose them to new textures, surfaces, sounds, and more. Play can help children develop their senses in a variety of ways. The skills they will use outdoors, such as exploring or risk-taking, help them to interact and learn about the world around them.
Examples of Outdoor Sensory Play
Engaging in outdoor activities geared toward sensory play offers a totally different experience than indoor activities. Occupational therapy exercises performed outdoors can help children build confidence, improve sensory processing, and enhance their attention and focus. Not to mention, it can keep children engaged and excited to explore the outdoors!
At this point, you’re likely wondering what an outdoor sensory experience would look like. There are several different types of outdoor sensory experiences, which can target specific needs your child may have (fine motor skills, gross motor skills, etc). While some of these examples may require minimal materials, most require nothing but stepping outdoors! That means you can easily practice these play experiences with your child no matter where you are.
Check out the examples below and the ways they can help your child grow:
Some examples of outdoor play experiences that can help your child use their visual senses:
- Playing identification games like “I Spy”
- Hide-and-go-seek or tag-like games
- Collecting rocks, leaves, etc.
- Bird-watching or looking for other animals
- Watching the clouds
To enhance auditory skills:
- Listening to wind, animals, water
- Games mimicking sounds
- Listening to the crunch of leaves (also great for touch while touching leaves’ texture)
To enhance touch/feel:
- Running, walking, or crawling in the grass
- Playing in wet sand, soil, or grass
- Feeling breeze or ain on skin
- Playing on swings
- Paying attention to the warmth of the sun on the skin
- Playing in the grass
- Dig in the dirt
- Take off your shoes and walk in the grass (new texture feeling)
These are just a few of the most basic outdoor sensory play experiences you can encourage your child to participate in. For children who are “sensory seekers”, these activities can help them meet their needs outdoors quite simply. In addition to occupational therapy, you can help your children advance their skills through these fun outdoor activities.
More Ideas for Outdoor Sensory Play
Want to learn more ways to enhance your child’s learning? Check out The Therapy Place blogs for more exciting ideas and activities for your child! In addition to outdoor sensory experiences, The Therapy Place offers therapy services targeted toward sensory children. Call us today for a free evaluation to see how we can help your child develop!