Aside from a spring snowfall this week, it looks like springtime may have truly arrived here in New England. Flowers are popping up on trees, the peepers and morning birds are singing and the warm sun is finally convincing most of us to leave the coats and hats inside. Now more than ever, the opportunity for children to get outside seems like a welcome reprieve from the weeks either cooped up or bundled up. Mother Nature is a fabulous teacher and has created the perfect environment for children to work on building some of their fine motor, visual motor and sensory skills. This week, we’ll explore five of 10 creative ways to use the outdoors as the classroom, OT gym or playground that it can be! Check back next Tuesday for the next five!
- Get Dirty! Thankfully, some of the simplest activities work on the most skills. Letting kids get as dirty as they can works on building sensory tolerance. Digging in the dirt builds hand strength and endurance. Squatting down to play in the mud builds gross motor coordination and whole-body control. Consider bringing out utensils, cups and bowls and so your children can practice scooping, pouring and mixing!
- Plant a Garden. Take playing in the dirt one step further by incorporating the steps to planting a garden. This “garden” could be flower or veggie patch, a planter or just a little pot to keep on the window sill. Children work on isolating one finger by poking a hole in the soil, a pincer grasp by picking up small seeds between their thumb and pointer finger and hand strength by digging holes and burying seeds. This is also a great opportunity for children to practice the responsibility of watering plants every day. Add in some math review by having them measure the height of their plants and recording the information in a table.
- Climb Trees. The age-old activity of climbing trees works on building gross motor coordination, muscle strength and motor planning. To incorporate some visual skills practice, have children bring “binoculars,” or two toilet paper rolls taped together, to seek out different things that they can see from a new vantage point.
- Nature Scavenger Hunt. Scavenger hunts are an excellent way to target building visual skills as they prompt kids to scan their environment, search for specific things in a busy visual field and ignore the overwhelming amount of visual stimulation around them. Bring in a sensory element by asking children to observe, feel and smell each of their treasures. Check out this fabulous Egg Carton Nature Scavenger Hunt created by The Silvan Reverie.
- Build a Fort. Encourage kids to use their imagination and build outside. Provide them with twine or string, an old sheet, and a hammer and nails (if they can use them safely). If they are not ready to use these tools, they can practice propping sticks up against a tree to build a lean-to or gathering sticks and branches to make a platform to sit on. All of these options require motor planning, trial and error, and get kids to move their bodies.
About the Author
Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services. She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.