Jenny Clark

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Jenny Clark

Jenny L. Clark, OTR/L

  • Professional Development Seminars
  • Pediatric Occupational Therapist
  • Certified Kids Yoga Teacher

Sensory Activities to Connect Children to Nature

In this podcast, Jenny shares tips and strategies for helping children experience nature! Outside time reduces anxiety and depression, improves cardiovascular health due to increased physical activity, improves academic performance, and heightens attention. Research shows that exposure to green space (grass/trees) and blue space (water) have a positive effect on a child’s health. Kids who get outside are happier, have better problem-solving skills, enhanced creativity, and more opportunities for social interactions with others. Spring is just around the corner and it’s time to get kids outside to experience all the sensory wonders of nature.

Nature deficit disorder is a term coined by Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods. It refers to the idea that children are spending less time outdoors resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems. There is an epidemic of lack of exposure to nature because children are choosing screen time over playing outside. Research reveals that the average amount of time spent on electronics is 44 hours per week, and as much as 7 hours per day. Exposure to elements of nature contributes to healthy childhood development. Research shows that exposure to green space (grass/trees) and blue space (water) have a positive effect on a child’s health. Outside time reduces anxiety and depression, improves cardiovascular health due to increased physical activity, improves academic performance, and heightens attention. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health examined the impact of natural settings on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder symptoms and found that “green outdoor settings” reduced symptoms in children with ADHD. Natural environments engage the mind effortlessly thus helping with attention restoration, giving the brain a break from “deliberate direct attention”. Kids who get outside are happier, have better problem-solving skills, enhanced creativity, and more opportunities for social interactions with others. Let’s explore some creative ways to connect children to nature that help develop gross motor skills, balance, bilateral coordination, fine motor skills, visual motor and perceptual skills, and of course sensory regulation with heavy work and movement:

  • Go to the playground. Swing, climb on the monkey bars, just run around.
  • Take a hike. Find a local trail that is easy to access.
  • Go for a bike ride in your local park or on the school playground
  • Join scouts or 4-H. Tons of nature to be explored with these classic organizations.
  • Visit a National Park and be a Jr. Park Ranger. Collect all the badges as your child learns about the world around them.
  • Make a Fairy garden with miniature plants and small fairy items to decorate
  • Plant a small container garden, or just plant a seed in a cup. Perhaps the school has a community garden.
  • Collect nature items and make a sensory colleague with nature textures and scents or do a leaf rubbing with a crayon and paper. Great to increase finger strength.
  • Try Geocaching, a modern-day treasure hunting activity (more at https://www.geocaching.com/play
  • Try out painted rocks. Paint a rock and place them in a park or on a trail for someone to find and keep or re-hide. I have my own painted rock Facebook page. Check it out at FB Dolphin65
  • Explore a nature scavenger hunt. Have a list of nature items to find and check them off as you find each item.
  • Pet an animal; go to the pet store or the Humane society. Try animal-assisted therapy.
  • Hug a tree, climb a tree, feel the tree’s bark texture
  • Listen and locate bird sounds outside
  • Look for birds flying in the air and perching on an object
  • Make a pinecone peanut butter birdfeeder – great for the human senses to experience and food for the birds. A win-win for all!