Outdoor Sensory Play and the Curriculum

It can be difficult to find the time for sensory motor activities in a busy school day, but they can be integrated into curriculum topics.  This then simultaneously works towards curriculum targets, sensory processing aims and motor skills goals.

Examples of topics and suitable activities are detailed below:

Topic: Minibeasts

Activity 1: Minibeast movements

Model a number of insect/minibeast movements to the children.  For example, ‘Crawl like a spider’, ‘Jump like a grasshopper’, ‘Fly like a butterfly’, ‘Wriggle like a worm’ (a mat or other soft surface will be required for wriggling like a worm).

Call out the minibeast name and children carry out the movements, changing each time another minibeast is called out.

Modification for autistic children: Hold up a picture of the minibeast as you call out the name.

Sensory motor aims: Improves core strength, body awareness and motor planning.

 Activity 2: Minibeast search

Children dig in grass and mud to see what minibeasts they can find.

Modification for tactile sensitive children: Allow them to wear gloves or use a spade, but encourage some touching of the textures where possible.

Sensory motor aims:  Reduces tactile sensitivity and improves fine motor skills. 

 Activity 3: Outdoor craft

Children make minibeasts using natural materials.  For example: spider (pine cone body, twigs for legs); butterfly (twig for body; leaves for wings); beetle (body made out of mud, blades of grass for legs and antennae).

Modification for autistic children: Provide a visual example (photo or drawing) of what you want them to make, or use a step-by step visual support to show them how to make the minibeast.

Sensory motor aims: Improves tactile awareness and fine motor skills.

 Activity 4: Caterpillar to butterfly

Lay blankets out on the grass. Child lies on the blanket pretending to be a caterpillar; teacher rolls them in the blanket (head showing) and tells them it is their cocoon; after a few seconds the teacher rolls them out of the blanket and they fly away like a butterfly.

Sensory motor aims: Provides proprioceptive and tactile input (in blanket) and vestibular input when rolling in and out of the blanket.

Topic: World Book Day: We’re going on a bear hunt

Activity 1: Sensory path

Create a sensory path with trays of different textures as described in the book- grass, mud, water, sticks.  Children walk barefoot over the textures.

Modification for tactile sensitive children: Allow them to wear socks and shoes and then gradually encourage removal of these.

Sensory motor aims: Exposure to different textures; improves balance.

Activity 2: Bear walks

Children walk like bears i.e. on hands and feet.  They can then have races, go through obstacle courses or try to balance beanbags on their backs.

Sensory motor aims: Improves core strength and motor planning.

Activity 3: What’s the time Mr Bear?

One child is the bear, and the other children are the family.  Play in the same way as ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf?’

To improve gross motor skills, the ‘bear’ can give an additional instruction such as ‘Hop’, ‘Jump’, ‘Walk’.

Modification for autistic children: Use visual supports to clarify the ‘time’ and the movement to be made.

Sensory motor aims: Develops gross motor skills (strength and coordination)

Activity 4: Den building

Children make a cave for the bear by building an outdoor den, using trees, climbing frames, blankets etc.

Sensory motor aims: Heavy work (proprioceptive) input, improves motor planning.

Topic: Antarctic

Activity 1: Floor is the ocean!

Similar to the ‘floor is lava’.  Set out mats on the ground, pretending these are sheets of ice.  Children have to jump from one to the other without falling into the ‘ocean’.

Sensory motor aims: Improves postural control and balance.

Activity 2: Penguin walks

Children hold a small ball or balloon between their legs and walk like a penguin carrying its egg.  They can walk to a box and place the ball/balloon in there, or create a type of relay race in which they walk to a classmate and pass on the ball/balloon.

Sensory motor aims: Improves control of force and gross motor skills.

Activity 3: Ice play

Place small items in ice cube trays or small boxes, fill with water and freeze.  Children then try to free the items by working out how to melt or break the ice.

Alternative activity: Fill basin with ice cubes and hide small items amongst the ice.  Children search through the ice to find the items.

Sensory motor aims: Provides tactile input and increases hand strength.

Topic: Transport

Activity 1: Driving course

Children lie on their stomachs on scooter boards, propelling them with their arms.  Set out obstacles in the playground and direct them to steer in/out cones, obey stop signs, follow arrow signs and stop at zebra crossings.

Alternative: other ‘vehicles’ can be used instead of scooter boards e.g. bikes, trikes, scooters, go-karts.

Sensory motor aims: Improves postural control and core strength; improves bilateral coordination; improves motor planning.

Activity 2: Car tracks

Children use chalk to design roads and tracks on the ground. They use toy cars to push around the tracks.

Sensory motor aims: Increases hand strength and improves eye-hand coordination.

Activity 3: Filling trailers

Trucks with trailers are filled with sand, soil or other tactile materials.  Children can fill the trailers using spades (for heavy work/proprioceptive input) or using their hands (for tactile input).

Sensory motor aims: Increases arm and hand strength and provides tactile input.

Topic: Spring

Activity 1: Growing

Place mats on the ground outside.  Children curl up on the mats like seeds, and then gradually stretch up until they are on their tiptoes, stretching their arms upwards.

Sensory motor aims: Improves body awareness, core strength and balance.

Activity 2: Easter bunny hops

Sing ‘Hop little bunnies’, while children curl up like rabbits and then bunny hop around the grass.  They can jump, hop or do bunny jumps.

Alternative: Change the words to ‘See the lambs sleeping until noon….leap little lambs, leap, leap, leap’.

Sensory motor aims: Improves gross motor skills (jumping, hopping).

Activity 3: Planting seeds

Children plant seeds (or plants) in flower beds and/or pots.  Encourage them to use their hands to make holes in the soil, as this will increase tactile input.

Modification for tactile sensitive children: allow them to wear gloves or use a trowel.

Sensory motor aims: Provides tactile input and improves fine motor skills.