Spring and Summer bring more than warm weather – it’s a wonderful time to take therapy sessions outdoors! In the summer, an occupational therapist (OT) or speech-language pathologist (SLP), has the opportunity to introduce the benefits of outdoor learning and skill development to children with autism.
Whether you are an occupational therapist (OT) speech-language pathologist (SLP), or in another therapy job, we hope you’ll find this list of fun outdoor activities for children with autism provides a pleasant change of scenery.
- Hopscotch: Hopscotch can involve one child or a group. Use sidewalk chalk to create a hopscotch board. You can get the complete rules and some examples of hopscotch boards here. Each child then uses a stone or other small object to mark their place. Hopscotch is a good activity to work both fine and gross motor skills and social skills when played in a group.
- Tic-Tac-Toe: We recently shared an indoor Tic-Tac-Toe idea using large objects as the Xs and Os. This outdoor version allows the occupational therapist or speech therapist to take the children outdoors. Use sidewalk chalk to draw the board and then mark the Xs and Os.
- Hangman: Traditionally played on a piece of paper, this activity helps a speech therapist incorporate many key skills they teach children with autism. Using the chalk will help develop fine and gross motor skills while the words that need to be memorized and spelled correctly will use executive skills and also incorporates language learning.
- Paint with Ice Cubes: Mix watercolor paint with water, fill ice cube trays and freeze. Once the cubes are frozen, children can use them to paint on paper or even fabric. Achieve Beyond (@achievebeyondus) suggests this is a great activity for occupational therapists to assist children with sensory integration. (Note: be sure the watercolor paints are non-toxic.)
- Ice Block Treasure Hunt: Another wonderful activity with ice is a treasure hunt. Freeze various objects in a large bowl of water and then allow the children to work their way through the ice using spray bottles of warm water, paint brushes, spoons or salt. This cool activity helps children with sensory integration and fine motor skills.
Movement is an important tool in special education jobs and therapy jobs that work with children with autism. Take advantage of the warm weather by moving activities outdoors. The larger “classroom” of being outdoors allows for bigger movements and higher energy levels.
- Obstacle Course: This fun activity can be made more or less difficult depending on the child’s ability. Obstacles can be created using pool noodles, slides, stairs, play tunnels, and even sidewalk chalk. Ella Rain (autism.lovetoknow.com) recommends including activities that involve dribbling a ball, jumping and crawling. Add an extra level of activity and learning by adding sequencing stations throughout the course.
- Marching Band: Create your own Occupational Therapy Marching Band! This activity is great for a small group of children who love to get loud. Gather up some toy instruments or encourage the children to make some of their own out of whatever they can find. Then take them outside and line them up to perform a marching band routine, and let them play as loud as they like.
- Hide and Go Seek: Often played indoors, this game is just as much fun outdoors. This activity can help children remain calm while alone and work on skills associated with following rules and interacting with other children.
- Follow the Leader: This game can work to improve social skills, as well as motor skills, in children with autism. Select one child to be the leader and have the other children line up behind the leader. The leader performs a few movements that the other children then follow. When a child doesn’t follow the leader, they sit out. The next leader is the one child left beside the leader. You can also make it non-competitive by selecting a leader for a specified period of time, and then switching.
- Bubbles: Blowing and catching bubbles helps children with sensory and joint attention difficulties. Use scented bubbles for an additional sensory stimulator. Get creative with the bubble making tools by using various size openings for bigger or smaller bubbles.
These outdoor activities engage children with autism to learn about their environment while gaining valuable skills.
- Cloud Watching: Another great recommendation from Achieve Beyond, cloud watching can even be a great game for speech-language pathologists to facilitate speech therapy with children. As the children view the clouds, ask each one to describe things or feelings.
- Start a Garden: Gardening includes activities such as planting, watering plants, touching dirt with hands and/or tools, weeding, and harvesting. Learn more about the benefits of gardening in occupational therapy jobs in the article Gardening and Autism.
- Cookie Cutter Bird Feeders: This activity can be an ongoing source of enjoyment and learning for children with autism. Once the bird feeders are created, spend some time each day watching the birds as they enjoy their new snacks.
- Nature’s Scavenger Hunt: Identify a short list of objects from nature for the children to locate. The list might include things such as leaves, rocks, sticks, and flowers. Once a child finds an object, have him or her bring it back to a gathering spot to add to the collection. For children who can’t read, use a picture list.
- Sorting Nature: Sorting is a primary occupational therapy activity for children with autism. Take this idea outdoors and gather leaves, flowers, twigs, and rocks and then help the children to sort them by various categories. You might even have the children gather the items from the Scavenger Hunt to use for this activity.
Do YOU have a favorite fun activity you use to take your therapy classroom outdoors? If so, please share in the comments below!