Sensory Play in Nature

Mother Nature has the best sensory activities. Thoughts on sensory play in nature…
Sensory Play in Nature the woods

What images come to mind when you hear the phrase “sensory activities for kids”? Do you picture bins of colored ricecloud dough, or maybe children covered in edible paint? I think of these things, but I also see my almost three-year old son grabbing fistfuls of wet leaves, stomping in mud puddles, and eating the blackberries that grow on the edge of our property.

With the snow now gone, my dear little Peanut has been having a marvelous time rediscovering the plant life that has been covered all winter. Watching him explore nature, I’ve wondered, are we complicating sensory play?

I’m all for parent or teacher created sensory activities. I regularly plan and facilitate sensory play for my son and the little ones I look after in my home daycare. I believe however, that these activities should be balanced with good old-fashioned play outside. The fact is that long before sensory bins and sensory sinks children were engaging their senses in the natural world.

child touching trees


Get Hands on In Nature


Children Use Their Senses to Explore Nature

If a parent were to ask me how to get started with sensory play, I’d say, “take your little one outside. Let him feel the wind on his face, let him dig his little fingers in the grass and dirt, and draw his attention to the birds singing to each other”.

Sensory Play is as Simple As Going Outside


Spring Robin


Let Your Little One Discover Nature Using All His Senses

If you’re like me, and you genuinely enjoy setting up sensory activities for your children, than by all means, do so. I’m just suggesting that we remember all that nature has to offer our children in terms of sensory exploration and learning. Let’s not complicate things.

If you’re a parent who feels like she doesn’t have a creative bone in her body, and you can’t imagine actually doing any of the elaborate sensory activities that are all over Pinterest – relax. Open the door and head outside with your children. Feel the warm spring sun on your face. Now let your little ones roam free and discover things on their own terms and in their own way. They are getting what they need.

For more:

I document our outdoor fun on my Kids and Nature page. On Pinterest, I collect inspiring ideas for nature based play and learning on my boards Discovering the Natural World ,Let’s Play Outside, and Outdoor Play Spaces for Children.

My friend Stephanie over at Twodaloo has a fantastic post called Sensory Play: Is This Really Necessary?. It’s a very well written and balanced introduction to sensory play that I’d recommend to any parent of a baby or toddler.

Thanks for reading!


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


39 thoughts on “Sensory Play in Nature

  1. Pingback: Playing with food | Why would you do that?

  2. Pingback: Sensory activity | earlyyearsteacher

  3. Pingback: Calming Multisensory Activities for Kids

  4. Pingback: Five senses: Fun Friday features | Teach Preschool

  5. Pingback: Unstructured Outdoor Play Part One | My Nearest And DearestMy Nearest And Dearest

  6. This is really dumb, but I totally had sensory play and nature play as very distinct, separate types of play, but your post makes so much sense. Plus I feelmuch better as we do tonnes more sensory stuff than I’d given myself credit for! Thanks for bringing common sense into play and making this frazzled mum feel better! Thanks for joining the Outdoor Play Party
    Hannah @ Making Boys Men recently posted…Tinkering (& 100 Days of Play)My Profile

    • Hannah, that’s exactly the type of response I was hoping for. I think a lot of us feel like we need to plan elaborate sensory activities, which I’m the first to admit are definitely fun, but it’s good to remember that children engage their senses simply by playing outside in nature.

  7. Thanks for adding this to the Outdoor Play Party & thank you for speaking up with a common sense approach to sensory play. I do worry that lots of parents feel under pressure to buy things to provide sensory play activities when as you point out there is so much already available outside. Love the photo of him listening intently.

    • I appreciate your comment, Kierna. I was aiming for a common sense, middle ground approach, as I do enjoy the occasional sensory bin activity. I’m such a believer in outdoor play however….as parents, we just need to find a balance.

  8. Pingback: Nature Activities for Kids | Housing a ForestHousing a Forest

  9. Wonderful post and such a great idea to connect kids to nature in this way. I’m also a big fan of being outdoors and letting kids explore. Thanks for linking up at the Discover & Explore linky this past week – I’ll be sharing you in our feature post this week!

  10. Just discovered your blog through the Outdoor Play Link Up. What a wonderful and well written post about the simplicity of sensory play. I look forward to exploring your pinterest boards as well. :)

  11. It looks like you live right next to a very magical forest of some kind! So pretty. Jealous about your snow being gone, though.

    Have you read “Last Child in the Woods?” I feel like you’d really like it. It goes on and on about all the benefits of outdoor play. I, too, am a big believer…although lately three weeks of freezing temps and blizzards in APRIL are keeping us indoors way too much. I really can’t wait for summer ’round here.
    Beth recently posted…The Breakfast Club, Montessori Love, and a Playroom RedoMy Profile

    • We’re surrounded by forest, Beth. It’s more boggy than magical…although in the eyes of a child I suppose it’s magical and that’s how I’m starting to see it too.
      Haven’t read Last Child in the Woods but have heard of it and it’s on my list!
      The last patches of snow just melted here. Hopefully yours go soon too!

  12. What an absolutely gorgeous little face he’s got, such a delight in nature and it shows all over his smile. I love the one of him lying on the moss.

    Nipping over from the Country Kids linky.

  13. yes I think you are right, not necessarily that we complicate sensory play but that we make it sound complicated. Before I started blogging i hadn’t even come across the term. Its second nature to me to allow Goblin to learn by doing which includes touching, tasting, smelling, listening – so I don’t mind when he eats grass and mud, which he still does aged 3 and a half. Nature sensory play is like the ultimate version of sensory experience. Thanks for sharing. I’m pinning this to the Sunday Parenting Party pinterest board
    The Monko recently posted…Project 365 – week 15My Profile

  14. Brilliant post and photos! My twin son has mild sensory integration disorder and although we do a variety of sensory actives indoors, his absolutely favourite thing to do is just be outside exploring nature. Everything you said is so true, nothing better than back to basic in nature. You have made me feel a bit better about this as I have been spending more time outdoors with him than doing all those other organised activities indoors and he is so happy x

    • Thanks Shaunna. That’s wonderful that you spend two hours outside everyday! Lucky kids! And you’re right, there are always amazing discoveries to be had right in one’s own backyard.

    • We’ve had beautiful weather the last few days but there is always the possibility of a little more snow…we’ve had snow in May before. :(

  15. Excellent post! I find that I rarely plan sensory play activities now that spring has arrived because we spend so much time exploring nature…everything they need is right there! Thank you for including my sensory play post!

    • Your sensory play post really stuck with me after I first read it, Stephanie. You de-mystified sensory play and offered really great suggestions for simple ways to incorporate it into everyday play. It’s one of my favorite posts of yours!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge