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Guest Blogger: Casey Waugh, MOTR/L

One of the glories of summer… outdoor play!! The great outdoors has so much to offer to the little explorer. Moving play outside for the summer provides boundless opportunities for creative thinking, discovery, refinement of gross and fine motor skills (you have to be precise to pick up those worms!!), and my favorite of all, SENSORY PLAY. Below you will find some easy ways to incorporate all of the senses into your outdoor play this year.

I’d like to note that yes, sensory play can be messy. So, this is a test for those parents who worry about getting clothes or toys messy. Your babies pick up on your emotions very well, so practice your poker face when the mud gets on the shirt (hey, just a diaper will do!) or the water soaks the socks. Plus, doing this outdoors means a good squirt down with the hose and no mess in the living room!

Tactile – touch

  • Fill up a container with water, sand, beans, dry pasta, wet pasta, cereal, cornmeal, play-doh, shaving cream, whipped cream or rice. Look in your kitchen! Anything you have a lot of that can be scooped, molded, or poured can be made into a tactile sensory bin. As always, use your best judgement if your child mouths or eats items.
  • Finger painting! For little mouthers, you can use baby food.
  • Help your baby explore the grass, leaves, smooth stones, or bumpy stones, with hands and feet. Talk to your baby as you touch the hands and feet, “A cold, smooth stone!” or “Wet grass!”
  • Walking through the dewy grass without shoes on in the morning can be a whole new experience.
  • Does your child have a favorite bath toy? Bring it outside and put it in a baby pool or bin of water. Cut a new sponge in half and use it to squeeze and squirt water.

Proprioceptive – body sense

  • Jungle gyms at the park provide countless opportunities for little muscles to work.
  • Take a walk around the block or on a trail with your child either walking independently or while being “worn” in a sling or carrier.

Auditory – hearing

  • Take an old coffee can with a lid and go exploring for different items in the back yard or in the park. Look for items that will make a LOUD sound when shaken in the can, and items that will make a soft What happens if you add a lot of rocks? What about three leaves?
  • If you live in a more wooded area, put on some bug spray and head outside around dusk (if it’s not already past bedtime!). Use your ears to listen for different animal sounds. You may even see some lightning bugs!

Olfactory – smell

  • Pour some dish soap and a little bit of water into a container. Whisk quickly or put in the food processor or blender to really stir it up. Use this to finger paint or mix with hands, spoons, or feet!
  • Talk a walk and smell the flowers! Maybe you will pass a neighbor who just cut their grass. Do you have any fresh herbs in the garden?
  • Babies have a very acute sense of smell. With your baby sitting on your lap, pass some fragrant spices under his nose (not super close, just enough to get a whiff). You can try cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, peppermint, or a slice of fresh fruit like an orange or lemon. How does he react?

Vestibular – how your head and body are moving

  • Roll down a hill, or roll up inside a blanket on the ground to make a baby burrito.
  • Swing!
  • Play your favorite ball game… upside down! Help your child to bend forward and look through her legs. You could set up some blocks or bowling pins and help her push a ball to knock them over. This is a challenging skill from a balance standpoint, so your child will likely use her hands for support on the floor. The idea is to get the head in a different position, so help as needed!

Visual – sight

  • Plant a few seeds in a small pot and take some time to check on them every few days, watering them and watching the sprouts grow.
  • Fill up a container with water and add either liquid watercolors or food coloring to make soup. Add ice cubes, marshmallows, bath toys, sponges, and use ladles, measuring cups, spoons, and bowls to serve up some colorful restaurant fare.
  • Freeze some small plastic toys in a bowl of water or ice cube trays, or put several in a water bottle and freeze it. Once outside on a hot day, the toys will be freed from their icy homes! You could also add glitter and food coloring for an extra fun sensory surprise when all the ice has melted. If using a water bottle, I suggest taping the top with duct tape or gluing it shut to prevent the little one from trying to remove the top and taking a sip. You can also experiment with warm water in squirt guns, squeeze bottles, or paint brushes to help speed up the process and dig for some treasures.
  • Make old strips of fabric from t-shirts or rags you no longer use and put them inside an old wipes container or tissue box. Use different colors and textures for a tactile touch. Your baby will love pulling out the strips of fabric! Maybe just as much as pulling out every… single… wipe…

Gustatory – taste

  • Jell-O Ice: pop some Jell-O cups into the freezer. You can also make Jell-O according to the box directions, and put it into ice cube trays. Once frozen, put them in a large bin. Initially they feel and look like ice, but will soon begin to melt and transform. This activity is a great hands on snack that will involve the tactile system and stimulate the taste buds!

If you look around your home and back yard, you have many, many, many tools that can be used to help your child explore all of the different senses. Try one, try all, and let us know what you think!

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