Once the weather starts to cool and the autumn leaves fall to the ground, it opens up many opportunities to learn through the natural materials that have fallen. I love this time of the year as I can’t help but smile looking at the huge variety of colors. It reminds me of my childhood and the feeling of joy as I would pick up a big bunch of leaves and throw them at my siblings. Who would then reciprocate of course 🙂
As I started to build those memories with my own kids I thought this might be a useful post to explore the opportunities that lay on the ground. These activities are fun and most so simple that all you have to do is just go outside. The aim of this post is to show you how you can maximize the learning while using natural materials found during the Autumn/Fall season.
1. Explore the textures
|Fine motor skills, visual perception and language development
||Tactile & Visual Senses
How to Play:
This game is simple yet very beneficial. It can also be done with babies, toddler or young kids.
As you go for a walk simply explore the various natural objects that you find across your path. They can include fallen leaves, acorns, pine cones, spiky gum balls, Osage orange tree drops, catkins and many more.
Stop, let your little one pick it up and explore with their hands. Talking about the objects features will not only help with language development but also their visual perception skills. Visual perception is your brains ability to interpret what you are seeing. This is an essential skill that will help your child’s reading and writing skills.
Not only that, but the tactile exploration helps your little one’s hands discriminate between different sensations. This is needed for hand development. And what do we use our hands for? So many things! feeding, dressing, manipulating objects such as toys, scissors, pencils etc.
Features to talk about:
- How does it look like?
- What are the colors?
- What shape is it?
- What size is it?
- How does it feel?
- Bumpy, fuzzy, smooth, spiky, wet, dry, soft, hard etc
- Is it heavy or light?
- What can you do with it?
- Can you rip it?
- Can you crush it?
- What happens when you drop it?
2. Sorting Fun
|Visual perception and fine motor skills
||Visual and tactile senses
Once you have talked about all the features you can try and sort them.
- You can sort the leaves by color, shape, size or
- You can sort them by objects. For example: leaves in one pile, acorns in a second pile and spiky gum balls in the third.
This sorting activity will help with the development of your child’s visual perception skills. They will be learning to discriminate objects based on their differences and similarities. Visual perception skills are essential for your child’s school success. As they read and write they need to be able to figure out differences and similarities between letters and numbers.
3. Traffic Light Game
| Visual perception, attention and impulse control skills
While you are out and about collecting leaves you can play a Traffic Light Game.
How to play
Have your child collect red, orange and a green leaf. Then pretend these leaves are the colors of the traffic lights.
Red means STOP
Green means GO
Orange/Yellow means SLOW DOWN
You and your child take turns in being in charge of the traffic lights and direct to either, stop, go or slow down. For younger toddlers you can just include STOP and GO leaves.
This game is not only great for color recognition but also attention skills and impulse control. It takes a lot of effort for your little one to stop their body when they are having fun.
Occupational Therapy Tips:
For an older toddler or preschooler who is having impulse control challenges this would be a beneficial activity. You can work on this skill by extending the time that the ‘RED’ light is on and they have to stay still. Make sure that you build up this skill (time) so they can succeed in this game.
Another great idea is when the light is orange/yellow encourage your child to really try to move in slooooowwww motion. This will work on strengthening all muscles in their body as they contract their muscles as they move. Having strong muscles builds a foundation for when your body needs to hold you up so you can use your hands and legs freely.
4. Create with nature
| Fine motor skills, eye hand coordination, bilateral coordination, body awareness
|| Tactile, visual and proprioceptive skills during play dough fun
Once you have collected your natural materials bring them inside for some crafting fun. Depending on your child’s age you can range the complexity of the task.
- Grab a pine cone and have your little one paint it. If you are brave and want an extra sparkle you can have your child sprinkle some glitter on it.
- You can create a ‘leaf man’. It’s a great way to learn about body parts. There is also a fun book ‘Leaf man’ that can be read while creating their own leaf man.
- Incorporate play dough
- Stamp to see what imprints your natural materials make
- Acorns are great for a hide-and-seek game. First, you hide the acorns. Then, you find them.
There you have it!! Simple yet very beneficial activities that can be done while going for a walk with your little one.
Let me know how if you came up with any other fun ideas.
Have fun playing!
Feeling stuck on what to do with your child this weekend? Need a little INSPIRATION?
Well, you are in luck! This is a second part to this fun segment. It includes weekly activities for you to play with your child. Sensory experiences are important for every single child. These activities provide the opportunity to explore and develop their sensory systems. They can be done any time and aim to inspire and guarantee a fun time. Each week you and your child will have the opportunity to experiment, explore and live a Sensory Lifestyle.
As each child has different sensory preferences I will include tips on how to modify the activities where appropriate.
So let’s get started!
Week 1 Sensory Play
|Fine motor skills, bilateral coordination and hand eye coordination skills
||Tactile, olfactory (smell) and visual senses
How to play:
Equipment needed: Black contact paper, spices of various colors (e.g. curry powder, turmeric, cinnamon, ground rosemary, cayenne, ground pepper) and differently shaped items (e.g. leaves, sticks, shells, small rocks).
First cut out a small piece of contact paper. Let your child place any item onto it. Then, sprinkle the spices all over it and the contact paper. Once completed take away the item and see the beautiful imprint left behind.
Week 2 Sensory Play
Painting with Jell-o
|Fine motor skills (finger isolation), bilateral coordination and hand eye coordination skills
||Tactile, gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell) and visual senses
How to play:
To get going with this delicious activity get yourself some Jell-O. I would recommend a few flavors to get a few colors going. Then in individual containers mix a few spoonfuls of jell-o with some water. You want the consistency to be more like paint than water. This means add only a very small amount of water. Start with few teaspoons and watch the consistency as you mix it.
Once you have your jell-o paint ready give them some white paper and have them create with the colors you provided. It really is an open ended activity to create what they want. You just gave them an alternative to use as a paint.
We also know that some may sneak in a taste test! Enjoy!
Week 3 Sensory Play
|Fine motor skills, hand eye coordination, bilateral coordination and cooking skills 😉
|| Tactile and proprioceptive senses
How to Play
This is a fun open ended activity that allows for lots of exploration and experimentation.
Equipment Needed: Dirt, water, bucket, play kitchen cookware (pots, pans and cooking utensils), sticks, leaves.
Once you provided the above equipment let them have fun mixing dirt and water and playing kitchen.
Week 4 Sensory Play
|Balance, motor planning, hand eye coordination, foot eye coordination, core strength, upper body strength
||Vestibular and proprioceptive senses
How to Play
Here is a fun twist on the standard bowling game. The traditional way to play bowling is to knock down the bowling pins while rolling the ball forward. This is usually done standing upright. This game mixes things up a bit. You still have to knock down the bowling pins but this time try doing it using these alternatives:
- Knock down the pins by kicking the ball forward.
- Turn away from the bowling pins making a wide stance. Then bend down and throw the ball at the bowling pins through the gap between your legs.
- Lie down on your belly and roll the ball forward towards the bowling pins.
- Sit on the floor, put your hands flat and lift your bottom off the floor. Once in position kick the ball forward knocking the bowling pins.
Do you have any other ideas? Feel free to add them to the comments below.
Week 5 Sensory Play
Play dough with Mr Potato Head
|Fine motor skills, hand strength, hand eye coordination, bilateral integration and body awareness
Tactile, visual and proprioceptive senses
How to play:
Play dough is one of those awesome activities that has endless amount of benefits. The benefits depend on what and how you play with play dough. This week’s skills aim to support the fine motor skills as well as building body awareness.
How? By adding Mr Potato Head parts to the mix.
Let your toddler explore through placing the eyes, the mouth, the ears onto the play dough. See what they will create. Initially their creations might be very abstract. Encourage them to look at your face or their friend’s face and ask questions about where their eyes go? Do they go at the top of their face or the bottom? Where should we put the nose or the arms?
Let them explore and have fun!
For more fun play dough activities check out my play dough post.
My favorite no–cook Play Dough Recipe
• 2 cups plain flour
• ½ cup salt
• 2 tablespoons of cream of tartar
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 1 ½ cups of boiling water
• Food coloring
What to do
1. Mix flour, salt, cream of tartar and oil in a large mixing bowl
2. In another bowl add water and mix it with food coloring
3. Add both mixtures together
4. Stir until combined (it may still be sticky)
5. Allow it to rest
6. Take it out of the bowl and knead it until the stickiness is gone
7. If after a few minutes of kneading it’s still sticky then keep adding small amounts of flour. Keep adding until you have reached perfect play dough consistency.
Week 6 Sensory Play
|Visual perception and hand eye coordination skills.
||Tactile and visual senses.
How to play
This is such a fun activity. Cut potatoes in half. Then carve out few shapes. See examples above.
Then let your child run wild stamping away and creating a masterpiece.
Week 7 Sensory Play
Exploring the outdoors
This is a must! The opportunities for experiences and growth are endless. Whether it’s a park, playground or a beach. Every sensory system will benefit. As their sensory system develops, they strengthen all their skills including fine and gross motor skills. Check out my post on Exploring the outdoors for specific play ideas.
Week 8 Sensory Play
Messy Play: Fun with mashed potatoes
|Fine motor skills, eye hand coordination and motor planning
||Tactile, visual and proprioceptive senses
How to play:
Equipment needed: mashed potatoes, food coloring, variety of containers and utensils.
First, boil your potatoes. Then mash, and add food coloring. I like to divide the potatoes so I can use more than one color. It is also fun watching them mix them up and see how colors change.
When mashing the potatoes, don’t worry about doing a perfectly smooth mash. A few lumps are good for the extra tactile sensation.
You can get really creative with what you can do here. Some examples include:
– Explore with hands
– Explore with feet
– Manipulate the potatoes with a variety of objects or utensils
– Move between containers
– Find hidden objects
– Create large balls/towers/shapes and then squish and destroy them
Week 9 Sensory Play
Messy Play: Gelatin sensory tub
|Hand skills, hand eye coordination and bilateral coordination
||Tactile and visual senses
How to play
Once you have purchased the Gelatin follow the instructions on the box on how to make it.
Then simply cut it into small cubes and place it into a ‘sensory tub’ or what I also call a plastic container.
You can then let your little one run wild and explore the textures and shapes with their hands or even feet. You can also add a variety of containers, spoons and cups for extra creativity and experimentation.
Week 10 Sensory Play
|Fine motor skills, hand eye coordination, bilateral coordination and attention
||Visual, tactile and proprioceptive senses
How to Play
Equipment needed: Large construction or card board paper, glue, scissors, textured materials (sponge, yarn, tissue paper, pom poms, various textured papers etc.).
Get all the materials set up and ready. Depending on your child’s age you may want to encourage them to cut few materials into smaller pieces while practicing their scissor skills. Then just let them paste and create.
Occupational Therapy Tip:
For the little ones who are too young to use glue you can use contact paper sticky side up as your canvas.
Week 11 Sensory Play
Read & Play
Reading to your child has many benefits. Some of which include:
- Promoting listening skills
- Increasing language development
- Assisting in the development of attention span and memory
- Promoting bonding between you and your toddler
- Instilling the love of reading
A fun way to expand on the reading activity is to make it more interactive. Make your toddler a more active participant. Some ways can include:
– If reading books about animals you can practice sounding the animal noises.
– Read books that involve actions that can be copied. A great one in our household is ‘From Head to Toe Board Book‘ by Eric Carle.
– You can even practice fine motor and eye hand coordination skills while reading books. Reading ‘The Mitten‘ is an excellent example. This is a great book that can keep your toddler engaged. It is about various animals that want to hide out in the mitten. As you read, your toddler can place individual animals in the mitten. You can download individual animals and the mitten from here. http://www.janbrett.com/put_the_animals_in_the_mitten.htm
Disclaimer: The activities in this blog are intended for sensory play. They are not a replacement for treatment of children with Sensory Processing Disorder, are not medical advice and should not be used in place of the care of a medical doctor or other qualified healthcare professional. These activities should be facilitated and supervised by an adult. All activities are to be performed at your own risk and in no event shall Sensory Lifestyle be liable for any damages.
Sensory ~ A word often used by Occupational Therapists (OT) when referring to a part of child development. This word is now becoming popular outside of my profession. I hear it from all my mommy friends and parents which I meet at playgrounds when I take my son out to play. Everyone keeps talking about the need to do sensory activities with their babies.
Fantastic news, but not so fast
The spread of a need for sensory activities in our community is great. But keep a weary ear on the context and application of these activities. Each child is an individual and has a unique sensory profile.
Let’s take an example: making tactile activities such as sensory bags or sensory boxes. Some children might be able to jump straight in and explore the various textures that you have provided. However, some might be more sensitive and require guidance and grading of the tactile input. So the lesson is, know your child, never push an activity onto them but also educate yourself. Hopefully this website will be able to provide you with all the needed information to provide your child with best sensory activities.
When I think about my childhood I remember being outside running around with my friends until dusk. My favorite activity included playing ‘shop’. My parents bought me a scale. My girlfriends and I would play for hours. Gathering leaves to use as currency and adding water to sand to create different products to ‘sell’. This is just one of many activities which I enjoyed. I remember that my other favorite activities included getting dirty, climbing trees and playing on the playground structures.
Sensory development while living with technology
Times have changed. Technology has engraved into our culture. It is a part of everything we do. It has also lead children to became more sedentary with their preferred activities. Parents feel more pressure to get their kids out to play outside. Finding a balance can be stressful and overwhelming.
But it is possible. And I will show you how.
My goal with this blog is to provide you with information about all our senses. I will also provide you with ideas of activities. Activities which you can encourage your children to do. And in time, they will go back and play like we used to when we were children.
Providing your children with the opportunity to experience our world the right way by integrating their senses should be a parent’s priority. Having a sensory lifestyle is not only for kids with sensory processing disorders. Sensory experiences should be part of everyone’s day. Every day.
Play is an essential part of a child’s development. As children interact with their physical environment they use their sensory systems. Sensations are like ‘food’ for the nervous system. Without a good supply of diverse sensations the nervous system cannot develop to it’s maximum potential. Thus, functioning in the everyday life can become challenging. Learn how to avoid this and help your child start on the right foot.
Nothing better than some messy time
Exploring grandparents garden
Peek a boo
Higher level cognitive activities like reading, writing and play are a result of a well integrated sensory system. The sooner you start the foundational building skills the better. Foundations are pivotal to your child’s success. If you start the process early, you will be helping your child develop coordinated bodies and strong minds. Welcome to living a sensory lifestyle.