FOCUS Therapy child development

Boost Child Development While Playing in Nature

As the weather cools in Southwest Florida, it’s the perfect time to get outside and play with your child! It’s not just about enjoying the day and making some memories (though these are worth it in itself). Our speech, occupational, physical, and ABA therapists know that spending time outdoors is great way to boost child development.

Being in nature has been proven to boost kids’ academic achievement, physical health, mental health, and overall well-being. One analysis of hundreds of studies on the subject found that nature boosts learning in eight distinct ways. Those include:

  • Improves attention.
  • Relieves stress.
  • Boosts self-discipline.
  • Increases physical activity and fitness.
  • Promotes self-motivation.
  • Increases enjoyment.
  • Improves engagement.

As pediatric therapists dedicated to helping disabilities and delays make strides, we have found that nature provides a calmer, quieter, and safer setting for learning. It can also help with:

  • Motor skills
  • Communication
  • Social-emotional skills
  • Speech and language skills
  • Executive function
  • Sensory integration
  • Relaxation and emotional regulation

Spending time outdoors creates opportunity for more creative, exploratory forms of play – and play is how children learn best!

Researchers have found that even spending short stints of time in nature can have a significant impact for kids, but the longer the stretch, the greater the effect.

Outdoor Activities to Boost Child Development

Unstructured outside play is often enough to glean some of these benefits. Still, there are lots of ways parents can engage kids when they’re spending time outdoors together that can help with therapy goals and child development.

Some examples include:

  • Turning your backyard into a sports arena. Set up a soccer game, mini Frisbee, mini golf course, or tag football to get kids moving.
  • Starting a garden. Helping kids plant and care for a garden can have SO many benefits, from vocabulary (talking through every step, using “first-then-next-last” to explain the process, describing the different produce, etc.) to executive function (critical thinking, “what would happen if we?”) to motor skills and sensory (digging in the dirt, picking out the seeds, pulling up the weeds, etc.). It’s also something that teaches them the importance of caring for something day after day, week after week.
  • Setting up an outdoor craft. This could be as simple as sidewalk chalk in the driveway. It could also be painting rocks, pumpkins, or bird houses. Maybe it’s just dragging out the whole craft box and letting them get creative! Being outdoors means less mess to worry about.
  • Visit the park. Lee County, Collier County, and Charlotte County each have some excellent local parks that are perfect for exploring, taking a walk, bike riding, flying a kit, swimming in the ocean, marveling at wildlife, planning a scavenger hunt, or having a picnic.
  • Volunteer. Check out local kid-friendly volunteer opportunities and get them involved. It could mean something as simple as helping to pick up trash at a park or shopping at the local farmer’s market for fresh produce to surprise an elderly neighbor.

All these activities can/should be tailored to each individual child’s interests and abilities. If you need more guidance, our FOCUS therapists are happy to offer suggestions!

Nature provides so many opportunities to explore and create. It’s time to get outside!

Additional Resources:

Children learn science in nature play long before they get to school classrooms and labs, Sept. 23, 2021,

Six Ways Nature Helps Children Learn, June 7, 2019, By Ming Kuo, Greater Good Magazine

More Blog Entries:

My Son Has Autism… When – and How – Should I Tell Him? July 25, 2021, Fort Myers Occupational Therapy Blog

Comments are closed.