Brecksville occupational therapists outdoor therapy in nature with down syndrome girl

Outside OT: Why Our Brecksville Occupational Therapists Love Outdoor Sessions for Kids

The weather is getting warmer and the days are getting longer here in Northeast Ohio. Our Brecksville occupational therapists seize every opportunity we can to incorporate outdoor experiences in our 1:1 sessions and OT groups.

Kids in general benefit from nature play and just being outdoors in general. Studies have shown that spending more time outdoors can reduce stress, minimize symptoms of ADHD, depression, and anxiety, boost the immune system, encourage social interactions, prevent or minimize the risk of myopia (nearsightedness), and lead to a better night’s sleep.

We’re big supporters of giving all kids as many opportunities as possible for open-ended outdoor play, as well as engaging them in outdoor games, nature walks, outside crafts, and more. These things not only feed the sensory diet that all humans need, they support many of the skills our Brecksville occupational therapists are actively working on in pediatric OT sessions – executive function, self-regulation, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, core strength, and more.

As noted by Colleen Beck of the OT Toolbox, occupational therapists recognize that outdoor OT sessions can be:

  • Calming OR alerting
  • Ideal for proprioception input and vestibular input
  • A great time to practice heavy work input
  • A good setting for working on skills like listening, body awareness, participation in touch sensations, and gross motor coordination
  • Great motivation to stay engaged, interact socially, and burn off pent-up energy that can otherwise have kids feeling anxious or struggling to pay attention
Brecksville occupational therapy for kids outdoor sessions

Kids gain confidence when they learn in nature, because they’re braving many real-life challenges that we simply can’t recreate in a clinic. Nature can challenge kids, be unpredictable and compel them to adapt. But we often find that outdoors, kids are so focused on the fun that working to overcome the challenge doesn’t feel so much like “work.”

Although we may not be able to incorporate outdoor play on every nice weather day, we try to make it happen as often as we can in the warmer months. We’ll sometimes collaborate with other therapists (OTs, SLPs, RBTs, and PTs) to organize games or activities or sometimes even park outings.

These outdoor outings can look a lot like just goofing around on a sunny day. And it IS fun – but that’s the point. All therapy sessions – indoors, outdoors, in-clinic, at home – are structured with great intention based on the ample, evidence-based research, much of which supports the theory that kids learn new skills better and faster when it’s through play.

Examples of what our Brecksville occupational therapists might plan for an outdoor OT session:

  • Play freeze tag
  • Play I Spy
  • Play with messy/sensory play (sidewalk chalk, fingerpaint, sandbox, water table, etc.)
  • Relay races
  • Animal walks in grass
  • Plan a scavenger hunt
  • Plant flowers, herbs, or vegetables in a mini-garden
  • Play I Hear (sort of like I Spy, but with sounds)
  • Build things with sticks, rocks, leaves, and other small items
  • Roll on a hill
  • Outdoor water play (water balloons, squirt guns, bubbles, etc.)
  • Gather leaves
  • Swing or play on other playground equipment
  • Use a sturdy log as a balance beam
  • Outdoor yoga

We can also connect families to additional outdoor therapeutic opportunities, such as equine therapy and therapist-led summer camp, to maximize their time in nature and facilitate faster progress with their OT goals.

For more information about pediatric occupational therapy in Brecksville, Contact Us Online or call our office (330) 748-4807. Our educational services and multidisciplinary therapy are available in Brecksville, Broadview Heights, Cleveland, Akron and surrounding communities.

Additional Resources:

Engaging with nature and the outdoors: A scoping review of therapeutic applications in contemporary occupational therapy, October 2022, Royal College of Occupational Therapists

More Blog Entries:

Childhood Obesity and How Pediatric Occupational Therapists Can Help, March 15, 2024, Brecksville Occupational Therapy Blog