Just a Walk in the Park: Practicing Pediatric Occupational Therapy Outdoors

children occupational therapy

Growing up, I was the kid that was roaming the neighborhood barefoot and bringing havoc to the playground. I was queen of the local pool and went on frequent excursions camping or to local hiking trails with my parents. I spent every second my parents let me outdoors. I learned to do cartwheels on the grass in suburban backyards, I picked berries with my t-shirt as a basket (which 10/10 would NOT recommend unless you love making your mother wash out purple juice stains on a regular basis) and I began learning about the world. But that was a different era.

These days, kids don’t have the same luxuries that were available in decades past. They are spending less time roaming outside because of decrease in safe green places for kids to play. Young children desperately need time to get that experience outside to build on skills and develop properly. And even worse, is that children struggling disabilities are even less likely to spend quality time getting to play and get the opportunities to learn outside than others. But, this is unfortunately given the new thought of thinking for the occupational therapy strategies applied on the youth. As many as  16% of elementary-age youth have some sort of sensory processing issues. For children that show signs of delayed mastery of normal developmental skill, a visit to an occupational therapist is needed to work on acquiring abilities for daily tasks. But, stepping out off the office and into nature is the best way to provide children a chance to be exposed to the goodness of earth which, according to many findings, can offer countless benefits.

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 Perks of “Parks”- The Goodness Green Environments Give

The revolutionary concept sweeping the pediatric occupational therapy world, is the vast and wonderful benefits that are associated with time spent outdoors in crucial years for development. More time spent with nature has been associated with:

  • Increased brain development and functionality from use of exploration, imagination, and creativity while playing outside.
  • Direct contact with “earth, wind, sun, ect.” is supposedly tied to opening up one’s emotions and sense of self. This can be ideal for a child that is working through any psychological distress.
  • There’s a direct correlation between time it takes to heal from illness/injury and time spent outdoors. Apparently he more exposure to nature, the healthier your body will fix itself.
  • Kids who grow up in greener neighborhoods, on average, are less likely to see a rise in their BMI. Also, these kids are less likely to suffer from ADHD symptoms.
  • Improved social skills are seen in children that often play with peers outside.
  • Frequent outdoor play actually improves visual skills.

The easiest solution may just be a walk in the park…literally. Exposure to green environments is essential for humans.

Ways to Exercise Sensory Therapy Techniques Outside

  • Helping kids listen to bird noises and compare differences can enhance auditory skills.
  • Planning a scavenger hunt or “I Spy” game can get children practicing eye movements which can support all six eye muscles and build tracking skills.
  • Improve muscular strength by walking up slopes, lifting rocks, climbing trees, etc.
  • Build a child’s coordination and vestibular (balance) system by challenging them to climb rocks.
  • Play catch with a beach ball to train ocular movement and hand-eye coordination.
  • Use of sidewalk chalk can help them with writing abilities as well as how to hold a writing utensil.

In addition to the wonderful benefits of time spent outdoors for developmental growth in children, it can equally benefit you from participating.

The Natural Wonders of the Wild on Health

  • More room for exercise- Spread your wings. Go alfresco! Roam around. Its a nice break to be able to step outside of the office. Life hack: do this without instagramming and you’ll find yourself enjoying it more.
  • Your own concentration will improve- Studies show that you can remember more after a walk in a park than after a walk in a residential neighborhood.
  • You’ll be happier- We all know sunlight boosts natural feelings on joy. So shine on!
  • Soaking up Vitamin D- The “sunshine” vitamin can help aid in what studies suggest, many natural processes from skin to live to kidneys that potentially prevent cancer, depression, or heart attacks.

Spending time to help children build life skills through OT assistance outdoors could be the next best thing for the industry. So next time you need a creative solution to aid slower-able kids, try bringing them outside. And hey, then you just might get a chance feel like a kid again, too!

Author: Allied Travel Careers

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