As a kid, I roamed the neighborhood barefoot and caused chaos on the playground. During the summers, I was the queen of the local pool. I enjoyed going on camping trips and hiking with my parents and friends. I learned how to do cartwheels in the grass of suburban backyards and I picked berries with my t-shirt as a basket. This is not something I recommend unless your mother likes to wash purple juice stains out of your clothes constantly. My point is that any free time I had I spent outside. Through these adventures, I began learning about the world. Unfortunately, today’s kids are spending less time outside. As occupational therapists, it’s important to encourage outdoor play because it can actually help enhance a child’s pediatric occupational therapy experience.
Kids are spending less time roaming outside because there aren’t as many safe spaces for them to play in. We need to try and reverse this problem because young children need time outside in order to learn new skills and develop properly. This is especially important for children struggling with disabilities, as they are less likely to spend quality time outside. The paranoia surrounding outdoor play has changed pediatric occupational therapy strategies for the worse, so we need to do everything we can to make our outdoor spaces safer.
As many as 16% of elementary-age youth have some type of sensory processing issues. For children that show signs of delayed development, a visit to an occupational therapist can help them improve their abilities for completing daily tasks. Stepping out off the office and into nature is one of the best ways therapists can help improve the lives of their youngest clients.
Outdoor activity is the number 1 way to get children motivated and able to start learning real-world tasks through fun and rewarding activity.
The benefits of outdoor play have the potential to revolutionize the world of pediatric occupational therapy. Spending more time in nature is associated with:
- Increased brain development and functionality through exploration, imagination, and creativity while playing outside.
- Opening up one’s emotions and sense of self, which is ideal for children working through psychological distress.
- Better immune system health and healing from injuries.
- Lower BMI rates and ADHD symptoms.
- Improved social skills.
- Stronger visual skills.
It’s evident that one of the best ways to raise a healthy, well-adjusted child is to let them play outside as much as possible.
Outdoor Exercise Sensory Therapy Techniques
- Identifying and comparing bird songs can enhance auditory skills.
- Doing a scavenger hunt or playing “I Spy” can help children practice eye movements. These movements exercise all six eye muscles and helps to improve tracking skills.
- Walking up inclines, lifting rocks, and climbing trees improve muscular strength.
- Rock climbing can develop a child’s coordination and vestibular (balance) system.
- Playing catch helps kids practice their ocular movements and hand-eye coordination.
- Using sidewalk chalk can help children with their writing abilities.
Nature’s health and developmental benefits are great for children, but participating in these activities with these kids can improve your own health too!
Additional Health Benefits of Nature
- Nature is the world’s biggest gym. It gives you more room to roam around and explore than any indoor setting.
- Spending more time outside can help improve your concentration. For example, studies have shown that something as simple as walking can help improve cognitive functioning and keep your memory sharp.
- Exposure to natural light helps improve your overall mood. So, step outside and soak up those rays!
Helping children build life skills through outdoor pediatric occupational therapy strategies could be the next breakthrough for the OT industry. Keep these benefits in mind the next time you need to find a creative solution for your clients.