Relief Parenting Stress with Outdoor Activities

Spring has sprung. If you have to pick a time of year to get outside, this is it! The weather is pleasant and even when not, you can take advantage of what the great outdoors brings during this gorgeous time of year.

Sounds, sights and feelings are at their peak therapeutic value and all you have to do is step outside. 

Why children with autism benefit from outdoor play

Playing outside is an important part of childhood that has many developmental benefits for children, including:
  • Skill-building
  • Turn-taking
  • Sensory play
  • Pretend play
  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Appreciation of nature

Enjoying time outdoors provides learning experiences that encourage self-discovery, communication, self-confidence, friendships and independence for children, including children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Keep in mind the precautions you should take to make sure your child with autism enjoys playing outside safely.

Lets take a look at some top favorite outdoor spring activities so that you can maximize the time you spend with Mother Nature.

Outdoor play:

  • Be prepared, and bring items like water bottles, sunscreen, bug spray, bandages, hats and sunglasses.
  • Outside is the perfect place to introduce messy sensory and art activities, such as sand play, pavement chalk, spray painting or construction. Make sure materials you use are age-appropriate. Talk with your child about how to use the materials before starting an activity.
  • It may be helpful to set a timer to remind you and your child to take water breaks and reapply sunscreen. Children with autism like to know what to expect, so it’s helpful to give 20-, 10- and five-minute warnings before it’s time to leave or go inside.
  •  If you are considering using outdoor activities as sensory breaks, create some sensory break cards for each activity and using these activities with a visual schedule.

Movement Activities

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. 

  • 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. You can include activities that involve dribbling a ball, jumping, and crawling.  Add an extra level of activity and learning by adding sequencing stations throughout the course.
  • 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 and 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.
  • Outdoor Yoga: Yoga can help children of all abilities manage stress and focus on breathing, awareness, concentration, balance, and self-confidence. You can incorporate poses and movements that are appropriate for the child’s specific needs, adding modifications (such as a sticky mat for balance, props like blocks or blankets, and sensory items) as needed. 

Natural World

These outdoor activities engage children under the spectrum to learn about their environment while gaining valuable skills.

  • Cloud Watching: 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.
  • Cookie Cutter Bird Feeders: This activity can be an ongoing source of enjoyment and learning for children.. 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 sort them by various categories. You might even have the children gather the items from the Scavenger Hunt to use for this activity.

Water Therapy

Of course you think I’m referring to a swimming pool, but I’m actually talking about rain! Wait for the rain and send your kids outside. With clothes or swimsuits, it doesn’t matter. Hand them an umbrella or let them just get soaked. Give them buckets to collect water and a broom to slosh it up with. The rain provides a phenomenal sensory integration experience.


  1. Use a visual schedule to prepare your child or students for the activities you plan to do outside. You can use a visual schedule leading up to going outside and include “outdoor activities” on the visual schedule, in addition to having a visual schedule specifically showing the activities you will do outside together.
  2. Use social stories to explain how to do each activity with your child, step by step.
  3. Make sensory cards for your outdoor activities to get the most out of these activities and include them as part of your little one’s sensory break options.

Be creative with outdoor play activities, and take the season into account. Have picnics and ballgames in the spring and summer, and try apple picking, collecting leaves and holiday decorating in the fall and winter.

Outside time can be fun and stress-free. Check for local events like festivals and concerts that are family-friendly and accessible. Bring friends and family (extra adult hands) to help make the event fun for everyone, and don’t forget to have fun yourself.

Do YOU have a favorite fun activity you use to take your therapy classroom outdoors?  If so, please share in the comments below!


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