There’s no app for outdoor fun!

By: Crystal Troy, OTS

“Outside there are many different and wonderful things for them to see (animals, birds, and green leafy plants), to hear (the wind rustling through the leaves, a robin’s song), to smell fragrant flowers and the rain-soaked ground, to touch (a fuzzy caterpillar or the bark of a tree), and even to taste (newly fallen snow or a raindrop on the tongue). Children who spend a lot of time acquiring their experiences through television and computers are using only two senses (hearing and sight), which can seriously affect their perceptual abilities” (Pica, 2008).

According to AOTA (2012), only 36% of children are getting the doctor’s recommendation of daily physical activity. Less physically active children are linked to experiencing decreased motor coordination (Poulsen &Ziviani, 2004). Inactive lifestyles established during youth put children at risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes type II, obesity, colon cancer, osteoporosis and depression (Poulsen &Ziviani, 2004). Today, it has become the norm of children spending 7+ hours in front of a screen of a TV, computer, iPad and cellphone (WBF, 2015). With only 30 minutes on average of unstructured play, children today are more out shape, stressed and tuned out because they are missing out on the connection to the world which is essential to health and development (WBF, 2015).

One hour of outdoor play daily is essential to provide children with a rich sensory learning experience (STARR, n/d). Too much screen time can result in isolation and withdrawal. There is no such thing as “bad” weather! Children need to experience all types of weather and the changed that the environment goes through during the changes of the season (STARR, n/d).  There is evidence to support that outdoor unstructured play supports the development for children with or without disabilities for their social, physical and emotional well-being (Hanscom & Schoen, 2014).

Exposing children to sufficient time outside can increase physical fitness, increase vitamin D levels, decrease ADHD symptoms and decrease stress levels (Hanscom & Schoen, 2014). In addition, an outdoor play environment supports social interaction while providing sensory and motor experiences. Unstructured outdoor play such as climbing rocks and trees, playing hide and seek are more effective in promoting motor development in children (Hanscom & Schoen, 2014). By opening up the doors to outdoor play, we can inspire and enhance play opportunities to children. These play experiences help increase physical strength, balance and coordination, motor skills, visual skills, cognitive system, social and emotional participation as well as creativity (Hanscom & Schoen,2014).

Ultimately, Nature offers essential sensory stimulation and diversity of physical experiences (Hanscom & Schoen, 2014). By playing outdoors, children are demanded to use ALL of their senses which provides them with a sensory rich experience to take in and talk about!! How exactly can nature help to enhance a child’s skills?

  Gross Motor

Challenge the vestibular system and a child’s coordination by moving in all directions while climbing trees and rocks

Rolling down grassy hills

Running from point A to point B

Strength and endurance are increased while hiking hills or carrying heavy rocks or sticks.

Sequencing is also increased while playing in woods, rivers and giant mud puddles (Hanscom & Schoen, 2014).

Fine Motor

Grabbing heavy and large objects like tree limbs helps to develop strong grasp patterns which ready children’s hands for a pencil.

Increase strength and endurance of hand muscles while building with sticks, leaves and mud (Hanscom & Schoen,2014).


Can help improve focus and attention on a regular basis. Movement helps our brain activate and provides organization so the brain can better pay attention (Hanscom & Schoen, 2014).


Moving on a regular basis improves the vestibular system which provides support so children can better control their eyes.

Visual tracking and scanning can improve while searching for things in nature (Hanscom & Schoen, 2014).


Children can naturally practice auditory discrimination skills with sounds in the environment such as bird calls (Hanscom & Schoen, 2014).


Social/Emotional Skills

Nature provides children with creative and social adventures, they can build structures together with others, can come up with games on their own (Hanscom & Schoen, 2014).


Nature can inspire children to think independently and openly. The natural environment allows time and space for children to build and use their imaginations! (Hanscom & Schoen, 2014).

With all the benefits of outdoor play right outside our window, why are children not getting outside to play? Is it Safety, worried about children getting sick or just “no time”? There are many unstructured play ideas for all types of weather at our fingertips to ensure our children reap the unlimited benefits of nature! Safety is always the number one concern so rules should be set and certain play activities can be adapted to ensure a safe learning experience (Hanscom & Schoen, 2014).  Play in “bad” weather is usually linked to “getting sick”. However, getting outside is beneficial for children since viruses, colds and the flu are all spread indoors! (Reeves, 2013). Just like we schedule other events in our lives, it is important to find the time daily even if only for 15-25 minutes to get outside and away from screen time. As long as children are dressed properly they should be playing outside in sun, rain, and snow!

               Activities for Rainy Days

  • Put on the rain boots and splash in puddles.

  • Bring paintbrushes outside and use the water from the puddles to make mud paint and paint on the sidewalk or patio.

  • Talk about how water flows: down gutters, along creek beds, down hills, down to where puddles form. 

  • Bring out plastic tubes for water flow experiments – what else can travel down the tubes?

More rainy day activities :

More Activity Ideas

  • Go on a nest hunt. With all the leaves off the trees, nests are much easier for children to spot. Look high and low for bird and squirrel nests. Keep count. How many can you spot in your neighborhood, the local park, or on your center grounds? Encourage children to flap their arms like a bird or scamper like a squirrel each time they spot a nest.

  • Catch bugs.

  • Draw with sidewalk chalk

  • Help wash a car

  • Dig a hole

  • Just sit, listen and watch

  • Bring out a magnifying glass and see what you can find in the yard.

  • Search for and collect the colors of the season. Although winter may be more challenging than other seasons, there are still plenty of colors about in winter. For an added challenge, search the crayon box for the closest matches to the colors found outdoors.

  • Build forts!

  • Paint rocks

  • Climb

  • Make a nature collage

  • Go on a scavenger hunt.

  • Use items found in nature to build letters, people

  • Go on a treasure hunt

  • Bring a book oustide and read

  • Decorate bare trees with paper snowflakes, colored lights and bells.

  • Dance to your favorite music.

  • Look for animal tracks in the snow or dirt, try to identify “Kid tracks” (stand in a row and then have everyone take a few steps).

Looking for more ideas? Pinterest is such a great resource for outdoor activities for kids!

More articles to read:


AOTA(2012). Recess Promotion. Retrieved from: Files/ Practice/Children/SchoolMHToolkit/Recess%20Promotion.pdf

Hanscom,A. & Schoen, S. (2014) Using Occupational Therapy Principles in developing a nature camp for all children. Retrieved from: 365534?acco utid=1297

Pica,R. (2008) Take it Outside! Retrieved from: http://www.earlychildhoodnews. com/earlych  ild hood/article_view.aspx?ArticleID=275

Poulsen, A. &Ziviani, J. (2004) Can I play too? Physical activity engagement of children with developmental coordination disorder. Retrieved from: 212951888?acountid=12917

Reeves, D. (2013). Five benefits of outdoor play. Retrieved from: http://www.kidsinthehous

STARR (N/d) The Importance of outdoor play. Retrieved from: lc/focus/importance-outside-play

WBF (2015) Health Benefits. Retrieved from: