As parents, we love to see the magic that happens when our kids step outside and engage with the world around them. For children with autism, outdoor play isn't just about fun—it's a doorway to a world of sensory experiences and learning opportunities.
Let’s take a look at why outdoor play is especially crucial for kids with autism and how it can support their unique learning needs.
Sensory, Sensory, Sensory!
The outdoors is SO sensory! From the crunch of leaves on a hiking path to the warmth of sunlight felt on the playground, nature offers a diverse range of sensory experiences. For children with autism, who may experience sensory sensitivities, outdoor play provides a gentle and natural way to explore different textures, sounds, and sights, contributing to their sensory integration and regulation.
Calming and Relaxing
Nature has a calming effect on all of us, and for children with autism, who may face challenges with anxiety or overstimulation, the outdoor environment acts as a therapeutic space. The wide open spaces, breezes, and natural sounds can help to reduce stress and promote a sense of calm.
Outdoor play naturally encourages physical activity, which is essential for the overall well-being of children (and for all of us!). Whether it's running, jumping, or playing sports, the movement involved in outdoor play helps in developing gross motor skills and coordination. Additionally, physical activity can be an effective outlet for excess energy, supporting a more focused and engaged state of mind. Doesn’t this sound so much more fun than an ipad?!
Friends, Friends, 1, 2, 3,...
Nature is “naturally” inclusive! The outdoors creates an inclusive and less structured environment that can be particularly beneficial for making friends, social interaction, and communication. Outdoor play activities, such as group games or nature walks, provide opportunities for children with autism to practice social skills in a relaxed setting. Nature offers us a place to increase our social connections with others.
Support for Flexibility
While routine is crucial for many children with autism, the outdoors offers a flexible setting that can complement structured routines. Nature's ever-changing elements provide a gentle way to introduce variety and adaptability, helping children with autism become more comfortable with change. Nature surprises us sometimes with a rain shower, a big gust of wind, or a chilly drop in temperature!
The outdoor environment is a natural classroom full of hands-on learning opportunities. From observing bugs to discovering different plant species, outdoor play encourages exploratory learning. This type of experiential education allows children with autism to engage with the world in a concrete and meaningful way, fostering a love for learning. Exploring the outside world can lead to more child-centered learning in the classroom!
So… Get outside!
Outdoor play is like a therapy session offered by Mother Nature herself for children with autism. It's a place where sensory exploration, social interaction, and learning come together and can be a pathway to growth, learning, and joy.
Go get your coats!