Just like the first buds of spring sprouting through the soil, children right now are vying for the sunshine after a long winter spent inside and bundled up.
The pent-up energy of the cold months brings with it excitement, beauty and so much possibility — and it’s our job, as parents and educators, to let that spirit loose in the sunshine.
Outdoor exercise is so important for children, especially those with complex challenges and learning differences. Playing outside helps kids develop gross motor skills and trunk strength; improves self regulation; grows social skills; and helps with developing sensory needs.
Here are some of our favorite ways to shine together in spring as a family:
#1: Play at the playground.
Run, climb, jump, swing, tunnel, shovel sand … there is no better place to take a sensory break than at the playground. Your child can work on balance, gross motor development, calming their senses and releasing their energy, all in once place.
A few tips for picking the right playground for your child:
- Try to find one that is far from a major road
- Depending on your child’s sensory needs, go at an off-hours time for less crowds
- Early mornings are best for children who like quiet and space
- After lunch is a wonderful time for kids who don’t mind the noise or like the company
#2: Go on a scavenger hunt.
Have a hard time getting your child to go outside and get moving? Dig into their interests and send them hunting.
Work together to make a list of outdoor items, such as birds, flowers, insects, rocks, colors, or whatever interests them. Then head outside and start to search!
#3: Sing in the rain.
April showers bring May flowers … and they’re fun too! During the next spring rainstorm, get outside and play. Splash in the puddles. Sing. Dance. Go ahead and get soaked. This is tremendously reinforcing for sensory seekers and nothing but fun.
#4: Collect a spring sensory box.
Get an empty cardboard box and head outside with your child. Help your child fill the box with soft leaves, pebbles, petals, grass — anything your child finds rewarding to touch. This is a great way to both explore the outdoors and bring a little spring into your home.
(A warning: please know what poison ivy looks like before you do this one!)
#5: Unleash your inner ninja.
With the rise of American Ninja Warrior and Spartan races, obstacle course-themed exercise has never been so popular.
Bring this phenomenon home by making your outdoor environment into an obstacle course. Pretend to be an announcer, time you child, cheer wildly, and then encourage them to beat their own time. This will help with gross motor skills, sequencing, listening comprehension and social skills. Plus, it’s exciting and fun.
#6: Plant a garden.
Spring is the time for growing, so get your hands dirty with your child. Dig some holes, plant seeds and watch them sprout.
Remember that gardening with a child is not the time or place for precision. If the holes are too close, or not deep enough, don’t worry. Keep it simple, keep it fun, and enjoy your time together.
(For more tips on gardening with your children, and cooking with the fruits of your labors, download our free ebook, Healthy Meals & Shining Moments: Recipes and Resources for Meaningful Family Mealtimes.)
#7: Roll down a hill.
My children love this one. Do not tell them it is an excellent vestibular orientation exercise. Instead, just have fun.
What are your favorite outdoor spring activities? Share them in the comments below, or join our conversation on Facebook!