With summer now officially in swing, what better time to encourage your child to play outside? With virtual education and therapies, playing outside is a great opportunity for children to learn imaginative play, fulfill sensory needs, and get fresh air. Being stuck inside and having access to screen time may make it difficult for your child to remember what they like to do outdoors. Here are some tips to help:
1. Bring your child’s favorite indoor toys and activities outside.
Having their favorite toys join the party outside can help to create a sense of comfort and routine. Stuffed animals can go on a hike, play-doh can be done on a picnic table or blanket, and if they love playing hide and seek, try making a fort from blankets and rope. Allow for your child to choose some activities to bring outside with you; this gives your child a sense of control in a situation that may feel unpredictable. Playing with bubbles can be a fun activity that your child already enjoys, but adding food coloring and blowing bubbles onto white paper makes bubbles into art!
2. Encourage your child to get dirty!
Water tables, sprinklers, water slides, shaving cream and sand boxes provide great tactile input. Gardening including scooping dirt and carrying buckets of water incorporates great heavy work and provides proprioceptive input. Wash toy cars in a bucket with soap, “cook” with pretend foods, or have dolls take a bath! Draw on the sidewalk or driveway with chalk. This is great practice for fine motor skills as well as tactile input. “Dirty” activities help expose children’s hands, fingers, and skin to different textures.
3. Organize an outdoor scavenger hunt, treasure hunt, or obstacle course.
Find pictures on Google images, Pinterest, or make a list of items that your child can search for outdoors for a fun scavenger hunt. Take your child’s action figures or figurines and bury them in a sand box or sensory bin for a quick and easy treasure hunt! Use objects found in nature to make an obstacle course—climb over rocks or boulders, army crawl through the grass, jump over a small plant. Get creative!
4. Set a timer and make a schedule.
Set a time limit for indoor activities on nice days and then make a schedule for your child while they’re outside. Provide controlled choices (choices that you set ahead of time and are okay with): bubbles, chalk, sandbox, swing. This way, your expectations are clear and your child will understand the upcoming activities. Use pictures, a list, or just a timer to indicate what activities they can complete and for how long.
5. Take a walk around the backyard, your neighborhood, or a local park.
Walking outside incorporates physical fitness, family boding, and fun! Use this opportunity to have your child name items in nature. Collect rocks to paint later. Collect leaves and color over them on paper. Ask your child questions about things they see.
Anna Richardella joined the Sunshine Center team as the Edison Center Supervisor in February of 2020. While babysitting for a child with autism, she developed a passion for working with children with special needs and began providing childcare and adapted community services to families. Anna earned her bachelor’s degree in Communicative Disorders and a minor in French language from West Chester University. After falling in love with Applied Behavior Analysis while volunteering in college, she earned her master’s of Psychology with a concentration in Applied Behavior Analysis from Capella University. She has provided services in a variety of settings including schools, centers, home and community and has worked as an instructional aide, ABA therapist and, most recently, BCBA for children with autism and developmental delays and disorders.