Why we do occupational therapy in nature?

Why do we do occupational therapy in nature?  Because nature is inspiring, challenging, changing, and renewing.  Because the theories and research tell us that as humans, we are drawn to nature.  Because in the course of human history, the great outdoors has been our most valuable classroom.  And because, well, kids find it WILDLY fun.

More specifically, we do occupational therapy in nature because nature:

Have you ever picked a flower, climbed a hill, balanced along a log, climbed a tree or dug for worms?  Exploring nature offers rich therapy opportunities to develop and support the whole scope of fine motor and gross motor skills.  

Bonus: Plus when your occupational therapy sessions use natural elements like logs, sticks, dirt, and leaves, carryover of therapy activities at home is easy because nature is all around us!  

The natural environment is staged for age-appropriate risk-taking, no matter your age!  Walking along a log, climbing a tree, starting a fire, whittling wood, jumping off a tree stump, walking through a creek … the opportunities to practice risk taking are diverse.  During occupational therapy sessions, these natural obstacles provide opportunities to work on accepting failure as a part of learning, problem solving, self-reflection, perseverance, emotional awareness, and mindfulness.  

Bonus: Occupational therapy in nature supports environmental stewardship.  By spending meaningful time outdoors, children learn to respect the earth and her great curiosities.  

Have you heard the phrase, “Think Outside the Box”?  This catchphrase is very symbolic to the expanded creative play that we observe in occupational therapy sessions in nature.  When we allow the simple, yet powerful, tools of nature to inform our therapy work, children expand their visual affordances, creativity, imagination, play interaction, and curiosity.  How many ways can you play with a stick?  

Bonus: By prioritizing child-led play during therapy sessions outdoors, a therapist is able to support a child in their most meaningful “occupation” –>> play 

Have you ever touched something in nature that was gooey?  Smelled something wonderful?  Or tasted something sour?  OT sessions outside give us therapeutic opportunities to work with and benefit from the diverse sensory experiences that are all around us every day!  We can use activities such as playing in the mud, rolling down a hill, discriminating the texture of bark & leaves, digging a hole, or listening for birds to help kids learn, understand, regulate, and accommodate their unique sensory body needs.  

Bonus: You can dive deeper by clicking HERE to read my blog “How Nature Supports All 8 Senses”

One day the walking log is dry and crisp, but the next day it is wet and soft.  Each day the log is a valued part of the environment, but each day requires a different response by the child.  This example (and the bazillion more nature provides) organically challenges kids to adapt their movement and thinking to the ever changing environment.  Occupational therapy out in nature provides rich variables that can not be replicated inside the clinic walls.  Therapy sessions may include circumstances such as rain, cloud cover, sun direction, ground dampness, time of day, woodland creatures, wind patterns, and tree movements.

Bonus: Yes, extreme weather may impact therapy sessions, but at Treeline Enrichment we use an open-air pole barn to continue the therapy session under roof during storms.  Other weather, like rain, is fully embraced as it enhances the takes the therapy opportunities to a whole new level!  

Did you know that time in nature can have a positive impact on your child’s (+ your) mental health?  The research shows that time outdoors can reduce anxiety, combat depression, and decrease stress.  Additionally, the sense of “being away” in nature can help to restore our mental capacity for focused attention.  Plus, meaningful time in nature has been shown to help reduce the symptoms of ADHD.  All of these factors positively support taking occupational therapy interventions outdoors.  I mean, why wouldn’t we take advantage of these rich environmental benefits?  

Bonus: When you spend time in nature with your child, your own mental health benefits.  At our site, parents are invited to stay onsite and enjoy a little Vitamin N themselves.  How much better is sitting under a tree listening to the birds during your child’s therapy session than sitting in a crowded waiting room?  

So What Now?

Local families: If you are local to Lakeland, Plant City, or the East Tampa area, check out our outdoor occupational therapy groups here. Plus, set yourself up for success in the Florida heat by reading this blog post.  

Non-local families: Take your occupational therapy home program outside, ask your therapist for nature-inspired ideas to support your child’s goals, and check out our sensory & motor nature scavenger hunts.  

Have concerns about your child’s development?  Learn about occupational therapy here.  Then speak to your physician to see if an occupational therapy referral is recommended for your child.  

Share: Comment below with your biggest takeaway from this post! 

Bonus: Join our email list for FREE OT tips (most are nature inspired) by clicking HERE

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